What life with Dysthymia feels like.
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD).
I was diagnosed with Dysthymia when I was a youth.
As it's name suggests, Dysthymia, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder, is a chronic form of Depression.
Unlike Major Depressive Disorder, where a person goes through an acute episode of depression for a brief period of time, Dysthymia can last for many years.
In fact, to be clinically diagnosed with Dysthymia, you would have to experience ongoing depressive symptoms for a minimum of two years.
That's quite a long time to feel sad.
That said, Dysthymia and Major Depressive Disorder do go hand in hand. Nearly 75% of people with Dysthymia will also experience a major depressive episode.
Here's what it feels like from my own experience.
It feels like you've always been depressed.
Many people experiencing Dysthymia describe having depression for as long as they can remember. They might also feel like they are going in and out of depression all the time.
For me, my Dysthymia actually started when I was a child - quiet, introverted, and always feeling a little sad. It wasn't diagnosed until I was 18, where true enough, it was actually a Major Depressive Episode that first brought me into a Psychiatrist's office.
It was also then that it was found that I had been suffering from Dysthymia for the longest time, along with a number of other disorders that had found their way into my mind going through childhood.
Dysthymia varies in intensities.
Just like all emotions, feeling depressed goes along a spectrum. On one hand, some days might feel absolute terrible - you lose the will to do anything useful. You might even stop feeling any pleasure in the things you used to enjoy - that's known as Anhedonia.
On other days, it's more of a mild sense of feeling sad. It feels like something isn't quite right, but you don't know what it is.
Somedays, Dysthymia also disappears.
My Dysthymia was at its most severe from when I was first diagnosed at 18, all the way until I was in University. After a mix of heavy treatment and the saving grace of my pursuit of studies in Psychology, Dysthymia finally seemed to have lessened its hold on me.
What did this feel like?
A nagging sense of hopelessness.
As early as when I got out of bed in the morning, I'm hit with this wave of thought:
"There's nothing to look forward to anymore".
It seems to come out of nowhere, nothing specific has happened or is happening at the moment, yet this belief presents itself frequently.
Hopelessness feels like you're carrying a heavy rock on your shoulders. You carry this rock wherever you go. The burden of holding on to this heavy weight and preventing it from getting worse is exhausting - making it difficult to concentrate or focus on enjoying each day.
It seems to extend from seeing nothing positive in today, all the way forward in time to the unforeseeable future, which leads to the next point.
It's an odd sense that you're always waiting for something.
Because of the constant mild sense of depression or sadness, Dysthymia might lead you to feel like you're stuck in a limbo stage of your life.
You have this unconscious sense that you're constantly waiting for something. It feels like you're just passing time at the present, yet you can't really define what it is that you're waiting for.
Yet day after day, that future that you've been waiting for doesn't seem to come.
Each of us have our own reasons for this, it took me awhile to dig in deep and figure out what my reason was.
I realised I was feeling that way because of the constant buzzing of sadness that came from Dysthymia - I was chronically waiting and buying time until some certain point in the future where I would be happier.
With that realisation, it became apparent that simply waiting for happiness to by itself would never change anything.
Instead, I could change my lifestyle, create new habits and turn my focus more to the present. With that, my Dysthymia slowly grew milder and milder.
Dysthymia comes and goes.
I managed to enjoy most of my studies and worked toward my dream of becoming a Psychologist. Dysthymia was still present in small amounts, manifesting more so as little mood swings of sadness.
The years went by and things slowly got better as I started to enjoy my work and even met my future wife.
Yet around two years ago at the time of this writing, somehow Dysthymia (and depression in general) found its way back into my life.
It came back sneakily and I didn't recognise it. It's been a while since I felt such a severe case of Dysthymic Depression after all.
It really took me a while to realise what the problem was exactly. Pinpointing the root of the problem is often easier said than done. - life seldom presents it so clearly:
"This is THE problem - go solve it now". Rather, it's usually compounded and masked by many different factors.
Teasing them apart, I realised that I had led myself to be stuck in a life stage I was unhappy about, and was silently and painfully waiting for it to change.
I shared more about this in my story of recovery, but in short, it stemmed from severe stress and dissatisfaction in my work. The many years of focusing on my career had made me lose sight of my values and so my days were going by meaninglessly.
I walked each day with a sense of inner conflict - what I was doing with my time and life was not in line with the things that mattered most to me.
Moving on with Dysthymia.
Just like I realised in the past, waiting around wouldn't change anything.
So I stepped up to resolve the core problem - the inner conflict and dissonance I felt toward my work. I made plans to quit, to move toward a career that mattered more to me.
And I did.
Yet if there's anything I've learnt from this, it's to always be watchful of my mental health. My childhood experiences have made me susceptible to mental health challenges, and I should never be over-confident or cocky about it.
This might sound tiring, but it really isn't. It makes for an overall happier life too, one where:
I'm focusing on my values.
I live more in the present.
I make the effort to plan enjoyable things in my life.
I get a sense of meaning in work.
I maintain good and non-toxic people around me.
I don't lose sight of my happiness as the main goal.
The above takes some time to build habits around. Yet, believe me, it's worth it. No one wants to feel depressed all the time. No one wants to feel like they are constantly waiting for things to get better.
No one wants to feel hopeless.
You can get better.
Thanks for reading this little story on Dysthymia. If you suffer from it, I totally empathise - It's tough. However, stop struggling alone. Seek some help to manage it better, or even get some healing. You can get better. Take care, friend.