“Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to this “Treasures of Dysthymia’’ tour¹, brought to you by What’s Wrong with Me Holidays. Dysthymia is a lonely little kingdom to the north of sovereign state of Depression and south of Dysphoria and its dominion, Euphoria.
I’ve been an inhabitant of Dysthymia² for many years now and it appears that some of my ancestors may have originally been from Depression, but family history research is yet to show this definitively, though there are indications that some may have shared some of the customs of that land, such as an over fondness for alcohol and its worst outcome, suicide.
On this four day tour you will experience many of the national traditions and customs of the people of Dysthymia, who may be slightly less well known than, and often confused with, their neighbours, the Depressives. You will stay in a typical Dysthymic hotel, enjoy Dysthymia cuisine and participate in cultural activities. The group is necessarily small, as Dysthymics are by nature solitary and reserved, and will not respond well to large numbers of people appearing to them all at once.
First of all, let me give you your What’s Wrong With Me Holiday show-bags. If you just open them and take out the headgear first. This is made of heavy, grey mesh and must be worn at all times. It is a simulation of the cultural outlook of the people of Dysthymia on life and the world. Just slip it over your head. Those weights which sit on your shoulders should keep the headwear in place. Strange feeling, isn’t it? Your view of your surroundings should be hazy, grayish and unclear.
Let me help you, Madam. Make sure the eyes are completely covered. Your view should be as though you are trying to peer through the fog. The eye covering may be removed in some instances, for example, when speaking with non-Dysthymics or for wearing sunglasses.
These headdresses must remain on your head for the entire tour, to give you a real glimpse inside the mind of the typical Dysthymia citizen. You may find your head aches sometimes. This is quite normal, all part of the experience. I’m sure you’ll agree this is an original and insightful way of experiencing this unique culture.
Let me now go through the itinerary with you for this “Treasures of Dysthymia 4 day tour”.
First I’ll take you to your hotel, a typically traditional Dysthymic dwelling showing all the characteristics of untidiness, lack of attention to hygiene and a resident mouse population. Do not, on any account, attempt to clean the kitchen or the bathroom. You may consider doing so, but in the end, you must simply stand and stare at the chaos, possibly wishing you could do something about it and making promises that you know you will not keep to make a start on it tomorrow.
You may use the laundry, however, bear in mind that because it is broken, the washing machine must be manually emptied and it is usual to leave full buckets of water standing in the laundry for some weeks before taking them downstairs for emptying.
Beds comprise a 1990s-style futon, with a jumble of different bedclothes donated by family members. Please disregard the dog hairs covering the bedclothes and the carpet throughout the hotel. Dysthymics are extremely fond of dogs and often care more about them than they do of themselves.
You will each be assigned a dog to sleep on the end of your beds to enjoy the full experience of this method of staying on top of things. Believe me, by the end of the four days you will be glad of your furry companion.
Meals are sporadic. Some will be served in the hotel, depending on the availability of clean cooking utensils. If there are no clean plates you may eat out of takeaway containers and off lids of ice cream containers. This is perfectly acceptable in Dysthymia society
You should eat while watching television and should the telephone ring at any time, do not, under any circumstances, answer it. Dysthymics have an aversion to human contact and will avoid it as much as possible.
“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 2: Grocery Shopping
OK, right now, the first day will take us to the supermarket where you will need to buy your own food supplies for the duration of the tour. We will provide you each with $10 out of which you must buy food for yourself and your dog.
It is quite acceptable to buy enough for the dog even if this means you will be hungry and I’m sure that there will be many moments during the tour when you do feel a little peckish. Don’t worry about this, there are plenty of ‘No Frills’ brand frozen dimsums in the freezer (courtesy of the tour) to enjoy for your evening meal.
To get the full experience of shopping like a true Dysthymic, we recommend that you focus on ready- made meals, believing that these are cheaper than fresh foods (and of course in order to avoid that pesky washing up), milk, bread, tea bags and perhaps a fillet of nice meat. However, it is likely that your budget will not extend to the meat and you will need, at the cash register, to surrender this treat, or perhaps exchange it for supermarket brand BBQ sausages (4 pack).
As the famous Dysthymic saying goes, “As long as I have a cup of tea, I need nothing else”.
Grocery shopping done, if you have brought a little extra money for souvenirs you may like to pop into the $2 shops for a quick browse; the Reject Shop is very popular as it reflects how natives of Dysthymia really feel about themselves.
