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Change of Seasons

Coping with the Summer SAD Blues

Suzie Lechtenberg

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Most folks associate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with winter weather and dark days. But a small percentage experience the disorder in the summer -- they shun the heat and the glare of the sun, and find solace in dark, air-conditioned spaces. We talk with Saskia Smith about how she copes with summer SAD:


Desiree Cooper: So, what are your symptoms?

Saskia Smith: Before I was aware of this, I started getting very depressed, and I knew the sun was bothering me. I didn't think it was anything that was a valid complaint. It's such an anti-Los Angeles sentiment to dislike the sun. I became anti-social. I stopped communicating with my friends and family. I was prone in bed all weekend. I became suicidal. I lost 15 pounds, and I'm very thin already. People started expressing concern.

It all hit home when I was at my desk at work, and I was changing my desktop picture. I changed it to a winter scene, and I just started crying. I was broken down.

Did you go to a doctor?

No. I ended up going online, as a lot of people do these days. And I typed in Summer SAD, because I had just finished corresponding with my German friend about his Winter SAD. Summer SAD came up in a Web search. It was such a relief to know that these symptoms weren't defining who I am. I wasn't going crazy. It wasn't part of my personality that I didn't like the sun. It was just something that, for whatever reason, I had developed.

What have you done to accommodate it?

Well, an immediate sense of alleviating symptoms: You can take cold showers. You can carry around cold water bottles, try to consolidate your chores and errands either into the early morning or the late evening, when it's dark and cool. I find it depressing to close the blinds and to feel like I'm hibernating away, but it does help to keep busy. I'm learning how to play piano. I actually took that up because I thought it would be good to have an indoor hobby. Some people end up taking anti-depressants. I just try to talk about it with my husband and make sure my friends are aware, so I don't end up feeling overly isolated or guilty that I'm not engaging in my social life. But, you still have to go outside and run errands, and every time you open the blinds, the sun's out there and waiting.

Does your husband have Summer SAD as well?

No, he has Winter SAD. He loves the sun in L.A.

Oh, Jack Sprat and his wife.

Exactly.

So, how does Summer SAD effect your relationship?

Another symptom is anxiety and anger and irritability, so I was really fun to be around, and it was very taxing on our relationship. Nowadays, he understands I really want to take a week-long camping trip to Big Sur during the summer to get away from the heat.

What's it like for you when you get there? How does that effect your condition?

It's just relief. During the summer, I feel like I'm being persecuted by the sun, or I'm an ant under a magnifying glass. To wake up every morning to cool temperatures and misty grey weather was like I could let my guard down and relax and feel like a whole person. If it's really hot out in Los Angeles, and I go into the supermarket, and I'm there for about half an hour and maybe walk through the freezer section, there's a sense of well being that returns to me. I get that when I'm in cooler regions. Actually, Big Sur was sort of a compromise, because my husband didn't want to go someplace too depressing, lest it trigger his Winter SAD. In Big Sur, you do get some sun in the afternoon and some sunny, warmer days.

Have you considered moving to a cooler climate?

I think about it every single day. But my husband has a lot of opportunities down here, and for the time being, I'm going to try to stick it out.

Saskia, thank you for sharing your story with us.

Thank you, Desiree.

  • Music Bridge:
    Italy 73
    Artist: Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
    CD: Miles of Styles (Ubiquity)
More stories from our Change of Seasons series

Comments

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  • By billy ross iii

    From oskaloosa, IA, 05/16/2013

    Hi, I'm Billy. I'm glad that I found this website. Every summer is hot and miserable for me.I look forward to every winter. I find relief in winter. I have bipolar disorder which connected to summer sad. It's nice to know that I'm alone in this experiance.

    By c e

    From ON, 05/02/2013

    I now this was made a long time ago but I am so happy to have found it! I also think I have Summer/spring SAD. I always feel very anxious and unhappy in the spring. And sometimes in the middle of summer I am SO depressed. Last summer was the worst, it was starting to affect my work. Thankfully I worked in an isolated area cause sometimes I would burst into tears at the slightest frustration. And I hwave always found being out in the sun for any length of time to be draining. Glad to know I am not alone.

