06 August 2013

Summer and Its Downsides

It's summer. High summer, Hochsommer, as we would say in German. That's as opposed to midsummer, which, oddly enough, is the beginning of summer, not the middle of it. Last year this time I went to see the prairies; here's one of the leftover pictures which I never posted last time:
ducks on a slough

And here's some other leftover pictures from last year:
view with grape leaves

That grapevine winding itself over the railing of my deck is rather more prolific (and unfortunately, less healthy) this year, which means I don't get a lot of these kinds of views any more:
boat through railing

But that's okay. I like the grape. And for next year, we can prune it so it fills in the sides of the deck instead of the lake-facing front.

When I started this post, I had actually intended to whine a bit about summer. Being of North-Western European blood, the summer weather in South-Central British Columbia is, usually, too much for me. In Germany, 30ºC is a heat wave; here, it's normal. My system doesn't cope well. And we don't have functional central air conditioning in the house, just a couple of window unit machines. I must say, the one in my bedroom/office has been a life saver - okay, maybe not a life saver, but a sanity saver for sure. I literally start to lose it when it gets hot, go into depression.

Come to think of it, that's what I need to tell you about today: there is such a thing as summer depression. You've heard of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder? Well, there's a summer variant. Unlike the winter version, which is brought on by lack of light, the summer one comes from too much heat. And while it's a lot less common than winter SAD, it's just as real, and just as debilitating. The summer one can have symptoms that are a little different, sometimes the opposite of the winter version: summer SAD can lead to sleeping too little, make for agitation, irritability and anxiety, and be more likely to lead to loss of appetite rather than excess appetite. Or so I hear - the latter never seems to be the case for me; in either version, I eat and drink too much - or too much junk, at any rate. I should be so lucky as to lose weight with any of my depressions. Pffft.

Oh, and yes, you can have both varieties of SAD. Case in point: Yours Truly (takes theatrical bow). Too little sun in winter has me dragging my feet, too much in summer does the same. It doesn't matter that I look out on the most gorgeous views you can imagine; when it's really hot, I can't enjoy them. In fact, looking out on my yard and seeing all the scorched grass and dying vegetable beds, with everything either gone to seed or overrun with weeds (which seem to be the only things thriving in this weather), is enough to send me the rest of the way off the cliff. I have to do the hide-my-face thing - "Lalala, I'm not seeing this, I'm just ignoring it all, lalala..." In summer, a nice cool day with rain showers brings me back to life - just like sunshine does in the middle of winter. All of a sudden my energy springs back up; I can do things - cook, clean, do projects, bake something, make something, write, plan, be pleasant...

If you've never experienced how the weather, physical circumstance, can affect a person, you'll have no clue what I'm talking about. No, it's not a matter of self-discipline. No, I cannot just pull myself up by my bootstraps, or sandal straps, as it were. And no, you're not any more virtuous than I am because you don't have these problems. Okay, sorry, that was uncalled for - you probably weren't thinking any such thing. Forgive me. I was projecting my own self-assessment on you. Because, you see, when you (meaning I) get into these moods, you think that it is your fault. That you really should be able to function like you do the rest of the year, like everyone else is. And that if you're not, it must be a sign of moral weakness. Lack of determination. Lack of virtue.

When I sat down to write this today, I hadn't planned to talk about this. I was just going to fire off a light-hearted post on the beauties of summer - yes, I'm fully aware of them, and on a day like today, when the thermometer hasn't cracked the 30º ceiling yet, I can actually enjoy them. But then this topic just pushed itself to the forefront, and demanded to be talked of. So if I've delivered a bit of a downer here, I'm sorry. But if, like me, you're one of those people for whose moods summer can be just as bad as winter, maybe this will help you a bit.

See, when everyone around you is glorying in the gorgeousness of the weather, thriving on the heat, loving the sunshine, and all you want to do is hide in a dark room with an air conditioner, or you long for a good bout of rain (which everyone else thinks is just so awful), or you get up yet another day to see the sun glaring in a cloudless sky and think "Oh no! Not again!" - well, you can start to wonder what's wrong with you. And maybe reading this will give you an inkling that you're not the only one, that it's not your fault.

I've got to add my disclaimer here: I'm no medical expert. Of course not; you already knew that. So don't take my word for any of this. But if you think you might be suffering from Summer SAD, go do your homework. There's studies out there, and books of advice far better and more indepth than what I'm talking about. Google "summer SAD", "atypical depression", or "seasonal depression summer variant". And yes, there's ways of dealing with it. Just like light therapy can help with Winter SAD, "coolth therapy" (I just made up that word) helps with Summer SAD. Yes, those air conditioned rooms, that's what I'm talking about. Swims in cool lakes or pools, or lots of cool showers or baths (like, several a day). A holiday in a cooler place, if you can afford it - probably one of the best places is by the seashore (large bodies of moving water, like the breakers on the ocean shore, create negative ionization in the air, which is good for your mental health. Look it up.). That can all be helpful for getting over the hot times until September rolls around and you can breathe again.

But meanwhile, most importantly, remember that this is real, that it's not your fault, and that you're not alone. So go easy on yourself, be kind to yourself. And get a really cold drink, a good book, and a hammock, and take a few hours off. There's a good reason afternoon siestas are a national institution in hot countries.
Like that. Johnny's got the right idea - there's nobody who can take a siesta like a cat.

Life, the Universe, and Summer. Despite its downsides, I still can love it.


  1. Yes I 100% agree in the SAD of Summer. I too struggled with the heat of the Okanagan. The want to do something, the heat impeding me and the lack of doing nothing made me very depressed. Such was the case of living on Sunburn Hill with NO A/C units of any kind. I feel your pain.

    1. And it's worse when everyone else comes here on purpose to *enjoy* the summer, and you live here and just want to get away...