Solitary dysthymics can spend hours browsing the shelves for junk they don’t need, as acquiring new possessions relieves them of an abiding feeling that they don’t have enough. Another popular retail outlet is the Salvation Army and Not Quite Right supermarkets.
Local greengrocers often have a table of overly ripe produce and Dysthymics are a dab hand at making large pots of green capsicum and cabbage curry, or fresh tomato sauce (very little chopping needed as tomatoes are self-softening, another example of the resourcefulness often shown by Dysthymics).
You will find on this tour that there is a considerable amount of free time, so that you may make your own decisions about what to see and do. This is valuable for really making the most of your experience in Dysthymia.
Rumination is a traditional pastime of the Dysthymic nation.
Of course, being new to this state, you won’t know what to do and may spend much of this free time wondering what to do, pondering and trying to make decisions. Staring out of the window, gazing helplessly at the chaotic state of your hotel, finally coming to a decision and almost instantaneously changing your mind before collapsing into a bout of weeping on the floor will all add to the authenticity of the experience.
This is the natural state of being for Dysthymics, until the next highlight of our itinerary, going to work.
“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 3: Working
No trip to Dysthymia would be complete without a visit to the workplace, which we will take on the second day.
We hope to leave around 8.30, but this is unlikely as you will probably sleep much longer into the morning than you plan to. Many Dysthymics enjoy interrupted sleep and often lie awake during the ‘graveyard shift’. In some cases, graveyards may dominate thinking along with other people’s funerals. We will ring a special alarm every 20 minutes from 1am to ensure that you are wide awake by two.
We suggest you weep for a few minutes, then stagger into the kitchen where the glare of the light will cause a minor headache. Put on the kettle and spend a short time finding a mug, which you will, of course, need to rinse out, before making a cup of tea.
Usually, most Dysthymics return to bed with their tea, perhaps to read or just to ruminate. Remember, ruminate, ruminate, ruminate! The more you think about how you feel the more authentic your Dysthymic experience. Make plans! Go on! Just try to keep to them! If you do choose a book instead, bear in mind that you are unlikely to be able to concentrate on it and end up reading the same sentence forty-nine times.
Most Dysthymics do hold down jobs. The rate of unemployment in the land of Depression greatly exceeds that of Dysthymia due to the Dysthymics ability to maintain a level of functionality in their relations with foreigners (non-Dysthymics).
You will visit a small business owner, who established her own consultancy in a para-legal field and has operated it for four years. She will give you a short talk and explain why she chose to set up her business after losing her job twice in two years through government funding cuts despite having little business knowledge and even less experience.
She is a typical Dysthymic; making poor choices based on a need for a certain lifestyle. As mentioned above, Dysthymics prefer their own company and to be masters of their own destiny, living independent lifestyles free of interaction with others except on their own terms. She believed that she would be able to operate her own hours, walk the dog whenever she wanted, take on the clients she chose and make enough money to live comfortably.
As you will learn, none of these things came to pass except for walking the dog, an activity which soon became the only one which gave her some small degree of joy, though this was always tempered with an extreme sense of guilt.
With high demand clients, often refugees from the Land of Depression, the woman soon found she was running short on sympathy for her clients, despite the mounting sense of guilt this gave her. She began to distrust them, to blame them for not paying her accounts (although in her initial sympathy for their situation and needs she had offered payment terms so generous that they were ultimately detrimental to her own) and even her sympathy was edged out by cynicism and tendency simply not to care anymore.
At the same time, she thought if she could just take on a different set of clients, things might improve, so she set about meeting other business people (known as ‘networking’) and learning about other areas of legal practice open to her.
Sadly, but typically, the new direction for her business brought a different set of issues, each as worrying as those before. Although the potential for greater income was there, she didn’t realize it would bring with it extremely assertive and demanding clients.
These clients were mostly from extremely corporate lands which were known for difficult and aggressively demanding personalities. She felt out of her depth and made a serious but not insurmountable error with one client’s case. It did not affect the outcome for the client, but it did delay proceedings and was a cause of great stress and anxiety for the woman. Finally, the client took his business elsewhere.
She had a handful of business clients, but found that with each one of them, there was some aspect of the matter which meant that the work was extremely stressful and difficult. Clients lied when she asked them questions in order to offer the best possible advice, they didn’t listen to her concerns about their situation, they didn’t provide enough or appropriate documentation.
