Hi again! Hope you’re keeping well? Tonight I’ve got a really interesting post for you about Summer SAD, which I hope will be as illuminating for you as it was for me (yes, I hear you groaning! ).
When I talk about ’Summer SAD’, what I usually mean is suffering from the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or Winter Blues-type symptoms when our eccentric British summer is at its ‘worst’. Or is it at its best? Well, for some people ‘Summer SAD’ means a very different thing. And the trend for wetter British summers is very welcome for them. Tomorrow’s Summer Solstice will also come as a relief for sufferers of Summer SAD, as it means the days will gradually shorten.
Let me explain. I met Stuart in the Lumie forum, where I continue to chat and enjoy ’meeting’ new people. I was intrigued by a thread called ‘Summer SAD’ and had a look. Stuart and a few other people were discussing how they struggle with hot and sunny weather, explaining that it makes them feel irritable and anxious, among other symptoms.
I have since read a little more about ‘Summertime Depression’ and was amazed to discover an estimated 600,000 Britons experience these symptoms.
Stuart explained how he feels really fed up when the clocks go forward and the days become longer. This is the opposite of how I feel, so I was really interested to hear more about Stuart’s experience. What struck me most was how isolated Summer SAD sufferers must feel. Winter SAD has in recent years become much more recognised, but I’d never heard of Summer SAD and neither had Stuart until he stumbled across that thread. We’re so used to describing warm, sunny weather as ‘lovely’ and grey, rainy weather as ‘miserable’. But to Stuart and others like him, these labels are reversed and can make them feel like outsiders.
Stuart has kindly given me permission to share what he told me with you, which he wrote as a Q&A… I’m sure you’ll find it as fascinating as I did
When was I aware of suffering from Summer SAD?
It has only been within the last eight or nine years that I have become actually ‘aware’ of my dislike/hate (a strong word I know) for the summer months. For many, many years I have preferred to stay out of the sunshine, but never thought it was anything other than me, being me.
Going back as far as I can remember, as a child I did love the rain and winter months. I was born in Scotland; but that said, I do not remember it raining or snowing too much. When it did rain I used to stand outside ’til mum called me in. I remember standing under the eves of my parents’ house watching the rain falling and always feeling disappointed when it passed. Even back then aged 5-10, Halloween and Christmas were always the things I most looked forward to.
I have pretty much always wanted to stay out the sun. On family holidays I always wanted sun specs and a holiday hat…and this was well before what we know today about sun damage. It was also nothing to do with disliking the summer… the months of the year meant very little to me at that age.
I did suffer from ‘Prickly Heat’ as a child…. I say ‘suffer’, though I don’t remember it being a problem for me - other than the fact that on holidays abroad I used to occasionally get left in the hotel room, covered in calamine lotion, under the supervision of my lovely Gran (who was happy for a siesta), whilst the rest of my family went out for afternoon sun fun and ice creams.
Leaping forward to my 30s, I moved to London. I suddenly started to be aware of the sun and weather for the first time as a factor in my life. I would love rainy and grey days. Friends would assume that this was because I grew up in Scotland… their perception was that it always rained and snowed ‘up there’, but that was not the case.
I, with no thoughts about ‘Summer SAD’, just started to avoid going out when the sun was out, as much as I possibly could. When I did go out, I would start thinking about hats again, covering up, and sun protection lotion. I do remember buying calamine lotion in Boots at this time, because I was starting to get red spots on my arms and upper legs – heat rash!
On my best friend’s birthday (seven years ago) she wanted to go to Brighton. On the train home she mentioned to me how red my forehead was. By the time we returned home I was so aware that I had really badly reacted to the sun during the day. I was blistered and sore on my forehead, yet she was fine.
This was the moment I truly became aware of the sun’s effect on my life. Not because I had been weather-beaten by Brighton’s sunshine; rather, that the happy day of being out had left me feeling sad and down. It was quite an eye-opening moment for me. I disliked the feeling of being over-heated, squinting because of the sun and I’ve disliked sunny days out ever since.
