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May 20, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Mental Health

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Am I Dysthymic?

Question:

I've had "school refusal"ť since the age of 7, which, if you haven't heard of it before, basically means that I suffer from anxiety about school attendance. I don't suffer from anxiety when I'm attending school, but I'll, for example, forget to do some homework and then refuse to go to school because I don't want to face the teacher. When I stop going I usually enjoy not having to be in school, so I stay out for a week or two. Once I do want to go back I can't because I find it too scary. There have been times my parents dragged me to the school gates and left me with school staff, only for me to run out of the school building and make my way home because I'm so afraid of being there.

I was never bullied and I'm actually quite good at academics. I hate school because I don't have many close friends, and I sometimes have problems with accepting certain teachers' authority (I can also be too much of a perfectionist when it comes to my work; I can never do it up to my standards, even if my standards are several times higher than what the school expects from students). When I'm out of school it usually lasts several months, and it can happen several times a year.

In 8th grade I started having suicidal thoughts, and have felt down on and off since then (though in the last year or so it's been less "on and off" and more of just "on"). In the summer between 8th and 9th grade I started cutting myself (not very regularly or seriously though), but I quit that because I was worried my parents would see my scars. If they had, they would try and make it harder for me to gain access to a means to kill myself (and also because that part of me that thought I deserved to be "punished" realized that I felt a lot worse when I didn't cut than when I did). I haven't cut myself for over a year now. I never really had any problems with an "addiction" to cutting, it was just something I did because it stopped me feeling so down; it was never compulsive and I don't have bad scars. I miss it sometimes, because when I'm down I want to be able to feel numb like that again, but I'm not sure I could face the risk of my parents finding out.

I am now in grade 11 and should be taking my GCSE exams soon, but I'm not in school at the moment. I feel as though I'm not good enough to pass them after all the school I've missed. My parents tell me I'm bright enough to pass them (though probably not with As) despite the missed classes. My problem at the moment is I don't feel motivated to go back into school. I cannot think of anything I'm particularly passionate about or at least not enough to get a job doing it. On the one hand, I can't help but think, "What's the point of doing exams if I end up with a job I hate anyway?". On the other hand, I sometimes feel that I might have a chance if I actually passed my GCSE, but I feel really hopeless about passing them. I think I've missed too much school over the years and now everything is all falling apart; it's finally reached a stage where I'll have to face up to what's happening, and I feel like I might have blown all my chances. I've just screwed everything up too badly.

I don't think I'll ever enjoy life and I'd prefer to commit suicide now than live any longer than I have to. I'm not sure I could ever bring myself to actually do it though, and I don't want to inflict pain on my family. I feel trapped, like I'm condemned to spend years and years alive even though I just want to get away. I find being alive so tiring I'm not sure I could cope with it for 60 years more. It's too wearing. I've never been abused or anything; in fact, nothing very traumatic has ever happened to me, I've never even had a relative die. My family has always been very loving and supportive. Depression does run in my mum's side of the family though (she's one of four siblings, and all but one of them have had some form of depression). My grandfather was depressed, as was one of my mum's brothers. Her sister was bi-polar and my mum had post-natal depression after my older brother was born.

I've been reading about Dysthymia and wondered if I might have it, since I've been feeling down for quite a while. I also wonder if I'm just hyping it up - I've never been diagnosed with anything, though I have been checked for mental problems due to the school absences. When those people ask about my life I feel compelled to lie and pretend I'm happy. I guess it's just a habit. I seem to match up with quite a few criteria of Dysthymia; I feel like I overeat or eat when I feel down, and I have trouble getting to sleep (although that's been true of me since I was very young). I've been crying more often recently, and not just when I'm lying awake in bed at night - sometimes it's just during the day, and I have to dry my eyes really fast to make sure no one catches me. I don't like being emotional in front of people, so if something upsets me I'll often wait until I have a chance to be alone so I can cry and get over it. Lying awake in the dark gives me a lot of time to dwell on things, and it's also somewhere to cry about things where no one can see me.

