In a classic A.A. Milne moment, Eeyore discovers that his tail is missing.
“That accounts for a Good Deal,” said Eeyore gloomily. “It Explains Everything. No Wonder.” “You must have left it somewhere,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.
“Somebody must have taken it,” said Eeyore. “How Like Them,” he added, after a long silence.
We all personally know our own Eeyores. They’re long-suffering folks who can’t find a shred of joy in any aspect of their lives.
Not only do they wallow in their own emotional dumps, but they suck others into the quagmire, too. Loved ones try in vain to boost their Eeyore’s spirits. “Look on the bright side,” they encourage. “Don’t worry. Let it go,” they repeat. Yet those cheery words fall on deaf donkey ears. And they grow increasingly exhausted by their futile attempts.
In today’s world, we’d diagnose Eeyore with dysthymic disorder. That’s a chronic, low-grade depression that lasts longer than two years in adults, one year in children and teens. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, dysthymia is characterized by such symptoms as loss of appetite or eating too much, sleeping too much or not enough, low energy or fatigue, low self-esteem, poor concentration or difficulty making decisions, and feelings of hopelessness.
Although dysthymia lacks the intensity and severity of major depressive disorder, it can wreak havoc on sufferers’ lives. Loss of interest, hopelessness and lack of productivity become a way of life. People with dysthymia are seen as complainers, knit-pickers, killjoys and lumps on logs. They’re a psychological drain on their families. They have few friends.
The causes of dysthymia include a complex combination of factors. Genetics play a role. We all inherit certain aspects of our personalities. A tendency toward gloominess can be one of them. Changes in neurotransmitters may be linked to alternations in mood. And environmental stressors, such as loss of a job or uncontrolled stress, can sap the fun out of any existence.
Eeyore may have clung tenaciously to his pessimism. But that needn’t be the fate for all dysthymia sufferers. Awareness, appropriate treatment and perseverance can help your tale have a very different ending.
GETTING HELP FOR YOUR DYSTHYMIA• Consult your doctor. Talk to your health care provider about your symptoms. You’ll want to rule out any physical causes or underlying disorders. He or she may prescribe antidepressant medication to help improve your mood.
• Tune in to your thought patterns. Dysthymic thoughts tend to fall into the “ain’t-it-awful” or “Iwon’t-like-that” category. Notice them when they occur. Understand that they’re inherent in your disorder. But they’re not necessarily true.
• Replace destructive, unhappy beliefs. Create a new playlist for your brain. Invent phrases you can tell yourself when old, Eeyore-like ones arise. Internal messages such as “This isn’t so bad” and “Let me give this a try” will instantly improve your mood.
• Don’t overthink decisions. Eeyores love to think too much. No matter how obvious the solution, they can talk themselves out of what’s best. Assess a situation, chew it over for a limited amount of time, then take action. Avoid needless fretting. That’s your inner Eeyore sitting frozen on the fence.
• Engage with friends. Eeyores can be critical sourpusses. They tend to shy away from social gatherings. They belittle lighthearted banter. But that’s just what they need to feel better. Make yourself hang out with others. Ignore any “this-is-stupid” commentary in your brain. Give yourself permission to enjoy the moment.
• Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins that improve your mood. It also works wonders for your self-esteem. Embark on a regular program. Shoot for 30 minutes at least three times each week. You’ll be amazed at the changes in your body as well as your psyche.
• Avoid drugs and alcohol. You’re already grappling with depression. The last thing you need is chemical downers. Steer clear of mood-altering substances and the people who use them on a regular basis.
• Find support. Dysthymia is difficult to treat alone. You’ll do better with a team to cheer you on. Hire a personal trainer. Join a support group. Get into therapy. These things will provide structure, offer feedback and keep you on track. And that’s great for everyone’s morale.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.