I didn't know I was depressed. I wasn't that lady in the anti-depressant commercial who couldn't get out of bed until her dial was wound back up. I wasn't thinking about ending my life. I wasn't staying in bed all day, losing interest in things that made me happy. I was going to work. I was functioning.
I couldn't be depressed. I made people laugh. I socialized. I was successful. Sure, I felt sad and irritated a lot. At times it felt like I was going through the motions and putting on a show, but I was used to it. It would make me exhausted, especially when surrounded by people for long periods of time, but that's just the product of being a mother with a full-time job and family, right? My time was limited and my responsibilities were endless. My energy and self-esteem were often low but after having children your body never looks the same and you question every decision you make, so of course my self-esteem was low. I felt hopeless and alone at times, but that's normal. I didn't have the luxury of meeting a friend for dinner or focusing on me whenever I felt like it. I felt agitated and irritable other times. I'd rationale every feeling away convincing myself it was just part of being a working mom in a stressful job.
I had periods of joy and laughter but I'd always come back to that same feeling of blah. It felt like a piece of me was missing, the piece that could feel hope and excitement. It was numb. I'd look at my two exceptional children and my fabulous husband who makes me laugh everyday and I'd be happy but still felt empty inside. I felt unable to focus or make decisions and unmotivated to start my day. If someone hurt my feelings, I'd spiral into self-pity. I'd beat myself up for things I had done or didn't do, for the way I looked, or the way I may have come across to others. I would spend days denying myself certain foods because I'd convinced myself I was going to gain weight. I would obsess over what others thought of me. I'd feel guilty.
I was able to hide most of it from those around me but my immediate family noticed. My own daughters were growing older and I felt like a hypocrite telling them to love and honor themselves while I was emulating everything I wanted them NOT to be. I was an insecure woman pretending to be happy. I didn't love and honor myself. I was terrified they were going to notice. Something had to change. I made a decision right then and there. I will do whatever it takes to be whole and happy for them.
That's when I learned about dysthymia, or high-functioning depression. High-functioning depression is what I like to call "depression-light." People with this type of depression experience less-severe depression symptoms. Symptoms last for at least two years. These symptoms are often dismissed as a part of your personality. "I'm just a moody and emotional person who cries a lot. I have a short fuse. I take things too personally."
No one knows for certain what causes dysthymia, but it could be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, a family history of the condition, a history of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, stressful or traumatic life events, physical brain trauma, such as a concussion, or chronic physical illnesses. I was basically a ticking time bomb with almost every single factor listed above. It all started to make sense.
Guys, it took SO much courage to admit something may be wrong. It took so much courage for me to talk to my doctor and call a therapist. But I did it. Why? Because I refuse to suffer any longer. I refuse to teach my children that misery is acceptable. Suffering through depression did not make me stronger. It robbed me of enjoying my life.
Talk-therapy and/or anti-depressants are very successful treatments to treat high-functioning depression. I started with my primary care physician and went over my options and you can too. If you think you may have dysthymia, don't waste another second.
Help is available. You do not have to live this way.
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Heidi has been working as a school counselor for over 15 years and strives to end the stigma of depression. She offers helpful tips and strategies to help yourself or someone you love who is suffering. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression gives her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as a adolescent and adult.