My Experience to Befriend Dysthymic Disorder

Editor's note: Trigger warnings for depression and suicide. Thank you Bhakti for your resilience, and your courage to share your experiences and journey with depression. 

Before I begin my story, I’d like to remind you that I write this not to blame or accuse anyone who is involved in this story. What happened to me is something that I should handle myself. I’d also like to remind you that this story will openly share my personal history and personal struggles dealing with my depression, including my past and my suicide attempt. I am writing this story to increase mental health awareness, and reduce the stigma and prejudice surrounding mental illness in Indonesia.

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I write this neither as a teacher nor as a writer, but rather, as a human being that needs help, on behalf of the many individuals who struggle with a similar mental illness. I also write this because I’m honestly afraid that I can end up killing myself someday.

Here I go.

Hi, my name is Bhakti Satrio Nugroho. I’m 24 years old and I currently live in Purwokerto, Central Java, Indonesia. I studied English Literature when I was in college and now work as an English teacher, an amateur writer and a freelance translator. However, I’m currently jobless but have a few part time jobs to maintain a living.

I have good life. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but I have good family: wonderful parents, a lovely brother, and supportive relatives. Yet, I don’t feel as close with my parents as I’d like to be because of the dysfunctional relationship they have with each other. They would often fight in front of me when I was child.

I also have amazing friends from my hometown and college. I don’t like to compare, but the friends I’ve made in college are probably the best friendships I’ve made. We call ourselves the “Elite 12”. They support me when I’m down, and I try my best to return the favour. However, with my mental illness, I still struggle to be grateful for these individuals in my life.

I was diagnosed with dysthymia a couple months ago, but I suspect it began when I was a child. It has affected many things in my current life, including shyness, low-self-esteem, hopelessness and pessimism. It has impacted the way people judge and understand me.

Since I was a child, I have had a closed personality. I wouldn’t say that I’m introverted, but when I’m hanging out with friends, I usually feel alone, no matter how funny the situation is. As a child, I didn’t live with my parents. They worked as labourers in Chinese Taipei for over eight years. Instead, I lived with my grandparents. Even though they supported me financially, I never had the parental figure that I wanted.

As a Muslim child, I didn’t receive lessons on what it was like to be a Muslim from my own family. Instead, they would send me to a teacher after school. They didn’t pray and fast like other Muslim families. My family is a little complicated.

My mother’s family was Christian. My late grandfather was a member of the communist party and ran away after the G30S/PKI movement (a rebellion movement in 1965 led by the Indonesian Communist Party, PKI, which triggered a massacre towards ex-members of the communist party and their families). Following the movement, he changed his identity to begin a new life. When I was a child, he taught me a lot about being a Christian. On the other hand, my father’s family was Muslim, but they believed in Kejawen (an old Javanese belief that still worships various mystical things and holy spirits rather than God himself). Because of this, I never held strong faith as a Muslim. I was taught to eat blood sausage, pork, and snake even though they are forbidden in Islam.

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During junior high, I learned new things, both good and bad. As a teenager without parental guidance and living in a small village, I learned how to lie. As a curious teenager that wanted to blend in with my friends, I used my allowance and tuition behind my parents’ backs to buy cigarettes and drugs, and skipped classes to be with my friends. Since then, my life took a turn for the worse and became dark.

Once I got into high school, I stopped smoking and taking drugs. For some reason, I was able to stop myself from those behaviours even though some of my friends couldn’t. However, life didn’t feel the same anymore. I began to isolate myself from my friends and family. I would only go to school for classes and then go straight home. I spent a lot of my time in high school in my bedroom rather than outside being active, and I was becoming more closed off than usual. I only had a few friends from high school. I ate a lot and didn’t really care about my physical appearance. I became obese, messy and clumsy. At that time, I felt different from others. I began experiencing low self-esteem and self-worth. It continually worsened until college.

My time in college was one of the happiest periods in my life. I met a lot of new influences, from my teachers to my friends. It seemed like I could finally begin a new chapter in my life. I worked hard to be able to afford college, as my parents couldn’t afford to pay my tuition. I worked as a shopkeeper and tried to earn scholarships even though I wouldn’t consider myself a smart person. It was a tough moment in my life but I enjoyed it.

However, in this certain time, I also dealt with problems concerning how I should interact with others because of the lack of social skills. A couple semesters before my graduation, I became a victim to bullying. I became a laughing stock amongst my friends. Sometimes the jokes went too far dealing with my personal appearance. On the outside, I took their comments as a joke and laughed, but deep down in my heart I felt alienated, like I was an “unwanted” friend. I always consider them like my family but I was always the last one anybody thought of. I felt socially rejected from my own social group.

At this point, my personal way of thinking became worse. I began to look down on myself and apologize for things I didn’t do. My issues with self-worth and self-esteem came back to haunt me again. I always asked myself, “Was I that bad?” I came to feel as though I was not "good enough” for everyone I knew, especially with women. I didn’t know how to start a conversation. I felt socially awkward - like a social creep, a social outcast, and a loser. I didn’t know how to talk about my feelings because I didn’t know what I felt.

I began to isolate myself again because when I would attempt to express my feelings on social media, my friends would call me a drama king. They thought I was too sensitive and looked for attention.

This went on until I was rejected by a woman I loved. Not only did I lose her as a woman I loved, but I also lost her as a good friend.  Knowing everything I did for her only made her feel embarrassed is something that hurts deeply. It broke my heart and triggered my depression. She used to treat me like I was a monster or contagious disease; the way she avoided me was just unacceptable for me. But I could never blame and hate her because I always thought she deserved someone better. I believe she's happy now because she has found the perfect spouse she's always wanted and I wish nothing but the best for her. After all, she was a good friend of mine.

