Cruel Summer

I’m sitting in the GP’s office while the doc babbles enthusiastically at me about our local Parkrun and how thousands of people now congregate every Saturday morning to undertake that vaguely absurd activity, jogging. It’s a great atmosphere, he says, and since I say I like running wouldn’t it be a great thing for my mental health? Nice weather, now, too–summer, it’s a good time to come off my antidepressants.

That’s why I’m there–to discuss how crazy I’m feeling (or not) and how to consciously uncouple myself from the drug that has been keeping me on a pleasantly even keel for the last seven or so months. I nod along because I don’t have the energy to get into the discussion I’m about to get into here, but the little voice deep inside me whispers, “That’s what you think, mate”.

Unpopular opinion: summer is f*cking awful.

Even more unpopular opinion: for some people, especially those of us with a tendency towards the anxious, miserable, self-loathing and generally crazy, it can be an actively difficult time of year that we spend three-plus months longing for it to be done with.

“The joy of summer is not a universally accepted truth.”

As it happens, coming off the antidepressant medication has been pretty bearable for me for other reasons, including some solid friends and a generally good state of mind. But it’s frustrating that even medical professionals hold tight to this deeply ingrained notion that summer makes that transition easier. It would have been nice to be asked how I thought the season might affect me and my overall level of chill–for me it’s been fine, but for someone else with a different kind or degree of mental health, that throwaway statement could be really harmful. The joy of summer is not a universally accepted truth.

It’s taken a few years for this realisation to crystallise, but I don’t like summer the way some of my friends don’t like winter because of its lack of sunlight, bad weather and the festivity – the whole thing takes a heavy toll on their mental health.

I don’t like summer because the warmth and humidity makes me feel even more uncomfortable in my own body, because the bright light overwhelms me in this weird, panic-inducing way. Because wearing fewer clothes and having to look at my body stokes the flames of many extremely irrational health-related anxieties. Because this is peak men-telling-women-to smile season. Because lots of reasons.

And this would be bad enough, if I weren’t constantly surrounded by (admittedly well-meaning) people expressing the fundamentally British attitude that we MUST enjoy it RIGHT NOW because who knows how long it’ll last. Not enjoying yourself in the balmy, Pimm’s-drenched summer months is just not cricket.

“This is peak men-telling-women-to smile season”

Many, if not most people, now are familiar with seasonal affective disorder of the winter variety, but until this year I was only dimly aware that it has a summer counterpart. I never really heard it mentioned, despite having talked to various friends, doctors and counsellors about these weird anxiety feelings that grow as the heat rises and abate when the cold weather draws in. It turns out there is indeed a sort of ‘reverse’ SAD, and it affects far fewer people–perhaps why the NHS, Mind, and even the SAD Association make only passing references to it in their descriptions and lists of symptoms. It’s understudied and often misunderstood.

I’m not sure if I’m a summer SAD person or if I’m just a generally miserable git who hates enforced fun, but it’s perversely reassuring to know that it exists. I’d never wish ill mental health on anyone, but there’s a certain cold comfort in knowing that what you’re feeling is A Thing and you’re not the only crazy one.

That being the case, it would be magical to live in a world where not everyone–from random strangers to close friends and loved ones–is queuing up to tell you to enjoy yourself while summer lasts, and that if you only went outside and got some vitamin D you’d feel so much better. The concept of being anxious and miserable in the sunshine is a bit esoteric, granted, but it’s time to talk more about it, and to learn the art of sometimes keeping our good advice to ourselves. For some of us, in the immortal words of Bananarama, it’s a cruel, cruel summer.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Nopebook on Patreon!