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Summer Blues

I don't usually struggle with mental health, but summer can be hard for me.

Some of my saddest memories are bathed in harsh, unforgiving sunshine:

the For Sale sign in the front lawn of my childhood best friend's house

walking for miles through fireflies in the middle of a sleepless night

feeling nothing on a roller coaster, numb all the way through

breathless under a Roman sunset at the start of half a year's unspeakable loneliness

leaning on a neon pink umbrella stroller with my baby on a hot street corner, feeling like a criminal for bringing a child to life who will die

I am starting to think this is not a coincidence. I keep hearing about a phenomenon of "reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder" that disrupts some people's circadian rhythms and mood regulation when light and heat are at their peak.

Also, there's the manic disruption of routine for anyone who is in school, has a child in school, or works according to a school-year calendar.

Also, violence and aggression ramp up with the temperature outside. It's road rage and domestic violence season, and I feel a creeping dread of the world outside my windows when the heat rises.

Summer is when it's most important for me to keep to a healthy routine of creative writing to stay sane and grounded, and it's also when this is most difficult. With my daughter out of school, I have zero time at my writing desk when my family is not also home, clamoring for my attention. I am either at work or with my daughter. There are no exceptions unless I make special arrangements.

I don't like that I don't like this. In the summer, I work fewer, longer days at the office. I have time to get big work projects done, and I spend less time in the car, commuting. I get more quality time with my daughter. I have more freedom to walk, play, and socialize. My difficulty with the summer season is crowned by anguished guilt and frustration that I cannot enjoy the summer more.

But I've learned a few tricks to help manage myself in the summer.

  1. I remind myself to drink water. When I'm in distress, contrarily to most people (who are also sadder in the winter, after all), I lose my awareness of hunger and thirst. I'm most in danger of becoming underweight and dehydrated in the summer. And the most critical thing is to stay hydrated to prevent mental confusion and emotional dysregulation. I keep a mug or glass nearby at all times as a visual cue to fill it up and have a drink.
  2. Twenty minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation, face to face, can save my whole day. There is no substitute, not talking on the phone or texting or, sadly, chatting with my six-year-old. While my daughter does make me smile throughout the day with her adorable sweetness, there is nothing like having at least one conversation with an adult friend (including my husband). In the summer, there are days when I don't get even that. Those days are the worst. A brief playdate with another family can make the difference between having a pleasant evening at the end of the day and crying myself to sleep.
  3. A written schedule helps me and my daughter stay on track. Writing out a schedule for the day--even if some of the tasks don't matter, and even if we scrap it later to hang out with friends instead--reduces the anxiety caused by a long, unstructured summer day. My daughter has an easier time giving me an hour or two to write when she can see the time at which I will stop and attend to her. She's also more amenable to helping out with chores when we have a reasonably short list of items to check off.

I've found that I can get through the summer months--and even create plenty of joyful memories--with conscientious self-care and time management. If you also struggle with seasonal mood swings, no matter the season, don't hesitate to seek help in the form of expert advice or even temporary clinical treatment. Creative people may be more prone to mood disorders. Some artists find the highs and lows beneficial to their work, but if that isn't working for you, there are many ways to alleviate symptoms and gain a higher level of control and resilience.

And know that you are not alone in your suffering, not even on a glorious summer day.

P.S. This performance coincided with this year's Solstice. If listening to heavy metal makes you feel better, please enjoy:


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