By David Webb The Rare Reporter
Getting mad and staying mad seems to be a way of life with some people, but maybe it’s more than just a case of a bad attitude, according to a Texas author who has written a book, “Born Mad,” about her struggle with a little-known mental illness called dysthymia.
Robyn Wheeler, a professional wildlife educator who is also known as “The Creature Teacher,” suffered from terminal anger for four decades until despair about her condition took her to the verge of suicide and led her into treatment and recovery from the low-grade depressive disorder that left untreated can evolve into an episode of major depression.
“I was ready to do anything to find relief – a lobotomy, an exorcist, even eating brownies,” Wheeler says in presentations today aimed at helping raise awareness about dysthymia. “I had never done recreational drugs, but I was to the point I would have done it if it would have gotten rid of my anger.”
Wheeler said the possibility she suffered from a mental illness never occurred to her because she was generally happy until something went wrong in her life, causing her to withdraw into a silent fury that could last for days, weeks or even months. Simultaneously, she often cheerfully went about her work transporting and displaying exotic animals, leading members of her family and friends to think her bouts of anger amounted to nothing more than a personality quirk.
Her deceptively pleasant outward personality masked a depression that could erupt and take Wheeler from “feeling happy and upbeat to being negative, pessimistic and deeply depressed,” she wrote in her book. As is common with most people, apparently only the people closest to Wheeler – family, friends and coworkers – frequently saw her dark side. Faithful support from many of them apparently helped keep Wheeler in denial about her mental illness for many years.
“I ruined relationships with friends and family members,” said Wheeler of the crisis that led her to a diagnosis, treatment and recovery. “I almost got a divorce. I wanted to move to another country.”
After seeing counselors, seeking spiritual guidance and reading self-help books without finding long-lasting relief, Wheeler finally saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her illness and prescribed anti-depressant medication that provided her with relief for the first time in her life. Prior to her seeking emotional help, she began to also suffer from a multitude of physical disorders that apparently arose at least in part from her mental illness.
Within three weeks of starting the medication Prozac, which is one of several drugs available for use in the treatment of depression and anxiety, Wheeler said she began to see miraculous results.
“I didn’t know people felt that way,” Wheeler said. “I felt like I was shorted for 44 years.”
Wheeler is now going on almost two years of the remission of her mood swings associated with dysthymia which can include moodiness, being overly critical, complaining, low self-esteem, chronic anger, frustration, despair, insomnia, irritability, guilt, fatigue and poor concentration.
According to a report about dysthymia based on two studies of depressive disorders reviewed by David B. Merrill, a medical expert at the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, the illness can also develop in the elderly as a result of their difficulty in caring for themselves, isolation, overall medical decline and medical illnesses.
Many people suffering from dysthymia often suffer from a long-term medical problem or other mental health illness such as anxiety, alcohol abuse and drug addiction, according to the report. About half of them will eventually experience an episode of major depression, it said.
The report recommends the use of anti-depressant medications and private and group talk therapy to treat dysthymia. The medications reportedly may take longer to show improvements in patients with dysthymia than it does in those suffering from major depression.
Wheeler said that in addition to her daily medications she reflects daily on 10 new habits and thoughts to counteract the faulty ones that previously guided her life. She notes that her search for “peace and happiness” continues on a daily basis.
Wheeler said she wrote her book last year because she found so little information available about the subject when she first learned she suffered from dysthymia. She said that she would like to see a creation of a “National Dysthymia Day” to help raise awareness about the emotionally crippling mental illness that appears to grow progressively worse untreated.