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Beyond Blue

Who would have known that there are so many summer haters out there? I didn’t think to write about summer depression until the cool website Mermaids of the Lake asked me to. (You must check out their site, because the photography alone is worth the click.) But then again, I have covered all the other seasons: “12 Winter Depression Busters,” and “5 Ways to Manage Autumn Anxiety,” and “Spring Depression.” Hell, let’s be honest, I’m depressed every damn season. So it made sense to cover summer depression. But I was unprepared for the feedback of the masses!

In my piece, “6 Tips for Summer Depression,” I list a few reasons why the neural connections blow a fuse in the heat: summertime SAD (opposite of wintertime SAD, when the light has a negative impact), disrupted schedules (that’s the big whammy for me), body image issues (okay, I’m there too), financial worries (checkmark that one as well), and the heat (ironically, considering that my fingers, toes, and lips turn purple in cold weather, I’m cool on that one!).

Having come out of the closet as a semi-summer-hater, I’m getting mail from all kinds of summer haters, and laughing my bathing suit right off. I loved the blog post by Sarah Callender called “Inside-Out Underpants.” After a litany of reason why everyone in Seattle looks forward to summer, she writes:

In spite of the sun finally doing its job, in spite of me getting to exercise a bit more, in spite of a more relaxed schedule, in spite of the opportunity to take a break from Everyday Math and Reading Logs and packing school lunches, in spite of the fact that I take my Zoloft communion wafer every morning without fail, summer ends with me feeling like I’ve been injected with a massive dose of BLAH. Like I’ve pounded a grande quad-shot of I FEEL SO HEAVY AND WEARY. Like I should be wearing a t-shirt that says, Really? This is supposed to be fun?

And I feel pretty terrible about that. I like to think of myself as a hopeful, optimistic person who’s got a really amazing life. So why do I hate the summer?

I DON’T KNOW!

I really don’t know either. I mean, yes, I’ve listed the reasons (it makes me look like I have my act together to write those pieces … 8 ways to unhate summer, 7 ways to barbecue your enemy on the grill, 6 ways to stop hating your body at the pool) and all the reasons make sense.

But I used to love summer.

In fact, summer was my favorite season for the first 33 years of my life. The months of June, July, and August still hold the most positive childhood memories that I have tucked away in the gray matter of my brain. I was at the pool from swim team practice at 8:00 in the morning until dinner time, and (maybe as a Pisces?) I absolutely loved being in the water. Still do.

However, with my major breakdown in 2005, summer lost its appeal. More than anything else, it was the lack of structured days that did me in. Before my hippocampus shrank with the wash and the power went out in my frontal lobes, I could take each day as it came … depending on my mood and the weather. Now? To insure proper sleep hygiene, I have to be in bed by 9 pm and up at 5 pm, followed by a half hour of meditation and an hour and fifteen minutes of rigorous exercise. No doughnuts anymore, of course. Good nutrition means plenty of Omega 3s and antioxidants, and at least five grams of protein with each meal. Whenever I deviate from that, the entire house suffers.

I had to laugh when I read Sarah’s explanation of why this unstructured time makes those of us with fragile wiring do things like want to throw water balloons at relatives:

[I] recall a study my therapist once shared with me. In this study groups of rats were shocked, some at predictable times where they had some control over the duration of the shock, others at unpredictable times where they had no control over the duration of the shock. The latter group, after a time, showed high anxiety and/or depression. Many rats simply schlumped in their cages, demonstrating utter despondency, passivity, and helplessness.

I think that’s what happens to me too.

While more easy-going people (i.e. not I) appreciate the change in the summer routine, that absence of structure makes me feel anxious and depressed. If you add young kids to an already unpredictable schedule, that’s a doozey of a combo where one’s schedule is both unpredictable and just beyond one’s control. Unpredictability + lack of control = anxiety and depression.

It’s elementary, my dear Watson!

Of course, I am WELL aware that my woe-is-I version of unpredictability and unstructuredness is an ice cream sundae compared to that of others whose days are filled with suicide bombers or despotic leaders or alcoholic husbands. With that tandem of lack of control and unpredictability, I’d be in a world of hurt.
But my flea-sized version of unpredictability is real to me. So I am trying to structure my summer with the hope that I can be in Rat Group A, the group that’s shocked on schedule, like having Tea and Crumpets and a Wee Electric Shock every day at 4:00. Promptly at 4:00, please.

So I am trying to structure my day with all sorts of things that are fun for both me and the kids so that the shocks, perhaps, are more predictable than not. Yahtzee, for example. Yahtzee’s nice and predictable. As are Math workbooks. Violin practice. Twice weekly trips to the library.

Yes, it may sound a little uptight, but frankly, I don’t want to lose my sugar this summer. It’s less than fun to lose one’s sugar, especially when everyone I know and admire is tra-la-la-ing their way through August, happy as bivalves.

So, fellow summer haters, please know that you have plenty of company if you do, in fact, lose it and shoot a water gum at a spouse, neighbor, sibling, in-law, or co-worker. They should understand, after all. It’s summer.

Image courtesy of Mermaids of the Lake.

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