Meanwhile, at the same time I found out I had malignant tumors. My tumors were hard to handle. They grew back no matter how many times I got rid of them. I underwent five surgeries and spent almost two years dealing with this disease. Fortunately, some of them were benign; but in addition, my dysthymic symptoms were getting worse. The tumors, along with the romantic and social rejection I experienced were tearing me down, mentally and physically.

My mood changes every hour of the day like a rollercoaster, from excitement to sadness.  I mostly feel depressed when I have nobody to talk to or spend time with. I no longer enjoy gaming and reading. I lost passion towards things I used to enjoy. I don’t feel “good enough” and constantly worry about feeling rejected and physical pain.  At this moment, my exaggerated thoughts turned into chronic depression. 

I feel like I don’t live. I just exist.

One night, after my third surgery, I was alone in the hospital. Nobody visited me. I really wanted to tell my friends that I needed help, but I had no one to talk to. I remember walking to the hospital bathroom with my upper leg full of stitches. I tried to hold on to the walls as much as I could, but I slipped in the bathroom. My scrub trousers were full of water, and my blood started to flow back to the infusion bottle, which fell to the floor. When a nurse asked me what happened, I just smiled because I had no idea.

At that time, I thought my life wasn’t worth living for. After I went home, I abused medicine to numb my pain - pain from a broken heart, pain from a social rejection, pain from a malignant tumor, pain from a dysfunctional family, and so much more. I slowly tried to commit suicide.

I remember waking up in a serious condition. I was trembling and breathing heavily with a low heartbeat. But while feeling that, I knew God was there to save me. I learned that the real world doesn’t work like that. I regret having been godless for a while. It was a huge lesson in my life and I hope I never do it again. This was probably my lowest point dealing with these issues so far. I can’t imagine what could be worse than that.

Understanding My Dysthymic Disorder

Being dysthymic is something that is inexplicable. I mean, you are aware that you are different, socially and mentally. You know that you’re in trouble, but somehow, you don’t know what it is, how you should handle it, and where you should ask for help.

  Bhakti and his friends, the "Elite 12".

Bhakti and his friends, the "Elite 12".

The real danger of dysthymia is when I constantly feel threatened and buried in an episode.  These episodes bring about horrible ways of thinking, which consist of negative thoughts of hopelessness and suicide. Sometimes I can’t feel sad or happy during these episodes. I feel nothing but emptiness. At this point, dysthymia is like a bleak and painful form of realism, opposite of a life that "normal" people want.

For me, the hardest part about being dysthymic is when I lose my friends because they wanted to help, but they end up having enough. Having someone to talk to will only make me become isolated and avoided because they will probably think that I’m just a weirdo, over-melancholy, stubborn, childish, and a cry-baby. I’m worried if I openly say that I have mental illness, my friends will probably think that I’m crazy or mentally unstable and start avoiding me one by one.

As a result, I lost a friend whom I considered family because I overshared my negative thoughts, regardless of how hard I tried to be more positive. It’s one of my biggest regrets in life. But I don’t blame her or anyone else because I don’t even know how to deal with myself. It was my fault, I snapped.

Being in intimate relationships, even wanting to, only makes me vulnerable to hurt. I cause it and I suffer from it. Now, it’s hard for me to begin new relationships because every woman that I loved seems to avoid me. My last broken heart has taught me a lot. I no longer have that confidence anymore. It seems like I was designed to be alone. 

Maybe I should be used to it by now, but I don’t want to be alone. I want to have normal life like others too. I need friends, family, partner and social supports.

Well, I have a lot of things to do now in order to bounce back from this mood disorder and my cancer. I try to stop beating myself up over this whole saga and focus on putting back the pieces of my life together. I know that there are a lot of factors as to why things don’t work out, but I also deserve to have a life like normal people. I’ve started being grateful even though dysthymia makes it hard for me to do that. Last but not least, I am also trying to stop blaming others and focus on how to manage and understand all of my problems including this chronic depression. Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book entitled At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk's Life,

"When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or our family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change."

It’s not about reasoning or blaming, but it's about understanding. It means that I should understand my situation, my condition, my will, others’ people feelings and, most importantly, my own feelings. I wish I could understand myself better than anyone else.

I can only say sorry to all my friends for being too negative and weird, especially for those whom have had enough with me and now avoid me. I do not blame or hate them for this. Now, I’m trying my best to be as positive as I can. Yes, dysthymia may have become a part of my personality. I might feel sad all the time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also be happy.

  Bhakti with some of his closest friends who supported him during his recovery.

Bhakti with some of his closest friends who supported him during his recovery.

I do regret a lot of things in my life, but I don’t regret my family, my friends and anyone who has been nice to me. I would not be the person I am today without them. I have wonderful people around me. They are one of the reasons why I wrote this story.

After all, I’m not a famous figure. I’m just an English teacher who lives in a third world country, and an amateur writer who wants to share his experience and good fortune about mental health with the world. I still don’t achieve any meaningful accomplishments in my life and I have to do it. I remember the meaningful line from an American popular TV Show, The Big Bang Theory, which may teach us a lot about something,

"The sad truth is that, not everyone will accomplish something great. Some of us may just have to find meaning in the little moments that make up life."

Lastly, someday I hope I can say the following words to my family, my friends and everyone without being discriminated and avoided:

“My name is Bhakti Satrio Nugroho. I live with chronic depression, and I am not ashamed.”

Thank you for reading this, and please be kind to each other.

- Bhakti Satrio Nugroho
Indonesia


Bhakti Satrio Nugroho is a freelance English teacher, translator and content writer. He was diagnosed with dysthymia and cancer. He graduated from Jenderal Soedirman University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.  He has loved writing since college.


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