I must once again say that it was nothing to do with having a reaction to the sun in a conventional sunburn way. Rather, something within me, over the whole of my life, suddenly came together. I realised that hot days were not something I wanted for me; that grey, colder, and winter nights really do make me smile.
How does it affect me both practically and emotionally?
Waking up in the morning and taking a peep out the window is always quite pivotal in my day. If it is wet, rainy, grey or overcast, be it summer or winter, then I will genuinely feel a sense of happiness deep in the core of my body. If the sun is shining I will feel part of me sink. I don’t brood about it. I just get on with the day, but if it is really sunny outside I start to re-plan and re-schedule my day in a way that will help me either avoid going out or minimise the time I would need to go out.
I work from home as a Computer Animator, so do not need to go out to work. Whether this is just the way my life panned out or whether I planned it that way without thinking, I don’t know. Either way, I am grateful.
If it is really warm outside, I will have as cold a shower as I can brave in the morning. The need to cool down is often more to do with the thought of the sun and heat going round in the background of my mind, more than the heat itself.
I live with my best friend and if she is around in the morning, I will do the normal thing of opening the curtains. If she is not I will happily leave them shut. I am so switched on to the changes in light outside. Even if a cloud passes over the sun, and the light in the room dulls for just a second or two, I get a happy lift. It truly is that quick!
If I need to go out and it is sunny I either go out first thing or leave it ’til late afternoon. Between 10am – 4pm would not be an option, unless I had to. Crossing over to the shady side of the street, walking slower to reduce any heat anxiety and carrying a bottle of cold water in my bag helps.
Anxiety for me does play a part in going out in the summer. The thought of being trapped on a busy train or bus on a hot day really would make me try to avoid them at all costs. I have before now had to get off a bus in a silent and polite emotional panic because it was so hot and sunny and I really could not cope with being in a tin. Within minutes of being on the bus, I was getting panicked, sweating and felt so alone, as everyone else seemed fine. Now I seek a seat out of the sun!
At home, as evening comes I find myself perking up. I don’t get miserable or depressed as such during the summer, but I do get SAD. I look forward to summer being over and while it is here evenings make a good break. I love evenings at home, when it gets dark… even in the summer.
Have I found any treatment that helps?
I don’t know of any to be honest. I take Belladonna during the summer.
Ed note: Belladonna is sometimes prescribed by Homeopathic Practitioners, but I wouldn’t recommend any treatments without consulting your GP.
Have I spoken to doctors or any experts about it?
Never… Apart from the response I wrote on the Lumie site (and now this!), I have never spoken about it. Friends and family know I don’t like the summer and that I don’t want to be out in the sunshine. I don’t, however, know what they think about it!
Do I feel under pressure to stay positive, i.e. because we’re ‘supposed to be’ happy when the sun shines?
OH BOY YES!
‘What a lovely day, gorgeous day, beautiful day’…
‘What a miserable day, horrid day, terrible weather’…
Can a grey, rainy day, or a cold and snowy day not be a lovely day too? Honestly, I think ’lovely day’ is under-used and should be heard more during the colder dark days of winter.
To be more serious… yes there is pressure. You are expected to enjoy the BBQ Sunday afternoon, to love a day out at the seaside for a mate’s birthday and have lovely holidays in the sun. I have just, without thinking, listed three things that would make me feel sad to have to do; three things that I would avoid getting involved in.
What’s the best day for me in my year?
The longest day in June and clocks going back in October. When I know the longest day is coming up… that means the days are going to get shorter from then on. And when the clocks change… earlier dark nights for me is the best news ever - it is the countdown to winter. HAPPY DAYS!
Ed note: I’d like to thank Stuart very much for his openness and honesty about what it’s like to suffer from Summer SAD.
I found myself re-assessing the language that I use and whether I should now differentiate on this blog about Winter SAD and Summer SAD. What do you think? Do you experience Summer SAD? Some people get both Summer SAD and Winter SAD symptoms – do you experience this? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback and comments!
Learn more about summertime depression: http://www.webmd.com/depression/summer-depression
‘playing in the rain’ http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1195988
‘summer rain’ http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1020189
‘I like London in the snow’ http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1192028