    By hina nawab

    From AK, 02/26/2012

    I live in Sweden and feel very very depressed around mid Feb.My heart begins to sink and feel foggy and like dying due to sinking heart.This Friday my manager told me that my performance is not good and I need to work hard...but damn I cannot concentrate what should I do....lot of anxiety in me now a day...HELP please HELP.

    By Eric Smith

    From Chicago, IL, 08/11/2011

    I am so relieved to come upon this site. The heat and humidity combined with intense sun makes me irritable and depressed. I do not mind sunny days, but anything above 70 makes me ill. Thank God this summer is almost over!

    By Kate Adams

    From College Station, TX, 07/26/2011

    Wow....I am totally convinced i have summer SAD, but I also have winter SAD.....previously lived in SC near the Blue Ridge Mountains and didn't like winter because of the lack of light, now I've moved to Texas and though the winters aren't so terrible the summer is absolutely making me SO depressed. It has been 100+ degrees here in College Station for about 2 months and I'm literally ready to jump on a plane to Greenland or something and never come back. For me it's really more about the heat, it keeps me inside with the blinds closed all summer here in Texas, and I get depressed without natural light. A horrible cycle. Would love to go to the support website mentioned in the thread, but it's down for maintenence....what can I do? Does anybody have any good tips?

    By Kate Adams

    From College Station, TX, 07/26/2011

    Wow....I am totally convinced i have summer SAD, but I also have winter SAD.....previously lived in SC near the Blue Ridge Mountains and didn't like winter because of the lack of light, now I've moved to Texas and though the winters aren't so terrible the summer is absolutely making me SO depressed. It has been 100+ degrees here in College Station for about 2 months and I'm literally ready to jump on a plane to Greenland or something and never come back. For me it's really more about the heat, it keeps me inside with the blinds closed all summer here in Texas, and I get depressed without natural light. A horrible cycle. Would love to go to the support website mentioned in the thread, but it's down for maintenence....what can I do? Does anybody have any good tips?

    By Cindy McGrath

    From NE, 06/13/2011

    This was amazing to find! I am not just crazy. I have had Summer SAD my whole life and could not explain it. Not sure exactly what to do but this is a good start!

    By Cynthia Brown

    10/30/2010

    Am comforted to know that the debilitating depression that descends on me when the hot summer hits actually has a name. It's also reassuring to know that others are affected by Summer SAD. I live in the New England and most people express surprise when I tell them that I hate summer but LOVE the fall, early spring, and (egads!)WINTER! I came across this interview when researching coping techniques. Thanks for posting this.

    By Shirley Sargent

    From Sugar land, TX, 09/15/2010

    I lived in Mass all of my life and noticed there when spring came I got so disappointed. Not really able to putting a name on it. Past 6 years I have been living in Houston Texas, talk about depressing. Summer last for ever. I enjoy my house and location but I have no life here. The sun is so intense, humid and it is never ended. By the time winter comes in a very short time the heat returns. People cant imagine how you cant enjoy the heat seeing this is all they know. Summer-Sad is just nothing most people have heard of. I have to get back to the 4 season where the summers are much shorter to deal with. I tried!!

    By Angharad Payne

    From Grantham, 06/25/2010

    Hi, I live in Britain, where people do not consider our summer hot in compariosn,, but it an be, as well as humid, a big problem here. I believe I suffer Summer SAD, and like Saskia, used to feel I couldn't tell people, and when I do, theay still think I'm being ridiculous. Even doctors give me little support, although I am on antidepressants, with my depression significantly worsenign during the summer months. I cry at the weather forecast when it is warm, as the reporters show total insensitivity when going on about how great it's going to be - not for me, who has narrowly avoided being hospitalised through heat exhaustion a number of times. The lack of support from co-workers is also upsetting, although i am expected to be fully accommodating if they feel low in Winter and cannot get warm.

    I wish we had a support group set up in Britain, as I understand from a journalist that I have been in touch with here, that about 60,000 of the population here has Summer SAD, and get no support.

    By Deb Green

    From Cleveland,, OH, 03/30/2010

    I definitely suffer from Summer SAD. I have been wondering for years why I seem to get so depressed in the spring and summer. When everyone is saying "it's sooo nice out, it's so warm, it's going to be warm, etc." I get an upset feeling-literally. It's so strange. I just want to go home and cuddle up in my bed in the A/C. I'm relieved to find out that I'm not alone!

