Tag Archives: Dysthymic Disorder

Life Events and My Mental Illness #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 8 in the 31 Days of Mental Health. Today, I have yet another post inspired by the 30-day awareneess challenge. This one is a personal post. Two fo the questions in the chalenge are about when your symptoms started vs. when you were diagnosed and what important life events affected your mental health for the better or worse.

I have in a way always had mental health problems. That is, I was always a socially and emotionally delayed child, but my parents say I was relatively calm and cheerful until I was about seven or eight years of age. At age seven, I started learning Braille. I hated it with a vengeance. It probably was my increased awarneess of my blindness that set off my mental health problems, but it could also have been my becoming aware of my social deficits.

After all, my problems didn’t start to become severe till I moved schools at age nine, and this was precisely the time my peers stopped being protective and started excluding me. At my old school, I’d always gravitated towards older girls, most with mild learning difficulties, who acted like they were my babysitters while I showed them my academic ability. At my new school, I started in a combined fourth/fifth/sixth grade class and I was a fourth-grader. The other girls were all sixth-graders, so they knew more than did I. I did have a friend in third grade, but even with her my social deficits were becoming more pronounced.

Once I entered secondary school, my problems became even more severe. I was twelve when I experienced my first state of depression. That is, the first I can clearly remember. I do vaguely remember being suicidal (or parasuicidal) for a while when i was around eight or nine, but I’m not too sure of this. When I was twelve, I became acutely aware of my social difficulties. I devised my own interventions, but never quite knew how to follow through and, when people tried to help me, I was resistant.

At age thirteen, I went to a mainstream secondary school. I stayed there for six years and was mildly to moderately depressed all along. In fact, I think I may’ve been diagnosable with dysthymia at the time.

In the summer after my eighth grade year, when I was fifteen, I started experiencing dissociation. I felt as though I was in a movie a lot of the time and my alter parts appeard. I had had imaginary friends before, just like most girls, but this was different. I may or may not have been hearing voices at the time. I think it was more an overactive imagination coupled with some dissoication than something akin to psychosis, but my diary entries of the time make me wonder whether I was slightly out of touch with reality.

I spent the last three years of my secondary school experience functioning on autopilot most of the time. I had meltdowns several times a week and started self-injuring at age sixteen. I had been head-banging from a young age on, but had stopped more or less. At age sixteen, I started cutting.

After I graduated high school at age nineteen, I had a few months of relative calm. I went to the blindness rehabilitation center, where we had a lot of structure and one-on-one therapies. I for a bit thought I must be okay. Then when I moved to a training home for the disabled in early 2006, after a few months, the mask fell off and I crashed. I started dissociating more than I’d done before and experienced severe emotional dysregulation. Finally, in early 2007, I was diagnosed with autism.

I moved into independent living that summer and broke down within months. I was hospitalized on the acute unit in November of 2007.

To be honest, I don’t know what led to me being diagnosed with first DID/PTSD and then BPD. I mean, I know when I was diagnosed but I don’t know what got me to share my experiences of dissociation. In hindsight, however, it surprises me that BPD wasn’t diagnosed on the acute unit, because I displayed many classic signs.

A Lighter Shade of Blue?: Dysthymic Disorder

Most people think they know what it’s like to be depressed. We’ve all had a day or two when we’ve felt down and hopeless, had a hard time sleeping at night and dragging ourselves out of bed in the morning, and had a decreased or increased appetite. While these all are symptoms of depression, in major depressive disorder they are severe and occur for weeks or sometimes months on end. They also manifest as a clear deviation from one’s normal functioning

On the surface, dysthymic disorder (or dysthymia) seems less severe, which is why I’m using the metaphor of a lighter shade of blue. Dysthymic disorder, as it was described in the previous edition of the psychiatrist’s manual, DSM-IV, manifests itself in a depressed mood most of the day, on more days than not, accompanied by at least two of the following symptoms:


  • Poor appetite or overeating.

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.

  • Low energy or fatigue.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions.

  • Feelings of hopelessness.

However, while the symptoms of major depression need to last for at least two weeks, those of dysthymia last for at least two years (or one year in children and adolescents). Therefore, while everyone can probably tick off some (or even most) of the symptoms mentioned above every now and again, that is quite different from having dysthymic disorder. I have had symptoms of depression on many occasions, but I can’t say I’ve had them for most of the time persistently over a two-year period.

In the current edition of the psychiatrist’s manual, DSM-5, dysthymic disorder has in fact been replaced with persistent depressive disorder. This category includes both the “lighter shade of blue” of dysthymia, as well as chronic major depression. After all, the creators of DSM-5 felt there is no meaningful difference between chronic major depression and dysthymia. The difference between persistent depressive disorder and major depressive disorder is, thereby, no longer one of severity but one of pattern or course of development. In major depressive disorder, individuals tend to relapse and remit (get better and worse). Persistent depressive disorder tends to linger for years.

I do not have dysthymia. Why, then, am I writing this post? Quite frankly, just for the sake of raising awareness. When I found out that Mumturnedmom’s prompt for this week is “blue”, this is what I thought of. I hope I have educated a few people, including myself. I am a member of some groups on Facebook for depression, and I don’t know that I should be. I, after all, do not know what it is like to be severely depressed or persisistnetly depressed for a long time.

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