Lesbianne Musings

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Anne and Rusty

Living with Dysthymic Disorder and Major Depession

What is Dysthymic Disorder? 


My Personal Experience of Dysthymia

The first time I was hospitalized in a Psychiatric Hospital in 1988 I was diagnosed with Dysthymic Disorder and Bulimia (Translation – Ox Eating), now my type of Bulimia would be called Binge Eating Disorder, for which there is finally an actual diagnosis in the DSM V, the most current volume of the book of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. I have only recently come to terms with the fact that I have a Chronic Mental Illness.

I’ve been depressed since age 14 at least – at least that is when my depression began to noticeably  affect my life in adverse ways (noticeable to me – why not to others?). That was in the mid 1960s and at that time a lot of problematic behaviors were not recognized as symptoms of deeper troubles.  I went from being on the honor roll all through grade school to being a student who mostly got “incomplete”s on my report card, who did not study, and who often fell asleep in class.When I was awake I pretended to listen in class while doodling in a notebook – two favorite doodles were naming the 8 children I wanted, creatively and with multiple spellings for each name, and drawing silhouettes of unknown girls and women.  I often stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning reading under the covers with a flashlight, and quickly outing it and pretending sleep when my parents checked on me. My freshman year in high school was a mix of exciting events, humiliating events, problems with food and money and being very resourceful in earning pocket change for myself, feigning illness to stay home from school (and eat secretively) being legitimately ill, and even hospitalized for surgery when I feigned an illness and didn’t know how to back out of it.

I’ve had issues with suicide ideation all of my life since age 7. That was the only time I actually acted out my ideations. Two nights in a row I crept downstairs to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I poured iodine from the dark-colored bottle with the skull and crossbones into my glass of water and drank it all. (I think the way it poisoned me may have affected my thyroid which would become ill requiring medication, surgery, and more medication in my young adulthood.) Each time I was disappointed to wake the next morning. I do not remember what events led to my acting out, but I do remember I wanted to punish my parents for not loving me. (they did love me, I didn’t FEEL loved – a huge difference).

Between the years of 1988 – 2001 I was hospitalized more than 10 times, voluntarily, in various psychiatric hospitals, including several times in different specialty units that treated dual issues with the emphasis on Food Addiction or Trauma, and also Depression, also 2 halfway houses for food addiction. In 2012 I went to an outpatient program twice in a CSU – Crisis Stabilization Unit. I was given several different diagnoses during these years. Some of them were Recurrent Major Depression, PTSD, DDNOS, Bipolar 2, and I don’t remember any of the others. I do believe it has “shook out” to be Dysthymic Disorder with Recurrent Major Depressive Episodes and PTSD. I finally decided the actual Diagnosis didn’t matter so much as long as the treatments were helping, and they were. Every treatment I ever did, and there were many “alternative” treatments as well such as Massage Therapy, Reiki, Polarity Therapy, Acupuncture, Diet and Nutrition, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. The problem was nothing lasted. I loved my well times and repeatedly experienced episodes of planning my future and starting different paths of learning to allow myself to be able to work in less stressful environments than traditional nursing. Every attempt was interrupted by either or both Major Depressions or Major Illnesses such as cancer and a brain tumor. Only this past year have I considered I may not be able to return to work because I cannot rely on myself to be able to consistently function well enough to be a reliable employee.

Below I posted a list of the symptoms of Dysthymia – I have them all – from a NAMI Newsletter (National Alliance on Mental Illness. ) – link below. I just passed my 64th birthday, and just made the decision to accept that I have a chronic mental illness. This is another “coming out” for me – having a mental illness. Though I’ve had 2 decades of hospitalizations, treatments,  and disability I didn’t really believe I had a mental illness, or perhaps it is just that I believed I would defeat it and live “normally” anyway. Now I realize what I will do is learn to Live with Chronic Mental Illness, and I promise me I will do it well. Stay tuned.

When I started writing this blog I thought my major “coming out” issue was as a lesbian, and wanted to put my writing out publicly as a lesbian so that I could heal my own fear,  “internalized homophobia”, and practice feeling good about myself in spite of others’ disapproval. I was sure I would get negative feedback especially disapproving “others” who have known me most of my life. I didn’t. If any people have disapproved they’ve kept it to themselves, and I feel pretty good about who I am today. I’ve known since at least 2010 that I needed to “love myself'” and that doing so was the major thing missing from my life. In January 2011 I found just the program to help me to fall in love with myself. It pushed me far to my goal but I keep having fall-backs then have to pick myself up again. I used to think I could get “there” at some point. Now I know my actual path is “progress rather than perfection”. And as long as I am breathing I expect I will be learning human lessons and experiencing spiritual growth as a person who lives with and thrives with a Chronic Mental Illness.



Symptoms of Dysthymic Disorder

Do you have dysthymic disorder?  If you are an adult and have had the following symptoms for at least 2 years, you may be suffering from dysthymia:

  • Feelings of  worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness
  • Persistently low self-esteem
  • Changes in appetite, whether it’s eating significantly more or less
  • Loss of Interest in life, self, things that once interested you
  • Persistent Feelings of Guilt
  • Sleeping Issues, sleeping too much or not enough, Insomnia
  • Chronic Fatigue,
  • Loss of Motivation (everything feels like a chore)
  • Hard time making decisions, even minor ones
  • Difficulty Concentrating, Dysthymia is often misdiagnosed as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Anxiety & Panic Attacks
  • Persistent and unexplained aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

What Causes Dysthymic Disorder?

As with most conditions of depression, the causes of dysthymia can vary from person to person.  While some doctors look life stressors as the main culprit, others focus on changes in brain chemistry and serotonin.  Still others look at a combination of the two.

People living with dysthymia have trouble coping with change, especially if that change is a metaphorical curve ball that smacks them in the face.  Recovering from such a blow is difficult for sufferers of dysthymic disorder.

Life stresses that can cause dysthymic disorder or make its symptoms worse include:

  • Medication
  • Chronic Illness (self or a loved one)
  • Work Issues
  • Relationship Problems

Why Dysthymia or Chronic Depression is also called “Mild” Depression?

Mild depression is misleading when describing dysthymia.  However dysthymic disorder isn’t as severe as major depression that keeps a sufferer from completing most daily tasks on a regular basis.  People living with dysthymia may lack energy and motivation, but are generally able to handle their day-to-day talks and obligations for the most part.  Of course, some days are better than others.

Dysthymia patients have been described as people who function fairly well on a daily basis but are consistently unhappy.

ANNE August2014 at Callyns party

Rosa Rugosa Sandy Winslow Grindle

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