Dysthymia and The Optimism Bias

Dysthymia, What is that? It is a fancy term for chronic low grade depression. Chronic, meaning it lasts for over 2 years. It is not major depression. It doesn’t have all of the symptoms of major depression. The person is able to function daily. Just because the person is able to get out of bed, shower, get dressed, put on make-up and brush hair and drive to work each day and keep their job  – does not mean that the person see’s the world out of rosy colored glasses.  Quite the contrary.

There is a book out that I’d love to purchase or at least rent. It is called The Optimism Bias and (I’m sure) in one paragraph or perhaps in one small chapter summary it explains how “our brains” are naturally wired to see the world in this pink – rosy color. We are wired to see things in a more positive light.  Example:  If you are told the chances of the “average” person getting cancer (any kind) is 30%, you’d think  to yourself “Oh that’s 30% for most people, but not me. I’m healthy. For me, my risk is only 15%”. Your brain normally and naturally paints a more rosy/happy/positive/optimistic view of your own life – even if you are told that statistically – everyone has a X% of risk for XYZ.  There is a video of this book on TedTalks. You can view the lecture here at this link:


Now, at one point in Tali Sharot’s speech, she says (and I’m paraphrasing here) —If we all were honest with ourselves about the world around us and honest with how our world affects us we would all be just slightly depressed since we’d know that the true case of the world and the realities of this world affecting us–

Ah, mild depression Tali Sharot? Well, I believe 100% that I am more honest about the world and how it affects me. I believe I have looked at the world with eyes that see a little more reality and LESS optimistic color to them. I’ve been TOLD from others in my life that I’m just TOO honest with other people, and I’m too honest for my own good. So it seems being honest with oneself CAN hurt you? You get mild depression from it.

So what are the symptoms of this Dysthymia? “Poor appetite or overeating; insomnia or excessive sleep; low energy or fatigue; low self-esteem; poor concentration or indecisiveness; and hopelessness” from : http://psychcentral.com/lib/advice-for-coping-with-chronic-depression/0003

According to Jane Collingwood, some people are treated with both drugs and psychotherapy. She does add in “Due to the long-term nature of dysthymia, a non-drug treatment is ideal.”

Now let’s get real. Has psychotherapy helped me? I’d say having more friends has helped me more than psychotherapy.  As social beings we all need friends. We all need to be around people. Now of course I do fell good when I go to a therapist that actually listens to me instead of them just talking.  The other part of this is a little more deep.   The point of going to therapy is to change something. Make some type of goal. It could be couples counselling and to change the way you talk to your spouse. It could be counselling with your child and you learn how to communicate your needs to your child without making your child feel like you don’t love him and you want to do the dishes – yet he feels like a slave when he does the dishes. But you are just trying to teach him some skills that he will need when he is on his own. Maybe he feels like he doing “mom’s job” when doing the dishes. So the therapist can help both parent and child to look at the situation through different eyes. What if the parent is a little over controlling or may be the parent is not setting down any boundaries at all and allows the child to do whatever. Change.  That is the real reason people go to therapy.

Now the big question. Did I change from going to therapy? Parts of me did change. Parts of me did not change. And I’m still seeing the world through grey colored glasses. I can see a difference in my outlook now if I compare it to how I was 10 years ago. I can see how my outlook was almost always negative. I remember in my late 20’s I’d say “if you look for the bad in people you will find it”. I think I picked that up from Bible college since I was told so much that “tv in sin” and “dancing is sin” and “everything is sin” and that I didn’t agree with any of that. I told all of the people that were telling me all of this that – if they see the world through sin then everything will be sin to them.

Sometime between 2001 and 2008 I began to look for the “bad” in my life and guess what I got? I got more “bad” stuff into my life. What I focused on is what I got. I remember before 2003 I had “visions” of a car accident. Visions? They were daydreams. I was daydreaming. What car? My car. I owned a 1992 Nissan Sentra. Before May 2003 I would daydream of a car accident. I got into a car accident in May 2003 while going to work. It was my 2nd day of work. I started on a Friday and I went into work Monday. I didn’t make it to work. I drove 99% of the way to work. About 2 miles before I got to the office, my car went out of control.  No one was around, no parking lot was build – yet. My car went off of Jefferson Street and hit the curb and flipped once and landed on all four tires with the motor still running. I don’t know how fast I was going since my speedometer was not working. I know other cars were passing me just before my car went out of control. (I didn’t have anti-lock brakes and I put the brake on and it fishtailed). I even remember hitting a small 3 foot wooden survey post. I didn’t black out.  I remember it all.

My “vision” was always a red car. I used to say before my car accident “Who is the owner to that car in my visions?” Or “Is that my car”? Or “Why are my visions always a red car?”  Hello? I was daydreaming of my own car accident. Some may say I’m nuts for saying that by daydreaming about it, I created it.

What you focus on, you get.  The only thing I need to ask myself now is – what do I want to focus on? My life used to be full. I used to think of positive things. Well, most of my thoughts prior to 2004 was on what I thought “god” was at the time. Is ignorance bliss? Some say yes. But I can’t answer that question for you. You must answer that one for yourself.





3 thoughts on “Dysthymia and The Optimism Bias

  1. Whoa! You really took us for a ride!
    Low grade depression – I know at least one person diagnosed with that particular form of depression and, although not life-threatening (usually), it’s no fun.
    I don’t know if my mental state before I fell off the edge of the earth was to the level of (can’t spell it) ______, but I certainly misplaced my rose-colored glasses.
    Got three minutes to finish this . . .
    Karen got me into the mental habit of looking for the positive.
    Posting 3 affirmations and 3 “grateful for . . .” on a daily blog got my mind centered on the good instead of what I had been bitching about.
    That may have set me up for success at DBT/CBT.
    All symptoms are difficult.
    Depression in any form is a drag.
    Keep trying different things cause if you keep doing the same thing you’ll get the same result.

    • I have a big book that I use to write down my blessings. I started writing in it daily last summer. Then stopped after getting to letter I or J. Then I picked it up again around October and I think I stopped on letter S or R. Then I asked myself one question: What do I want? Then I filled in the blanks. Not what I “don’t want” such as “enemies” or “fake people around me”. But what I DO want. I started reading “The Secret” again. I read it in 2008, second time around read it in 2011/2012. I’m doing it again. It is kinda the opposite of the book “10 Things about Life Every Woman Should Know”. And the principles in “The Secret” are not aligned with Buddhism with meditation. I need to get back to my morning meditation. But at least 3-4 days a week I’m waking up at 5:45am and – walking by 6:30am. And I started doing my daily (well almost daily) ritual that I used to do in 2011. Granted – if I get out the door before sunrise which is 6:35am last week – then I say “good morning” to the sun. (Not “son of god”, but sun that literally lights our Earth. I love the sun so much, I just might be worshiping RA).

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