Hello, my name is Eddie, and I have a disorder.
To many of you who know me, this opening line may read like an attempt at humor. After all, I’ve been known to start many a written work with a remark of sarcasm or self-deprecation. In this instance, though, I am being absolutely serious. My name is, indeed, Eddie, and I have been diagnosed with a disorder – but it might not be the type of disorder you think.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression. I, literally, cannot remember a time I did not feel this way. I’m sure it existed at some point, but I don’t recall it. I never reached the point, though, where I couldn’t still be at least semi-functional. The emotional road for me has not always been easy, but I have managed to make a few friends, earn a college degree, and get married and have five wonderful children along the way.
As the years progressed, however, it seemed life was becoming increasingly more difficult to manage. Every failure – real or perceived – took on more and more weight. Every problem lacked concrete solutions. Every tragedy felt like a bigger blow than the last. I found myself getting angrier and angrier, and sometimes I wasn’t even sure what I was angry about. I was contradicted at every turn. I would yearn for a day off, and then when I got one I would obsess over the fact I wasn’t doing enough. In fact, I could never do enough, no matter how hard I tried.
Through it all, I never thought of killing myself. I will admit, though, there were several nights when I closed my eyes and wondered what it would be like to never open them again. I just wanted the pain, the anger, the hurt to stop. I wanted to stop failing everyone around me, wanted to stop failing myself. And if I felt that way about me, well, I could only imagine how poorly everyone else viewed me.
As difficult as all this made my teen and adolescent years, there’s nothing that can rattle someone’s cage like throwing a spouse and children into the mix. Suddenly, not only was I letting me down, I was dragging totally innocent people down with me. Instead of getting angry with myself, I now had others to direct my wrath at. My bouts of indecision not only drove me crazy, but they now created utter chaos for everyone else as well. And those nights I mentioned before … well, they were becoming more and more frequent.
My wife and I celebrated 15 years of marriage July 11, which is astounding when you consider what a trial I’ve been most of that time. My wife has displayed an amazing amount of patience with me, but even she has her limits. That is why, a few months ago, as I was in the midst of one of my darker days, she finally looked at me and said, “Whatever it is that’s going on with you, I can’t help you anymore.” This was her not-so-subtle way of telling me it was time to get some help of the more professional variety.
A consultation with my physician (I should note here that several years ago a different physician put me on an antidepressant, with no assessment whatsoever. Maybe one day I’ll tell that story, but let’s just say for now that it didn’t end well.), I was directed to take an assessment for Attention Deficit Disorder. I had considered this as a possible explanation for my personality in the past, but had always written it off because I had managed to do pretty well in school, and I was relatively sure people with ADD didn’t do that. At this point, though, I was willing to consider any and all possibilities, so I went in for the assessment.
Without getting into too many details, an ADD assessment consists of a series of tests and sessions to determine whether you have it or not. I don’t know the length of the assessment process, but I’m fairly certain it consists of more than just three sessions, which is as far as I got before I was told ADD was not my problem. The verdict? Disthymic Disorder.
If you knew what that was when you read it, give yourself a gold star, because I had no idea what it was when I first heard it mentioned. In fact, I got a little concerned. This sounded serious. No one had ever told me I had a disorder before, especially not one with a weird name like that. The person telling me all this discussed it with me a bit, and I was sent home with a sheet explaining it in a bit more detail. And, of course, I had the internet to consult as a soon as I could get to a computer.
Turns out Dysthymic Disorder (or Dysthymia, as it’s sometimes called) is basically a fancy way of saying “chronic depression.” It’s symptoms are not as severe as a major depressive disorder, but it can last for several years, causing many who suffer from it to merely assume “that’s just the way they are” and adopt it as part of their character. And because there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it, many people with Dysthymic Disorder don’t even bother talking with anyone about how they feel.
I do not want to get into specifics at this point, but I will say I am now taking some steps to deal with this disorder. Everything seems like baby steps so far – a little change here, a little change there, but no sweeping transformation. There is a certain relief in the enemy having a name, though, and that has made as much of a difference as anything else.
Now, why would I mention all this in a public forum? Depression has a tendency to make people view you as damaged goods, and I don’t know anyone who would willingly bring that upon themselves. I could really disappoint some people. I could make some people angry, specifically those who steadfastly believe the key to overcoming depression is a swift kick in the rear and a willingness to pull oneself up by your own bootstraps. I may make some people uncomfortable.
Then again, I may save someone’s life.
A big reason I am coming forward at this point with my disorder is I am tired of watching so many people die. In 2012, the number of United States soldiers who committed suicide surpassed the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that more people now die of suicides than in automobile accidents. The Boston Children’s Hospital reports that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States, and is the fourth-leading cause of death in children between ages 10 and 14.
Depression can be a result of any number of factors – chemical imbalance, childhood trauma, physical or emotional or sexual abuse, self-pity, broken relationships… The list goes on forever. Some of these require treatment, and some require a simple act of will. Whatever the case may be, though, something is required to break the hold of depression, and if we foster a society where anyone dealing with it is too ashamed and frightened to seek help then we are digging our own graves.
I also chose to write this because I simply can’t go any further without acknowledging this. Over the course of these past few weeks, I have thought of numerous topics to write about, but none of them seemed as pressing as this one. I had reached the point where I could not write in a voice that felt like mine without first confessing who I am. I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but I say it both to explain why I haven’t written much here lately and also to say that from here on out depression and related topics will no longer be out of bounds for me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to write about it all the time, but it will likely appear here quite often.
I apologize for the length of this, but I feel as if I could write a thousand more words and still not cover all the ground I need to. If you think less of me now, so be it. I am who I am, and if I am wrong the truth will bear things out. I just hope I can use what I’ve written here as a starting point for good. I hope I can find the order in disorder.