Mental Health: Dysthymia, Uncategorized

Dysthymia: The Intersection Between Faith and Science

It’s Not Your Fault

“It’s not your fault,” she said as warm tears streamed down my face.

The room was white with a huge window facing west. It was almost noon so the sun was beaming through the window.

My body was tight. I kept writhing my hands together because I was so nervous. This was my last resort.

“It’s not your fault,” she repeated gently and more tears.

If you haven’t figured out where I was, I was in a therapy session. But, let me take you back a little so you understand how we got here.

My Internal Struggle

It was May/June of last year and I was depressed. I wholeheartedly lost the desire to live. In every sense of the word. No dreams. No goals. I found no joy in things that used to bring me joy. I grew distant from my friends. I did not have the motivation to do anything. Somehow, I still managed to function. Still showed up to work, still went to church, still smiled when people were around, but when I was alone that’s when I couldn’t find the strength to keep it together.

Before deciding to see a therapist, I had actually reached out to a few friends. They didn’t think my situation was that dire.

“But you look happy,” they said, “you are doing well for yourself. Have you tried praying?”

First of all, their interpretation of me was not off. My childhood made me an expert at hiding my emotions. Abuse at home, straight-A student at school. No one had the slightest idea.

They were used to seeing the “polished” version of me. Some were holding on to the over-achiever version, others to the youth pastor version, some to the leader version, others to the preacher version, but none were seeing the tired, broken, hopeless version of me.

Now, to address the “Have you tried praying?” question.

Of course I tried praying. That’s what made it even more frustrating. There was something wrong and I wasn’t getting an answer. FYI – Sometimes this happens. You pray and pray and nothing. That doesn’t mean God isn’t listening, nor that he doesn’t care, nor that he isn’t working. Sometimes that’s just part of the process. Believing that it will be OK, even though it doesn’t feel OK… that’s faith.

There was also an added layer of complexity… I felt guilty. How could I not be happy? I was doing well. I was actually better than ever in comparison to where I had been in the past. I had a job, finished my masters program, joined the gym, going to church, had friends, getting along with “le’ siblings” (I will always refer to them as such because it sounds fancy). I mean on the surface I had every reason to be grateful and happy, but underneath the surface there was this pain that would not go away.

For years, I kept busy to avoid the pain. I worked long hours, volunteered at the church, took classes, read books, jogged, painted, sang, I simply kept busy. So, when I talked to my friends about it and they would say things like, “maybe you need a hobby? or a boyfriend?” Or as some would put it, “Just be happy. Do things that make you happy.” I felt hopeless because if there’s one thing I had done, that is that I tried. I HAD REALLY, REALLY TRIED.

At one point, I suggested that maybe I should see a therapist. My friends, well intentioned as they were, were not really on board with this idea. See, we all have a similar upbringing. The dogma we were taught was simple – Jesus is the answer to all. The answer to our problems is faith, not science, not a pill, and definitely not a shrink (not the politically correct term, I know).

Now, before I continue – Yes, I believe that there is power in the name of Jesus. Yet, my pastor once said something that really resonated with me. Basically, though God will sometimes perform miracles, it is not a miracle (supernatural occurrence) if there is a natural solution. The example, if you are praying for a job, getting a job doesn’t require a miracle. It requires job applications, networking, sprucing up our resume, calling, interviewing… you can pray for God to open doors by giving you grace and favor, but this wouldn’t fall under the miracle section. There are natural, earthly things we can do to make this happen.  A miracle is like when Sarah had a child at 90! No earthly, logical explanation behind that one.

So many opinions, so many thoughts, so many fears, so many questions. I decided to go against the idea that seeing a therapist was me choosing science over faith. So, I setup an appointment with a psychologist.

It Has A Name?!

After about 45 minutes of pouring my heart out. “Dysthymia,” she said followed by, “and it’s not your fault.”

This was news to me. See I always thought my faith wasn’t strong enough,  I wasn’t praying enough, I wasn’t keeping busy enough AND for the very first time I heard the words, “It’s not your fault. You aren’t choosing to be unhappy.” It was a massive load off my back. So here’s where faith and science intersected for me. My therapist was practicing skills that she was taught based on scientific evidence for proper counseling techniques, the bible calls this very same method grace. I don’t care if we call it faith, science, or both – I felt better.

My therapist went on to explain that due to my traumatic childhood it could be possible that the chemistry in my brain was off. I lived in constant fear majority of my childhood so my fight or flight response was always activated, that meant that during my developmental years cortisol and adrenaline were constantly being pumped into my system (these are stress hormones). In turn, maybe my brain needed a little extra help to produce dopamine (a neurotransmitter responsible for helping us feel happy). And then the dreaded words… she said them ever so cautiously… because she knew. She’d heard enough to know that I would be against the idea, but she said it anyway, “I don’t think therapy alone will help you, you are already doing things to help you feel better. It’s not just about changing your behavior or thought patterns, it’s a chemical imbalance. I think you should also be referred to a psychiatrist.” I am paraphrasing and I hope I did her justice, she’s a great therapist by the way.

Ok, sooooo… my chemistry was off. That probably explains why I don’t have chemistry with others and I’ve been living in this relationship oblivion for years, haha! I reluctantly agreed to see a psychiatrist.

But, I still had so many questions. New questions, but more questions, nonetheless. What is Dysthymia? How can I get rid of it? Is this a “forever” thing? How long will I need to be in therapy? Will I have to start taking medication? And for how long? And what type… like antidepressants? Oh boy.

No wonder my friends did not understand what in the world was going on with me. I mean I could barely spell Dysthymia… why are there two y’s in there? I don’t know. I am grateful for my friends though, they have been very supportive throughout this whole ordeal. And I am sure my depressive state was concerning for all of us. I am sure they would have fixed it if they had known how.

What exactly is Dysthymia? It is a continuous long-term form of depression, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder. Think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, always down in the dumps. It’s not as debilitating as Major Depressive Disorder in the sense that you aren’t completely incapacitated, but while Major Depressive Disorder usually lasts on average 4 to 8 months, Dysthymia can sometimes last 2 years or longer. I always thought I was sad simply because well… my situation stunk. An abusive and alcoholic father can make anyone sad, but once he was gone… the sadness lingered.

It’s at this point where I will share one of my favorite go-to verses:

 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

 

Because now I went from having one therapist to having a therapist and a psychiatrist and it was a scary thought.

2 thoughts on “Dysthymia: The Intersection Between Faith and Science”

  1. I am so sorry that you are going through this. I have my own psychological issues and have a few friends with depressive disorders, so I know that what you are experiencing is very difficult and dangerous. As a Christian, I want to apologize on behalf of holy church (as bold as that is) for those who told you to pray more or made you think it was faithless to see a psychologist. Have they not read an iota of the scriptures? For God does his work by means of human agents. If you have been praying for relief from your depression, then God gave you grace when you started getting therapy. The therapy is the grace! This is no different from Moses’ hand parting the Red Sea. God acts through people, so going to counseling is an act of faith in a God who has said, “I have come so that you may have life to the fullest.”

    1. Thank you so much! Your words are very encouraging. At first it was very hard for me. Yet, after a whole lot of prayer and asking God for clarity I have come to believe that perhaps I had to go through these experiences to be a voice for mental health awareness within the church. I am grateful that I don’t hold it against the body of Christ, but I know that is only possible because I had a personal relationship with Christ prior to these experiences.

      My hopes are that I can learn to cope with this area of my life and be able to inform and teach others.

      Thank you so very much for your kind words.

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