    By Deb Green

    From Cleveland,, OH, 03/30/2010

    I definitely suffer from Summer SAD. I have been wondering for years why I seem to get so depressed in the spring and summer. When everyone is saying "it's sooo nice out, it's so warm, it's going to be warm, etc." I get an upset feeling-literally. It's so strange. I just want to go home and cuddle up in my bed in the A/C. I'm relieved to find out that I'm not alone!

    By Leslie Irwin

    01/26/2010

    I live in the Southwest - I never realized I had Summer SAD before (maybe I didn't before, I don't know), but even in the Winter I am suffering because there are sometimes weeks when it is sunny and bright. Although the temps are nice and cool this winter I have come to the conclusion that the constant bright sun is making me depressed..

    By saskia smith

    From santa monica, CA, 07/26/2009

    If you suspect you have Summer SAD you are welcome to visit the new support network I set up --to learn more information and correspond with others who have this disorder (I am the person interviewed in this article): www.summersad.ning.com
    This is a non-profit website listed--designed only to help those with Summer SAD

    By saskia smith

    From santa monica, CA, 07/26/2009

    If you suspect you have Summer SAD you are welcome to visit the new support network I set up (I am the person interviewed in this article): www.summersad.ning.com

    By Carl Jones

    From TX, 07/13/2009

    I believe the WORST part of being R-SAD is the isolation. I have TRIED to explain to others, but they just don't understand, not completely, how much of it's a part of my personality. And they DON'T understand that it's not ALL depressing. When those cool breezes of Fall finally arrive, I am on Cloud 9. I would love to email others with R-SAD.

    By Craig Stinchcomb

    From Tiffin, OH, 07/08/2009

    Good to hear other out there with reverse seasonal affective disorder. I live in Northern Ohio and we do have too many Hot humid days. Mid April through September are the worst. I wish more research could be done to figure this out. Most of the obvouse, "stay cool and out of the sun" solutions are just fighting the symtoms, not really solving or curing the source of the problem. We need to research and finding the source,

    By Dawn Graham

    From Woodland, MI, 11/12/2008

    My symptoms remained a mystery until several years ago, the media began investigating SAD. I thought, "WOW, I experience that, but the other way round." The onset of summer brings me to tears. I pray for cold, rainy summers so I can have super high energy days and enjoy the out-of-doors: hiking, cycling, walking, gardening, fishing, swimming. Hot, sunny days mean intense pain, stiffness, loss of focus, and three whole months of barely coping. I just want to crawl into a hole until it's over. I've tried to explain to my family and friends that it feels like the sun is stabbing me or pressing down on me, especially in the face, eyes, and head. On sunny, windy days, I can barely open my eyes or breathe when out-of-doors the pain and oppressing weight is so intense. Thank goodness there are still six more months of grey, cool weather to enjoy! We in the northern states who suffer from Summer SAD are fortunate to have the majority of the year to our liking.

    By Nancy Smith

    From Houston, TX, 05/30/2008

    I love summer, but LA style, not Houston, where I now live. Our "sweaty months" seem to be from around February until November. When you leave for work, you've broken a sweat by the time you get to your car! It's so depressing to walk outside & feel as though you can barely breath because it's so hot & humid. Unless I'm in the pool there's no desire to leave the air conditioning!

    By Dean Woods

    From Seattle, WA, 05/25/2008

    I too was pleasantly surprised that I was not the only person with this condition. I moved to Seattle 5 years ago for a job, after living 50 + years close to the Ocean in S.F. I was shocked to discover that, although it is pretty gray and rainy here for much of the year, Seattle has a real summer. For 2-3 months of the year it is shockingly sunny and warm, with temps in the 80's and 90's and without the natural ocean A/C that S.F. can always count on. I have learned to cope, but I still sorely miss that lovely cooling fog.

    By lois williams

    From bainbridge island, WA, 05/24/2008

    I was delighted to discover that I was not alone...I was born in Pasadena, and lived in SoCal for 72 years. Finally, moved 5 years ago to Seattle area, and delight in cool and damp. Last week it reached 80, and "it all came back to me". I do not miss California at all.

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