I was 20 years old, walking across my college campus, in front of one of the main buildings. I don’t remember where I was going and or where I was coming from. What I do remember is thinking, I don’t look forward to what the day might bring anymore.
I no longer thought of the day as open to anything good or surprising. It was open to only the same thing, the numbness and sadness I felt everyday.
That is my personal definition of dysthymia.
My therapist has diagnosed me with dysthymia, or chronic depression.
From what I’ve learned in therapy, chronic depression is not an unending bout of deep depression that leaves me unable to function.
Rather, it is a consistent and constant low mood. I may drop into deep depression, but when it improves, it will improve only so much. My mood doesn’t lift above that low level.
My therapist said one of the hallmarks of chronic depression is a sense of hopelessness and of helplessness. People with this disorder tend to believe that no matter what they do, it won’t make a difference. They may stop even trying.
Hopelessness is what I felt that day on campus. No more hope that the day might bring something good.
Another characteristic of people with chronic depression is that they sometimes can’t even pinpoint what they want, because it has never been about what they want. They’ve never seriously considered it, because, again, what good would it do?
|My interpretation of chronic depression.|
According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, dysthymia is defined as “depressive symptoms that last a long time (2 years or longer) but are less severe than those of major depression.”
I like to look at a list of the main signs of depression every now and then and remind myself that it is a disorder with symptoms, not just a word we throw around to describe a bad day.
The NIMH website provides the following information about the symptoms of depression.
Different people have different symptoms. Some symptoms of depression include:
*Feeling sad or "empty"
*Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty
*Loss of interest in favorite activities
*Feeling very tired
*Not being able to concentrate or remember details
*Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
*Overeating, or not wanting to eat at all
*Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
*Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems.
How has having chronic depression affected my life? I think about that often. And I wonder what my life would have been like if I didn’t have OCD either.
Being depressed and having OCD have affected my life in some concrete ways.
For example, I never finished my doctorate. I was so close. I was ABD, which stands for all-but-dissertation. But I never finished—I never really started writing—my dissertation.
I also never aimed high in my career. I stifled what I really wanted to be—a writer—and did what was safe. I spent years working as a public servant, first at the state employment agency and then as a health educator for the health department. They were rewarding jobs in their own way, and I enjoyed much of the work, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
And my interpersonal interactions are affected by chronic depression. I tend not to ask enough questions of others. I make a lot of assumptions. I stuff a lot of anger instead of expressing how I feel because I fear conflict.
The thought and behavior patterns that perpetuate chronic depression run deep, but we can learn new ways of thinking and behaving.
I want to get out of this cycle of chronic depression, deep depression, back to chronic depression. I am afraid that I never will.
But with the CBASP therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy), and what I’m doing on my own with study and practice, I am trying.
My therapist loves the analogy of the baseball player who is afraid he won’t hit the ball. He’s so afraid of not hitting the ball that he won’t even try. So he’s guaranteed never to hit the ball.
But if he goes up to bat, and practices good form, and makes an effort, he might hit the ball. Even if he doesn’t, he tried.
I’m up at bat, and I’m practicing good form. I’m doing the therapy assignment each week, and my therapist and I work hard during each session. I read, I listen, I think, I write. I practice what I’m learning.
And I am getting better. I am feeling more positive. I have more energy. I’m stopping the negative thinking more quickly.
I still have doubts. I still get anxious when I think about the possibility of not getting a lot better. I worry about not trying hard enough, or not doing the right things, or missing something vital my therapist tells me, or not understanding the therapy.
At least part of that doubt comes from my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I want to ensure there is no miscommunication. I want to make sure I’m not doing something wrong. I’m obsessing over it.
But despite my fears, I am doing my best. I will arise above that low level.
And I will look forward to each day.
Is there something you are up at bat for? How do you practice good form and swing at the ball?