The word is dysthymia.
The condition was first identified as recently as 1980, and its diagnosis, certainly in this country, is very much on the increase. There are “official” symptoms of dysthymia, but essentially, it is a form of chronic depression that may be mild or intermittent for many years; to the extent that the sufferer may not even be aware there is anything wrong.
Symptoms can be vague in younger people, but when I saw this list of possible effects, I was shocked at how many I could (to a greater or lesser degree) tick off: habitually gloomy, pessimistic, humourless, or incapable of fun; passive and lethargic; introverted; sceptical, hypercritical, or complaining; self-critical, self-reproaching, and self-derogatory; and preoccupied with inadequacy, failure, and negative events.
I am definitely not all of the above… hard as it may be to believe… (I don’t see myself humourless, nor incapable of fun; in fact I enjoy a laugh almost as much as I love a double negative), but there are many traits there that have been part of me for as long as I can remember. When I was diagnosed with “depression”, there was a part of me that was relieved that there was an explanation for the way I was, but there was also a sense of being something of a fraud (if that’s the right word) because I didn’t feel “ill” as such, and there were no obvious outward signs of how hard it was to face or cope with every day—and interestingly that feeling of what can almost amount to deception (in the eyes of the sufferer) is another tell-tale sign of dysthymia.
The reason why the diagnosis is most often clumped together under the general banner of depression is that any visit to a doctor is likely to have been prompted by the effects of an unrelated illness or traumatic event, which has led to more extreme symptoms of withdrawal—i.e. “classic” depression symptoms. Strictly speaking, this extreme dysthymia is called “double depression” and it is the one-off more serious episode that is treated, rather than the long-standing underlying feelings, which the sufferer would almost certainly describe as “normal”.
What is really positive however is that it is possible to overcome the lack of energy, feelings of isolation and debilitating negative thoughts and still be able to achieve personal goals. It may be harder and take longer, but whilst dysthymia is a heavy burden to carry, failure is not inevitable; and the feeling on realising an aim or ambition is arguably much greater as a result. I can certainly identify with that sense of achievement at the fulfilment of a challenge (just as I can with the enduring symptoms of dysthymia), and whilst I may never completely conquer my lifelong fear of failure, no one can ever say I haven’t tried my best… and I’m actually really proud of that.