There Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues

July 8, 2020 | Filed Under Things I Think About | No Comments

(The title for this post comes from this song by Eddie Cochran, which was also covered by Blue Cheer and The Who, among others.)

Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka “SAD” (it doesn’t work out so perfectly on other languages, though) is generally thought of as the blues that hit people in winter, when it’s cold and dark and life slows down.

However, there is the opposite sort, called “Summer SAD” or “Reverse SAD”, and it’s the depression that occurs during the warm, bright summer. Up to 10% of the adult population in America suffer from it, and I’m one of them. I love the dark half of the year, and do my best to get through the bright half without bursting into flame.

People used to make fun of me, and not believe that summer was an especially difficult time for me. How could I be depressed? It’s summer! It’s time to have fun! Summer is the most difficult time of year for me—it’s hot, it’s bright, and the entire world is in my way when I try to go anywhere. The sun is eeevilllll, and it wants to kill me. Or, at least, that’s what it feels like.

Unlike the winter version, in which depression manifests as lethargy, excessive sleeping, and overeating, the summer version brings a perpetually agitated state, insomnia, and an aversion to food. (You’d think there would at least be the consolation of losing weight, but it doesn’t actually work that way. Your body goes into famine survival mode, so weight loss, if any, is minimal.)

Most of the research has been done on Winter SAD, since it affects more people, so there’s not a lot known to help, other than staying in the dark and cool as much as possible. Which I can do, as I work in an office with air conditioning and blackout blinds, but there are so many people who don’t have that luxury.

One source suggests taking a cool shower three or four times a day, but again, that’s not a reality for most people.

Some people find that a low-dose anti-anxiety medication helps. I tried that one year, and while it did reduce the effects, it also made me hopelessly stupid. I can’t afford to be hopelessly stupid, so that didn’t work out.

What does help:
1. Reminding myself that this is my brain chemistry running amok. It is not a character flaw or moral failing.
2. Staying hydrated. Water with wedges of lime or a few berries is a nice treat, and allows me to absorb a few more vitamins.
3. Taking naps. It’s actually easy for me to fall asleep during the day in summer—my body is trying to avoid all the light and heat. Again, that’s not a luxury everyone can manage, and I know I am fortunate.
4. Eating a balance of cold protein and fresh fruit. I completely lose my taste for vegetables in the summer, and stopped trying to force myself to eat them. Most days, I’m happy with some protein, some cheese, and lots of fruit. And really, how can you say no to the parade of amazing fruit that the summer brings? Blueberries, blackberries, peaches—all so wonderful! (If you like them, that is.)
5. Quiet Time is not optional. For me, this is time spent journaling, doing yoga, meditating, or simply sitting and watching the birds play in the yard. Time to just be, to breathe, to allow myself to just be a physical being. I usually allot 30 minutes for this, but during the summer, I try for 60 – 90 minutes per day. That sounds like a lot, but I’m also not dealing with kids, dependent parents, or other people who depend on me to help keep them in one piece. While my day job is demanding, I can usually manage to work around it during the week, and I set a firm boundary that I will not work on weekends.

Summer SAD isn’t fun to live with, so if you are living with someone who suffers from it, do your best to be kind. As with any form of dysfunctional brain chemistry, this isn’t something your spouse/partner/friend is doing on purpose—it’s their internal sytems running amok. Believe me, we’d all opt out if we could—it would be much nicer to enjoy the same summer that everyone around us does.

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