I still want to hurt myself sometimes. I get graphic mental images of cutting my arms, but I'm too worried about my parents finding out to give in. However, if I want to hurt myself and don't do it, it leaves me feeling pretty awful. I feel like I need some sort or release but can't have it. I also get bored and irritable a lot, but then, that's another thing that has happened since I was very young. I don't really find anything inspiring anymore, and can be kind of lethargic about doing things. I also sometimes feel very anti-social and don't want to see anyone. I realized I started feeling this way not that long after I first smoked weed. I still smoke weed occasionally (usually not more than once every 2-6 months), but it doesn't seem to affect my mood at all, other than making me mellow for a short while. I'm not addicted, I can go half a year without smoking and I don't find it all that noticeable. It's just something I like to indulge in on occasion. It doesn't seem to have any bad effects, and it's kind of nice to be reminded what it's like to feel happy and laugh every now and then.

Am I Dysthymic or is it something else? And if I am, could it have been caused by smoking weed? I would also ask for advice about what to do about it, but you'd probably recommend that I go see a therapist or something, and I don't know if it's help. And if it didn't then having people know how I felt would probably blow any chance I had of using the other way out, which would be suicide, and then I'd be even more trapped than I am now. I'm pretty sure there's no way I could get help without letting my parents know that something was up.

15-year-old woman

Answer:

I wonder if you have anyone in your life at the moment that you can really talk openly with - someone you can trust who is supportive. You sound very isolated and alone with your troubles, and someone to talk to always helps. You are obviously confident online, so there must be forums out there which may have people you could relate to.

It seems that your anxiety around school, and hence your reluctance to attend, has had a major impact on the rest of your life. How do you feel about not being included in the school system, which includes the social life as well?

You mention smoking weed too, but from what you say it doesn't sound like you're smoking it that often. It probably won't be helping your mental state, but I doubt very much that it's the main cause of your problems. You are obviously depressed, but to label yourself as Dysthymic won't really help you much.

Part of your problem also seems to be pessimism regarding the future - you can't see the point of studying for exams when you don't know what you want to do with your life, and you haven't found anything you enjoy. I can fully understand this - I was exactly the same myself for many years (especially late teens/early twenties). But at some point in the future, you will discover something that motivates you. You are obviously an articulate and intelligent person - you write very well. You are also very self aware and clearly a thinker. The future is impossible to predict, but you won't always feel the way you do now. But that doesn't necessarily help you deal with feeling so low at the moment does it? You haven't messed up all your chances though; an academic education can be followed at any age. If you don't pass your exams right now, you can take them again some other time, years from now maybe. That's what happened to me, and I ended up getting a degree. I certainly never thought that would happen when I was 18.

You mentioned when talking about cutting yourself that there is a part of you which you feel deserves to be punished. What is that part? What have you done that is so wrong that you need to punish yourself? Are you blaming yourself for the situation you're in right now? If you don't feel like you fit in anywhere, is that really your fault? Or is it the fault of a culture which doesn't appreciate originality or difference? Maybe forgiving yourself for your mistakes would be a good start. You also said you have very high standards for yourself - maybe this makes it harder for you to forgive yourself?

You haven't said if you're drinking alcohol at all. If you are, then I would say this could cause you more problems than the weed. Alcohol is a strong depressant, and under the influence of it, people tend to act out in a very emotional way, even though, of course, it may temporarily numb the pain you feel.

It sounds like you've had some involvement with psychiatric assessment services, and understandably you didn't feel you could trust them. However, there are professionals out there who could really be of help to you - not all of them obviously - you need to feel some sort of connection with them. But if you look around locally, there is bound to be some sort of young person's advice center, and you will be able to talk to somebody there CONFIDENTIALLY. Check what their policy is about suicidal thoughts before you mention it - they might have an obligation to pass that information on. Otherwise though, they might be able to give you some support and get you through this difficult patch.

This question was answered by Tobin Hunt. Tobin is a qualified Psychologist (BSc Honors) and Counselor (RSA) with 7 years experience in addiction. Rather than follow a 12-step or AA type approach, he adopts one in which the person’s individuality is appreciated and his or her own resources are fully developed. He empowers his clients and helps them identify the precise content of their thought processes and beliefs.

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