There are a lot of things I could say to describe myself. As you might surmise from this blog title, I’m a librarian. There are many other superficial descriptions I could give you (not necessarily in order of importance): male, thirtysomething, white, Oregonian, childless, atheist, cynic, ginger. The list goes on. But I’ll try to get on to the more interesting stuff. I work for a small public library district in northern Oregon in the lovely Columbia River Gorge. My photography skills are seriously lacking, so I can’t really do justice to the Gorge or the main library at which I work. Fortunately, Blaine Franger of Beautiful Hood River has done it far better than I ever could.
Being a librarian is a pretty great job. I actually direct the library, which is kind of like combining a stressful customer service job with a Kafkaesque government bureaucrat position. Really, it’s more fun than I make it sound. Trust me. I’m sure I’ll write about my job more in the future.
In addition to being a librarian, I also have dysthymia. No, it’s not an STI, even though it kind of sounds like one. Dysthymia is actually a somewhat common but not particularly well-known mental disorder. You can read more about it on the Mayo Clinic‘s great dysthymia page. And, since I’m a librarian, you can bet that I’ve vetted my sources! Need the TL;DR version? Dysthymia is a low-level but chronic depression that lasts for at least two years. For many people, dysthymia can last the entirety of their adult lives. While I was only diagnosed in 2012, I’ve had it for over two decades.
I find “depression” to be a frustrating word; it’s just so … squishy. Some might just think of “depression” as a simple emotion that’s just a worse type of sadness. Some might think of it as a severe mental illness associated with suicide and an inability to feel joy. Still others might just think of “depression” as a concoction of the modern medical and pharmaceutical industries to make money. I have a lot to say on that, as a dedicated (if not card-carrying) woo fighter, but that’s perhaps for another time. And oh yeah, my public policy peeps would probably be annoyed if I didn’t note that “depression” is an economic term, too.
These definitions are all to say that a dysthymia-like condition is not necessarily the first thing that people think when they hear “depression”. Someone you know might even have dysthymia and you don’t know it. Dysthymic people can be outwardly quite gregarious, or they could just be a bit laconic and dark. They could also be somewhere in between.
Every dysthymic person is different. For me, dysthymia manifests as a general dullness. It’s like I feel the world in greyscale. I’m usually not actually really sad, as “depression” would imply. But I’m also almost never really happy. Or really mad. Or really excited. Or really much of anything. I’m just … meh. Emotions are like the colors through which we experience the world, and my color receptors are broken.
This probably doesn’t sound that terrible. I mean, it’s not like bipolar, schizophrenia, or other “serious” mental disorders. But imagine not really feeling any strong emotion for years on end. You aren’t ecstatic when you get a fantastic new job. You can’t feel empathetic sadness when your friend tells you she was raped. You don’t get excited to watch your nephews unwrap their Christmas presents. You don’t get angry when you find out that someone directly lied to you at work. I’ve experienced all of these things. Or, more accurately, I didn’t experience them, because my emotional world is in shades of grey, and not the fun Fifty Shades variety.
Such lack of feeling can get even the strongest person down, of which I do not rank myself as one. Not surprisingly, dysthymia can have deep impacts on your life and work. I’ve lost romantic relationships due to my illness, dropped the ball at work innumerable times, and neglected my home and family. It can also easily develop into major depression and suicidal tendencies because the weight of not feeling is so brutal. I’m (hopefully) recovering from an acute suicidal episode as I write this post. I’ve had several throughout my life.
Dysthymia is challenging. It’s challenging to have, obviously, but I’d also imagine quite difficult to diagnose and treat (disclosure: not a doctor here). As noted, I wasn’t actually diagnosed for nearly two decades after the disease’s initial onset for me. I would like to think that I’ve been remarkably good at hiding my illness. Others would have to be the judges on that point, I suppose. But I’m tired of hiding how dysthymia affects my life, especially of hiding it from myself. I’m tired of thinking of it as a personality trait, even though it’s been with me so long that it effectively is. Maybe starting this blog is the first step to admitting the extent of my problem.