Checking Under the Hood

The word ‘Dysthemia’ is a Greek word which, when used as a noun, means ‘melancholia’ or ‘low mood’. (Can it be used as something other than a noun? I don’t know nothin’ about Greek.)

Anyhoo. Dysthemia is at the root of my own personal dance with depression. (Dances With Depression: Kevin Kostner’s new direct-to-film picture!) Sorry. So. Before the Cyclone Of Shit (CoS – beginning with my dad’s death) I was pretty much okay. I had my ups and downs, but they were normal – for my own personal value of normal – and I was, overall, a happy and hopeful little elf.

What dysthemia meant for me is that when the CoS hit, I got kicked down to a lower level of depression and couldn’t pull myself out of it. I call it: SUPERDYSTHEMIA. (No, I don’t.)

Before I go too far into this, I’m going to do a quick bit on how I think (because I’m not a doctor, and I only know what a couple of books and the internet have told me me) depression and anti-depressants work. DO NOT QUOTE THIS. Also do not use this to base any sort of anything on. At all. Ever. Okay? For the purposes of this post alone:

1. The neurons in your brain use neurotransmitters (chemicals) to pass information from neuron to neuron about emotions. For the sake of this example, let’s say the message – aka neurotransmitter – is ‘happy’.

2. Once the message has been sent from neuron A to neuron B via neurotransmitter, ‘happy’ is sent back to neuron A and reabsorbed. Let me again be clear: I understand this about as well as I understand fax machines; that is to say: not at all. Anyway. This process of re-absorption is called ‘reuptake’. ‘Happy’ has now been re-absorbed for future use.

3. There are two neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine, low levels of which are associated with depression and dysthemia.

4. Cypralex, the medication I’m on, is an SSRI. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. From this I’m assuming they’re either increasing the serotonin neurotransmitter, or they’re blocking it from being reabsorbed. Either way, serotonin levels go up, and I feel better.

Righty-oh, that’s enough uneducated information from me. So let’s split my life into two categories: Gwen A and Gwen B. I’m Gwen C (wave!) but more about me later.  Gwen A was me before the CoS. Gwen A had dysthemia, but she didn’t know it, because her little serotonin levels had been just a titch low her entire life. It wasn’t bothering her. Also, she had the coping skills of a fox, baby.

Then the CoS came, and those serotonin levels got depleted even more. Gwen A is now Gwen AB (now I’m a blood type? Dammit, this is a terrible way to narrate my story, but I’ve gone this far so I’m just going to barrel through…) with low levels of serotonin. She’s not sleeping well. She’s not eating properly. She has spent more than one night laying on the floor of her living room for no apparent reason, crying. She works sixteen hour days most of the week because it makes her feel like she’s getting something done.

Annnnd Gwen B. Because of the aforementioned fox-like coping skills, she pretty much gets along with life. She maintains friendships and a job and a relationship, and for the most part she seems fine. But she is completely overrun by anxiety and hopelessness. Oh, and a weird, random fear of death. Not a fear, even, really, just a certainty that she’s going to die young. This (to her) is an obvious conclusion of the fact that she can no longer conceive of her own future.

Let me be clear: Gwen B is not suicidal. Just resigned. And I? I am not a person who is resigned.

This is the main difference between the Gwens. (Ohhhh god this is so awful. I sound like I have MPD, on top of all the fun Greek shit. Seriously, I can’t stop.) Gwen B can be easily recognized by her lack of hope and her root-fact convictions. The thing is, you can’t see convictions or a lack of hope. And did I mention the coping skills? Did I make those sound good? In fact, they’re probably the thing that kept me from getting help and therefore, getting better, all those years. You can have the best success network in the world and it doesn’t mean shit if they don’t know what’s going on.

So! Gwen C is medicated. Hi! I’m going to go back to writing like a single human now, yes? Yes. Good. I’m (presumably) at a fairly normal level of serotonin right now. I’ll stay on these meds for a year or so, because that’s where the highest success rate is, and I’m a great believer in going where the greatest successes are. After that, if it seems like the right thing to do, I’ll go off of them bit by bit, and at some point I expect to be Gwen A again – which is a lot like me, now. I will probably have a slightly low level of serotonin or whatever little neurotransmitter is being pissy, but I will be fine. I can cope with that.

Gwen B, though – that gal is out. Still, it’s good to have seen her. Now I know what to be on alert for.

Question of the day: People who deal with or have dealt with depression, what are your red flags for when it’s time to start doing some work, seeing someone, or looking at medication?