Summer Depression: When The Best Season of the Year Isn’t All That Sunny
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I vividly remember being at an all-time low in the mental health department last November while studying abroad in Stockholm. The sun began setting at 2:30 p.m., and I would go days without seeing daylight due to my busy school schedule or simply my inability to leave my apartment because going out just to see a sunny version of the city for only three hours just wasn’t worth it. As a result, my mental health declined, which one would expect from a dreary Swedish winter where the sun either hides behind dark clouds or sets at an ungodly hour.
No matter how much vitamin D I took, I would consistently feel depressed due to an obvious deficiency mixed with my impending sadness of having to leave the city I called my home in one month. So, my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) made sense, especially since all my other friends were also in the same boat. We collectively decided that staying in rather than attempting to make the most of every waking hour during our last month abroad was the right choice, because self-care always comes first! We also knew that this depression would hopefully fade once we shortly returned to the States where the sunsets didn’t happen in the early afternoon.
While I didn’t necessarily feel rainbows and sunshine when I settled back into my previous routine of school and work, I did feel the SAD fizzle out, where my sadness was only due to what practically every person feels when they return to their normal lives after being abroad for a semester. Both bouts of emotional lows, alongside my newly-realized anxiety, were simply products of two causes that I couldn’t exactly help and, more importantly, that everyone around me was also experiencing. This isn’t really under my control, I thought during both cases, and I decided to let both fade away on their own rather than seeking help.
And they did fade, to some extent, exactly when I started to see the sun and when I finally began to settle back into my life in the States. Yet, a new and unexpected emotional low has slowly begun to surface, weirdly at a time when the last thing I should be feeling is sad, or anxious, or any emotion other than happy.
My favorite Norwegian artist, girl in red, has a song called “summer depression,” whose lyrics have never resonated with me until this summer began, a time where I felt the summer blues more intensely than usual.
The sun is out, my responsibilities have basically been cut in half, and I’m living in my first house (!!) with my best friends. So, why am I feeling this way? I’ve spent the entire summer, so far, trying to explain my funky feelings that can’t necessarily be defined as depression, but also are more complicated than just that anxiety I’ve been intensely feeling for months now. When things started going awry, I jokingly said that in a tragic turn of events, this year’s Gemini season—aka my own—must be cursed. Astrology jokes aside, I then blamed the heat—similar to a lack of sunlight, was I just getting too much sunlight? But now, after much contemplation, I realize it has to do with a lot more, and maybe causes that are in my control to change.
Feeling strangely down during a season that should be focused on fun, I recently realized, is highly common, at least among the friends and peers I’ve discussed this phenomenon with. It could simply be due to a shift in seasons, but it seems to be more nuanced. This complex nature only irritated me beyond belief at first. On the one hand, it was comforting to know that I was sadder than usual last winter because of Sweden’s depressingly short days. On the other, now that I don’t have a simple and direct explanation for these feelings, I’ve dedicated a lot of my time for self-reflection—to understand what these feelings are and to figure out why I’m feeling them.
I’ve been one to experience equal amounts of social anxiety and FOMO, an odd pairing that cannot coexist without producing even more anxious and depressive feelings. It’s a cycle that I’ve struggled to escape, and it’s only heightened during times such as:
Seemingly endless amounts of free time, especially as I always keep (too) busy during the school year.
An impossible amount of expectations, all relating to areas that feel out of my control.
Wanting more from my last summer before I graduate, am forced to struggle to find a real and scary adult job, and escape the comfort of being okay with not knowing what the future holds. Wanting more, wanting more, wanting more.
This thought has been the main culprit of my summer blues, as I always want more from everything I do and everyone that I choose to keep in my life. This is only heightened during the summer months, when everything is supposed to be absolutely perfect. I’m supposed to be doing exciting summer things every day, right? Lay by a pool at least twice a week, go to too many happy hours, go on trips every weekend because I’m no longer confined by my semester schedule. See the friends I never get to see during that aforementioned semester; attend the concerts I also don’t have the time for during the semester; have those life changing moments, revolving around friendships, romance, whatever, that every coming-of-age movie glorifies. I want all of this, I expect all of this, and when its not fulfilled, I, inevitably, feel empty, sad, and most of all, anxious to try to fulfill these expectations. Therefore, my expectations get even more impossible to meet, instigating this toxic cycle of wanting and not receiving and, therefore, wanting more.
And to be honest? My unconventional schedule of working retail and bank account, along with those of the people in my life, don’t allow for these overly high expectations to be met. I should be able to be fulfilled through other means—through spending time by myself, through the seemingly minor moments I have with those people that can be meaningful if I make it, through simply lowering my expectations to be feasible, and maybe, just maybe, I can escape this cycle.
But the truth is, these desires are rooted in my wish to keep myself busy and distracted from having that time to self-reflect on the very real and very scary feelings surrounding my future. I keep myself busy during the semester with school, work, and dance rehearsals so I’m not forced to face my feelings head on, and when two out of three of those suddenly vanish for the summer, I panic and attempt to fulfill these gaps through different and often unattainable means. And when those gaps are left untouched? I then understand why I like to stay so busy, as I see my very much imperfect mental wellbeing staring at me in the face, reminding me that it doesn’t simply fade away by trying to forget about it.
Apart from acknowledging my desire to (finally) seek out help, whatever form that may take, I also am acknowledging my ability to lower my expectations, to find happiness in the little things, to spend the summer focusing on myself, my mental health, and learning about what I need from both myself and others in my life. And finally, as girl in red sings in her song, it’s a normal thing to feel like this. I found reassurance when I understood my friends abroad were also suffering from the lack of sunlight; I can feel reassurance now when I understand my friends, no matter how busy or happy they seem, are also feeling similar things.