Let me paint you a picture. Let’s take an average American woman; with a husband, a couple of kids, maybe a job, maybe not. Now, let’s throw her in the ocean and make her swim all day every day, morning til night. The only time she won’t be forced to swim will be when she sleeps.
Now, not only will this woman be swimming throughout her day, she’ll also be living her life. From the moment she wakes up, she’s swimming. While she’s performing her morning toilette, she’s swimming. If her kids are school age, she’s swimming while she’s helping them get ready for school. If her husband is working outside of the home, which most of them do, she’s swimming while fixing his breakfast and his lunch and helping him get out the door on time. If he’s ill, she’s swimming while trying to take care of him. While she’s cleaning, she’s swimming. While she’s shopping, she’s swimming. Everything a normal woman needs to accomplish during the day, this one woman must accomplish while swimming in the ocean.
That’s not all, though. In the ocean where all this will happen there will be a giant squid. It will watch the swimmer and, occasionally, when she least expects it, reach up from its watery bed, grab her by the legs, and drag her underwater, forcing her to fight for her life.
We all know that this woman, whoever she was, would be world renowned. She would be called the world’s foremost athlete and many people would call her their hero. There would be people in motorboats with cameras following her around everywhere she went. There would be helicopters and news reports about her. She would have fans throughout the world encouraging her and telling her how wonderful and brave she was. When she slept, she’d probably need to have people surrounding her, reminding people to leave her alone so she could rest. There might even be people begging her to give them product endorsements. I even speculate that the woman in question might even be referred to as “legendary.”
I am this woman. The difference between me and the woman in the story I just told you is that nobody can see that I’m swimming for my life every day.
The scenario I just described to you is a metaphor for a disorder called dysthymic disorder. In case you didn’t know, dysthymic disorder is chronic low-level depression punctuated by occasional bouts of clinical depression. To put this into perspective, clinical depression, by itself can last anywhere from days to weeks. Dysthymic disorder can last years to an entire lifetime.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), 1.5% of the US population will suffer from dysthymic disorder during a 12 month period and 2.5% will suffer from it for the duration of their lives. I know these don’t seem like big numbers. Understand, though, that, as of October 2016, the population of the United States of America is something in excess of 324 million people, which makes the number of people dealing with this in a 12 month period a little less than 5 million people and the number of people dealing with it for the rest of their lives a little more than 8 million and that’s just in the US.
What makes dysthymic disorder tough is that it saps the joy from your life. Most sufferers report that they feel like they’ve never really felt happy. What’s more, since you live with the low-level depression throughout your life, day in and day out, it can be difficult to notice that you’re depressed all the time, apart from the overwhelming feeling that you can’t feel happy. Of course, dysthymia sufferers are forced to learn coping mechanisms that allow them to get through their day-to-day lives, so, quite often, people who have no experience with dysthymia may just assume that the sufferer is just lazy or has a poor work ethic.
Perhaps not so shocking is the fact that dysthymia is among the many depressive disorders that survivors of childhood sexual assault (CSA) have to deal with, alongside cPTSD, anxiety and personality disorders, and many other difficulties. Considering all the problems CSA survivors have to deal with dysthymic disorder can add a whole new level of complications.
Up ’til this point, I’ve been painting a pretty dark picture for you. However, there is hope. Dysthymia is formally listed in the DSM5 as Persistent Depressive Disorder. This means that treatments have been recommended, such as medications (usually serotonin re-uptake inhibitors like Zoloft and Prozac that help keep energy levels up), psychotherapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)), and self help efforts like support groups. I’ve also found prayer to be very effective.
If you think you might suffer from dysthymia, your best bet is to talk to a licensed psychiatrist. If you’ve experienced any form of childhood trauma, please make sure they are trauma informed. They may ask some questions or give you a questionnaire to fill out. The bottom line, though, is that you’ll be able to get help. That way, you won’t be left trying to live your life while swimming alone in an ocean with a giant squid.