Roughly three years ago I made one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: I sought the help of a counselor. I’ve since realized that this decision was coupled with a bit of luck because my counselor was amazing. Sometimes it takes people a while to find a good match. Therapy is a relationship, and like any relationship, there needs to be an honest connection. It’s hard enough to make that initial jump, so having to then dump one therapist in search of another often leads to people giving up on therapy altogether. I’ve seen it happen. It’s heartbreaking.
It breaks my heart because I know, from firsthand experience, how life changing it can be. I’m a firm believer that mental health should be approached no differently than physical health. And unlike physical health, very few of us are exposed to the resources we need to remain mentally healthy. Worse, when we are mentally ill, we write it off. We perceive it as something we just need to push through or change our attitude about. If you’re diagnosed with cancer, and you’re determined to survive, you’re not going to deny treatment. Furthermore, your friends and family will absolutely support your decision to receive that treatment. For some reason, our outlooks on seeking professional help for mental health is often the opposite. It’s viewed as some sort of weakness, as an acceptance that something is somehow innately wrong with you.
My experience had lead to a revelation. Although it was not an official diagnosis (I wasn’t specifically tested), my counselor suggested that I may have dysthymia. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either. In fact, I often times have to look it up to make sure I’m even pronouncing it right. I like to think of dysthymia as major depression’s younger sibling. My counselor explained it in a way that stuck with me. People that are mentally healthy, that are “normal,” experience highs and lows throughout their days, like a wave. And the median line through that wave is their general mood or base level. For someone that’s suffering from major depression, their median line is much lower. That means their lows are significantly lower, and their highs nowhere near as high. Potentially, their peaks don’t even reach a healthy person’s median. Now people with dysthymia are somewhere in the middle, likely leaning more toward one than the other depending on how severe their condition.
Most people with dysthymia don’t receive a diagnosis. It’s less debilitating than major depression, so people suffering from it tend not to seek help. They believe their condition is just a part of their personality. They’re just gloomy “negative Nancy’s.” So those who are diagnosed are typically seeking help for something else. I, for example, was losing control over my anger and growing increasingly isolated.
The point is, knowing was a relief. I saw my life in a new perspective. I realized that, in part, the moods that I seemed to struggle with more than others were not the result of being crazy, or weird, or just sucking at being a human being. My body, my brain, the chemical reactions and firing synapses and all that jazz, they were just not working properly. In short, I was sick. And the great thing about being sick is that there’s usually a treatment. A workaround. A way of achieving a healthier state, if not a completely “normal” one.
Dysthymia has been on my mind lately. As I said last time, it’s been a challenging year. This week, in particular, has knocked the wind out of me. I’m finding myself in those downward waves, and I’m being forced to face barriers of my own construction that are thicker and more present than I realized. The thing is, I don’t blame the condition for the barriers. Certainly, it plays a role. It may affect my ability to tear the barriers down, or just ensures that the barriers are more resilient. Either way, what I’m realizing is I’ve been ignoring my illness. I haven’t been treating it. Certainly not like I was when I first experienced that relief three years ago. So I need to remind myself to take care of me, so I can knock down the walls that are keeping me from being better.
Take care of yourself.