She began to dread turning on her mobile phone or opening her email inbox for fear of the hostile messages that lay in wait for her there.
Through all this, she kept her problems to herself, often a common characteristic of many dysthymics. When visiting family or friends she would shower, dress nicely, put on some makeup and her happy face, while, unbeknownst to them, the heavy grey mesh, the same that you are wearing on your heads, lay heavily over her heart.
She had kept from all those who loved her the fact that she now had citizenship of the State of Dysthymia. It is likely that those closest to her may have suspected that she no longer lived among them, but most were surprised to learn some years later that she had taken on this new identity.
“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 4: Trying to be normal
Following our visit to the Dysthymic business woman we shall go to a fast food outlet for whatever you can afford to buy for lunch, following which there is free time for you in the afternoon to rest and ruminate before we head out to a nightclub for an evening of salsa classes.
While citizens of Dysthymia are generally thought to be moody, glum and not much fun to be with, they do, in fact, enjoy some time with others as a stimulating change to their solitary lifestyle. These are, however, fairly rare moments and tend not to bring the person the desired outcome.
Some Dysthymics believe that if they be among other nationalities, their characteristic outlook on life will lighten, which is sometimes does, albeit temporarily. Many Dysthymics visit the land of Euphoria and enjoy their experiences there, hoping to recreate them in their own world.
This can lead to culture shock.
You should be ready to leave at 8.30pm. You may find it difficult choose an outfit and end up in the kitchen drinking a number of cups of tea while you decide whether you really want to go at all.
Driving home, you should refrain from thinking that you’ve had a good time; instead, ponder why you didn’t make more friends and have a handkerchief on hand as weeping is likely on the way back to the hotel.
“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 5: Going to the Park
The following morning you are again likely to sleep longer than planned. Get up when you can (pushing away those feelings of guilt and laziness), drink a cup of instant coffee and then we will take a visit to one of Dysthymia’s pleasant parks as care of your canine companion is paramount in the lives of Dysthymics.
It is important to abide by the following instructions while in the park:
1/ Wear large, dark sunglasses and put your earphones in your ears;
2/ Trudge or stomp slowly, pausing for frequent and unnecessary rests on park benches. You are not here to improve your physical health. You may use the tennis ball in your tour show-bag to keep your furry friend entertained. Remember, this walk is all about her;
3/ When other walkers come into view, avoid them immediately by choosing a different track;
4/ Under no circumstances should you speak to anyone;
5/ Ruminate, ruminate, ruminate on your feelings.
Then back to the hotel for a quick lunch of spaghetti and tomato sauce, before heading off to the library, many Dysthymics preferred place due to its quiet environment and good hiding spots behind the book shelves.
For the full Dysthymic experience, we have made sure that you have fines on your library cards, which will be loudly announced by the librarian and for which you will need to apologise and request to pay next time.
You will then beg to borrow more books. This is important, as the resources of the library are crucial to a Dysthymic lifestyle.
At the library we recommend a pile of books on emotional or self-help topics, perhaps a budget cook book or something to help with keeping the hotel in order, maybe a craft book or something about gardening.
It is forbidden to borrow or even glance at the travel section, writing section or photographic magazines as these represent the hopes and dreams of Dysthymic persons and are therefore of no interest to them at this time.
On the way home from the library we will stop at a bakery for doughnuts or the milkbar for chocolate.
Back the hotel, you will put on your pajamas and go to bed for the afternoon, reading your books and ruminating, with a cup of tea, of course.
It is recommended for this typically Dysthymic activity that you have a notebook and pen with you, for making plans which you haven’t a hope of making come true.
Still, it’s nice to think of, don’t you agree? Thinking, of course, is what the people of Dysthymia do best.
So we come to the end of our itinerary. We strongly recommend that you spend some time in the Republic of Euphoria after this tour, as too much time spent in Dysthymia is likely to have long-term adverse affects on your mental health.
Thank you for choosing What’s Wrong With Me Holiday’s “4 day Treasures of Dysthymia” tour. We look forward to meeting you again on the bus!”
This, of course, is my story.
(1) This was written back in 2008, when I had been diagnosed with depression for some three years and was of the view that I must be sick and requiring medication. I used these diagnostic labels because they reflect how I thought of my emotional state at that time. Today, I use the term ‘depression’ as a general descriptor, without suggesting that it is an illness.
(2) Dysthymia or dysthymic disorder is diagnosed today by psychiatrists today as persistent depressive disorder.