The Inevitable Return of ‘The Summer Curse’ — Preparing for Battle Against Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder
Dark days, darker nights, bitter cold chills, it’s no wonder the mood of the majority takes a turn for the worse once the winter months roll around.
For some, it’s merely a dip; a deep sigh as the bikinis and board shorts return to the closet for the season, replaced by big umbrellas, bigger coats, and big big dreams of the next big summer getaway.
For others, it’s far worse; depression, anxiety, persistent fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness which strike so severely in the darker months that medical folks grouped them all together and came up with a name for it. They call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, a term first coined by psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal back in 1984 to describe a condition which takes the typical low-mood and lethargy experienced by sufferers of ‘The Winter Blues’ (itself affecting at least 2 million people in the UK), and amplifies the whole thing into a seriously debilitating group of symptoms.
Either way, there’s always one sure-fire solution that’s far more effective than any course of anti-depressants, any amount of light-therapy, or any of the other suggested tools for battling winter time SAD; the inevitable return of summer.
The sun awakens from its winter coma, blossoms in a bright blue sky and lights a fire which reignites a sense of excitement, energy, and a general feeling that life is good in pretty much everybody it touches.
Everybody that is, except weirdos like me.
The Summer Curse
From at least my early 20s (though probably earlier if I look back), I’ve dealt with what I’ve always called ‘The Summer Curse.’ It comes around at least once a year -sometimes later than others- and brings with it a bunch of depression-like symptoms which, if I let them, pretty much cripple me for months at a time.
I called it ‘The Summer Curse,’ simply because I didn’t know any better. As far as I knew, I was the only person this ever happened to, a suspicion that was confirmed whenever I’d tell friends that whilst they were all out enjoying the sunshine and making the most of the summer, I was struggling with the kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms most ‘normal’ folk only experienced in the dark days of winter.
Then I started to look into things, and realised I may not be alone after all. Sure, the majority of research, advice, and support for S.A.D sufferers focus on those who experience it in the winter, but Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder is apparently a thing. To be specific, it’s a a thing that affects me.
All good then, right? Not necessarily.
In and of itself, knowledge alone is rarely a solution for anything. In my case, even trying to figure out why this happens does me no favours.
A few years ago, my best friend came up with the theory that ‘The Summer Curse’ was caused by alcohol, that with the warm weather came excuses for barbecues, parties, and celebrations, and with those celebrations came the excuse to poor more alcohol -a known depressant- down my throat than normal.
Missing the Signs of Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder
To an extent, that did -and does- make sense. My summertime S.A.D has never been as severe as it used to be in the 3 1/2 years since I went teetotal, but it has been present, and at a times, it has been severe enough to seriously affect my ability to enjoy, even manage, my life.
Again, just knowing this isn’t enough. I know about ‘The Summer Curse,’ I know that sooner or later it will inevitably return. The problem, is that I don’t know when. More often than not, I don’t even know it’s coming until it’s already here, wrapped one hand around my throat, the other around my spirit, and begun dragging me down into its sordid, morbid little pit of misery.
That’s the thing about ‘The Summer Curse,’ it’s a sneaky little beast, it creeps upon me and grabs hold of me without me actually realising it, even though -with the benefit of hindsight and the rare glimmer of clarity which writing this affords me- all the signs were there, just waiting to be noticed.
Long, light nights and warmer weather make it nigh on impossible for me to get a good, peaceful sleep. The lack of sleep, multiplied over several nights, leads to the kind of persistent fatigue that seeps into the flesh like thick, fat vines that wrap themselves around the bone, simultaneously sucking up energy and dragging me backwards with every step forward.
The fatigue and lethargy make managing life and work a little more challenging, the challenges become stresses, the stresses become overwhelming to the point of physical illness, the physical illness affects the mood, the mood affects the ability to cope successfully, and around-and-around we go on some sort of morose, not-so-merry-go-round.
So no, I didn’t see any of that happening even when I was in the middle of it. I didn’t notice that the first throes of Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder were here until I was close to tears at 10am this morning, wondering what on earth was going wrong with me.
The Gift of Awareness
Then, ladies and gentlemen, it came, bold and beautiful and full of clarity; The Gift of Awareness. It’s something I’ve been blessed with over the last couple of years, something I’ve had to hone and develop and fine-tune; a little bit of awareness about myself, how I’m feeling, and whether or not something is wrong.
Something is wrong. That something is ‘The Summer Curse.’ It’s here, but the good news is that it doesn’t yet have such a tight grip on my throat and spirit that I’m not able to speak up, take action, and do something about it.
Knowledge alone won’t provide the solution, but it will provide a starting point. I’m aware of what’s going on with me today, I’m aware that if I don’t prepare for battle now, that if I don’t arm myself to fight back, things will only get worse, but if I prepare, if I arm myself, if I take action, they could -nay, will- get better.
I don’t have all the answers. Heck, I don’t have any answers, and I’m absolutely not the right person to be passing on advice about how to combat the horrible symptoms of Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder.
All I know is the same system that I try to use the majority of the time, a very simple system (in theory, if not always in practice) that my best friend Stacy once explained to me. It goes thus:
Step 1: Lift one foot up, place in front of the other
Step 2: Lift the other foot up, place that in front of the other
Step 3: Repeat.
In other words, Keep taking stepping stones and keep faith in the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.
“Please excuse me while I tend to how I feel”
For me, taking those stepping stones may mean cutting back on my working hours, giving myself more time to take care of myself whilst making sure that I get enough work done to keep the bills paid and avoid the kind of financial troubles that will only amplify feelings of depression.
The world keeps turning with no regard as to whether I’m depressed or not. It’s my responsibility to be responsible, as much to myself as to my business customers and creditors. For now, that means doing as much as I need to do work-wise, no more, no less. There’s always the winter months to develop new business ideas and push forward.
It’s likely going to mean talking more, using my throat muscles so frequently that ‘The Summer Curse,’ can’t keep a solid grip and is forced to let go.
It’s going to mean more music too. Loads of research confirms that music can change the way we feel and perceive the world. Even if it hadn’t, I know from personal experience that playing a couple of good tunes can replace awful feelings of lethargy with a compulsion to dance around the living room in my undies like some mad carnival performer.
What it really means though, is putting on my Big Boy Pants, getting my balls on, wiping away a tear and going into battle.
The battle begins today, and it begins with me writing this. It’s time to fight back.