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When Mild Depression Isn’t Mild

I have dysthymia. For those who aren’t obsessively lingo-attuned, it’s a high-functioning form of depression.

Which doesn’t sound like a big deal. It’s not listed under reasons to get disability. Because it’s not overtly disabling. It doesn’t necessarily keep you from keeping a job. Dysthymics have friends. They’re not always steeped in abject misery. If you’re dysthymic, you probably think that most people who know you wouldn’t guess how depressed you are. And you’re probably right.

But I bet people can feel your negativity. Maybe more than you can. Dysthymia isn’t just depression. It’s a personality trait. And not a good one.

What dysthymia does is drill a low-key but lasting hostility towards yourself and the word deep in your gut. It comes out at the most inopportune times, like when you’re about to try a new exciting thing and it stops you. It sets you up to expect failure.

It also destroys your relationships. It makes you hypercritical of others because you’re hypercritical of yourself. Nothing can satisfy a depressed person. Nothing fills the void. You might take increasingly high risks so you can temporarily forget about it. You might drink. You’re prone to addictive behavior.

Or you might just lie around in a giant pit of sloth once you get home, separating your time between Doing Things and waiting to die. Depressed people don’t initiate much. You probably find it hard to concentrate. You’ll do the bare minimum it takes to function. Not working usually makes depression worse. But that’s a catch-22, because a depressed person isn’t going to do a very good job.

Dysthymia comes and goes. Sometimes phases are triggered by things happening (good or bad.) Sometimes they just come on their own. A lot of the time the bad vibes come on when you remember things you’ve done wrong in the past. One of the best mental health truisms I’ve heard is that depression is thinking about the past and anxiety is worrying about the future. A depressed or anxious person is never where they are. They’re always living somewhere else.

I had my depression almost under control for years. But failing in school, finally realizing that I’m always going to be autistic, and nearing the end of my youth added up to a particularly toxic past two years that I’ve just started to develop the wherewithal to do something about. (Yet another shitty thing about being depressed: you become too complacent to do anything about it.)

I’m still afraid of antidepressants because they made me a zombie. But maybe I haven’t found the right one. I’m tired of not being able to work even part-time. I’m tired of fucking up my relationship. I’m tired of not initiating plans because I’m so paranoid that people aren’t going to want me around. I can barely even read a book.

I guess I’ve always felt deep down that this world is so bad that not being depressed about it is a sign of poor mental health. I wanted to use my dissatisfaction as an impetus to gun for change. But I can barely change my underwear at this point, let alone the world. I just want to feel better. That’s as good a goal as any right now.

When Mild Depression Isn’t Mild

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). When Mild Depression Isn’t Mild. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Dec 2016
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