By Mira Nadarajah
CN: Depression, anxiety, SAD
It’s four in the morning and I’m lying awake running through every hour of the past day, evaluating the value of the day’s itinerary, never completely satisfied by how it was spent. I hyper-plan the next few hours, because maybe if I can create just the ‘right’ combination of eat-pray-love moments, I will finally be able to rid myself of the dull throbbing of isolation that sits within me. Summertime evokes images of splashing in pools, picnics and barbeques, and long, sunshine-filled days. But for some of us, the onset of summer can bring on a wave of dread, depression, and listlessness. It’s hard to pinpoint a single trigger: Perhaps it was the onslaught of Instagram posts featuring beaming faces sipping mojitos by the beach, and posing alongside temples in Southeast Asia donned in sarongs. Perhaps it was Lana Del Rey’s subliminal suggestions in her song ‘Summertime Sadness’ – that sepia tone filter and pensive dream sequence would evoke a sense of longing and nostalgia in anyone.
Sure, I spent a week sunbathing on hilltops in Prague, and a few days revelling in the cultural vibrancy of Vietnam. But the three-month long summer has been far from the perpetual soiree and traipse around the globe that social media portrays it to be. This drip feed of highly-filtered moments creates the illusion of summer as a period of constant glamour and excitement. This illusion can be quite destabilising, especially for individuals with anxiety who might feel immense pressure to spend summer in a manner that is deemed “productive” and noteworthy. I definitely find myself falling prey to low moods and depressive states during the summer months. Suffice it to say, my summer’s been less sipping gin and juice underneath palm trees, more sudden surges of overwhelming loneliness and a constant nagging at the back of my mind that I should be more productive, fun, happy. Just more. And ever so often I catch myself counting down the days until sweater weather.
However, I am not the only Summer Scrooge around. Seasonal depression and anxiety are generally thought of as issues only dealt with in the winter months. But “summertime sadness”, as Lana Del Ray puts it, is a rarer form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the mood disorder that usually causes depression when the days grow short and temperatures drop. Summer-SAD is typically associated with a poor appetite and weight loss. Those who suffer from summer-SAD also tend to struggle with insomnia and also feel agitated, anxious and irritable (rather than experiencing the lethargy typically associated with depression). Biological causes offered for summer-SAD include disruption from the intense summer light and inability to stand the heat. Compounding the biological hypomania, is the sense that one should be happy when the days are long and hot – a sense of dread brought on by the very things that are supposed to make summer enjoyable.
With winter depression, there is at least the small consolation that everyone else too is bundled up in their homes binge watching Netflix. However, in the summertime, we are expected to feel like the whole world is alive and wonderful. Summer blues is thus especially isolating. Summertime depression can certainly make me feel like a sort of alternative-universe Grinch, perversely hating the very concept that has inspired delightfully coloured alcoholic popsicles and the entire genre of bubble-gum pop tunes.
But the fact of the matter is, many people who don’t suffer from what would be considered clinical SAD, still feel the pangs of summer depression and anxiety. Depressive and anxious moods, loneliness, and feelings of unfulfilment are often reduced to the social media envy effect and the all-too-often invoked “FOMO”. In reality, the sudden lack of company, the sometimes dramatic change in pace of life, and the loss of routine can be destabilising for anyone.
For people with anxiety like myself, the gulf that becomes my existence, becomes a source of constant stress to spend time in a manner that is considered fruitful, significant and perhaps even glamorous. The desperation to construct this undefined, elusive ‘worthy’ summer becomes all-consuming. The pressure to constantly be having as much fun as everyone on your Instagram feed, and the isolation from being cooped up indoor when it is too hot outside very quickly makes me feel bleak. Even as I write this piece, hoping to receive some illumination through the process of prose, I can’t place a finger on the restlessness that suffocates me. But that’s the very nature of summer depression, sometimes it needs no rhyme or reason.
Even so, I find comfort in the fact that when it comes to mental health, being aware and accepting that you’re suffering, is half the battle won. Enduring summertime sadness isn’t easy. It is, however, a reminder that emotions, like seasons, are not permanent. It is important to honour yourself by acknowledging your thoughts and feelings. Then continue, knowing that you can (and will!) make it through the dark, the light, and the transitions in between.
Maybe it’s enough just to know that other people aren’t ecstatic about the scorching temperatures either. And hey, we can all take solace in the fact that it is, indeed possible to make an iced version of a pumpkin spiced latte.