Can I get real honest for a minute?
SUMMER IS THE WORST SEASON
Whew, glad I got that off my chest.
Ok, seriously though, for me, summer is not a good time of year. It brings out the worst in me, and the hotter it is, the worse I get.
My lowest points in life – the ones that have caused me to question life itself, why I’m here, if it’s all worth it – each of these lowest points have come in the summertime.
Sometimes people think I’m being dramatic, but nearly all of my biggest periods of major depression have occurred in summer.
As I have gotten older, I have begun to recognize it about myself. And researching it – apparently it’s a thing. A somewhat rare thing, but I’m not alone.
There is a portion of the population that deals with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which simply means the seasons have an effect on their affect – but for most, that means winter. For a percentage of them, though, it means summer brings us to our weak points.
I am among those…
Even worse as a PMDD sufferer. The last few days have literally been torture for me – hormones out of balance, a heat index of over 100, and several (small) personal issues that normally would be no big deal have invariably brought me to my knees…
Included are not only the psychological issues, but medical ones: the body aches/cramps, easily dehydrated, and prone to heat disorders. Last weekend, I nearly passed out in a Home Depot.
See, these are some of my big weak points; but, I recognize these as areas of weakness.
And, it’s like I tell the kids I work with every day, knowing what’s happening/a diagnosis doesn’t relieve you of responsibility, it increases your responsibility to make necessary accommodations.
There are some ways I look for and appreciate when others accommodate me: but much of it is me figuring out how to navigate the world with my [mental] health struggles in tow…
So, how do I take care of myself knowing all of this?
- Food/nutrition – Typically, summer means I eat less. I already don’t have the energy to eat, and when I do eat, it’s usually terrible for me. Hello, fried summer food, and cold summer desserts. This year I have the added struggle of knowing I am supposed to be living gluten free, for the sake of my health…So, this summer, I am doing my best to intentionally eat well, and regularly. It hasn’t always worked out, but it is working better than past summers. And, thanks to Zeal, at least I know I’m getting more vitamins than usual – which is important for regulating any health disorder and/or mental health disorder. Our bodies were wired for it.
- Water – it’s essential. It is what we all need for living. Getting dehydrated does me no good. And, since I know I’m prone to heat disorders, I have to be intentional about making sure I drink it – enough and often. Thirst also has negative effects on our mental state, so this is key for both my physical and mental health.
- Sleep – I have the worst sleeping patterns in general, and in summer time? I basically just throw sleep out the window. This summer, though, I have been focusing on sleep hygiene in order to change this. Sleep is imperative to our physical and mental health, and insomnia is not a struggle I can continue to afford as I get older. It’s still a big struggle, but I’m learning what works to get me to sleep (most nights…)
- Cleaning/hygiene – caring for my environment can take a back burner when I’m zapped of energy or feeling overheated. Making sure that I and my environment are cared for helps me keep a somewhat good headspace. Simple acts of self-care that remind me I have a safe space in the lows of summer.
- Don’t isolate – I have a tendency to pull away from others when I hit my lows, especially in summer. Last summer, I was terrible at this. Being away from most of my family and friends, self-isolation was easy. This summer, I’m being more intentional about being involved and letting others in – including being as available and invested to my fullest as I can in my new relationship. We, as people, are created for community. I know that I just spiral when I completely shut myself off.
- Create – some days that is something as little as sketching a little picture in my planner. Some days it’s as big as a several hours long writing or painting session. But, I process and release when I get creative. However, I have to push myself sometimes, as being in my low points zaps me of any energy or perceived feeling of creativity I may have; while the very act of creating something begins to bring back my energy & fervor.
- A/C – yes, on the hottest days, I avoid going outside as much as possible. The heat just messes with me. Irritability, mood swings, heat exhaustion, dehydration…my list is just so long. (Is it any wonder I’m drawn to places like Ireland & Seattle?)
- Exploration/Experience – when it isn’t as hot, like, in 70s (maybe low 80s), I do try to get to know the area I’m in. If I don’t, I go back to that isolation time, spending every moment at home, likely with Netflix on. In order to get myself out and connected, I explore and experience things, even if it’s as simple as stopping at a new place to eat on my way home from work.
- Music – music is a big way I get myself in a better place, and sometimes, I use it to allow myself time to wallow. Music has this amazing ability to awaken our senses, and enliven the spirit. I have different playlists I use for different things – and I have special music to remind me that there is beauty in summer, even if I often don’t see it.
- Routine – in summer, I become very disheartened about nearly everything in life, so routine is important. A reminder of where I need to be when. And, a reminder of new life beginning again when fall comes, giving me something to look forward to.
- Faith – My biggest crises of faith in my life have all come in different summers…But, my faith is also what I turn to the most to get me through the summertime. I rely on God for my strength to wake up and face each day. I use my prayer and devotional time to refocus on what is truly important in my life. And, I attempt to stay plugged in to my faith community, so as not to completely isolate from them, either. This summer, in particular, I have allowed myself to be more involved/open to others in this faith journey, even in the smallest way of saying “I’m not doing well, just keep me in your prayers”. It’s been a bit of a relief and a strength in my weakness this year.
- Mindfulness – Over the years, and especially with my mental health training, I am learning to be more attuned to my body, my cycles, my rhythms – as well as noticing the environment around me. I am using this to get through the summer (just as I use it to get through my cycle each month, knowing those 3 -4 days PMDD is the worst for me, not to make any life-altering decisions). Mindfulness is simply being aware of myself in my present environment in the present moment, shifting focus from past/future, allowing me to recognize how to correct myself in the moment.
- Therapy – yes, even therapists sometimes need therapy. As a matter of fact, I would never go to a therapist who has never undergone therapy themselves. None of us escape this life unscathed, so having an unbiased party to talk things through with can benefit anybody. Even if only at the low points.
- Essential oils – there are a few I have found very beneficial (aromatically) for anxiety and days of high stress, as well as for tension and my really depressed days. This summer, they have made a marked difference in my comfort & coping.
- Coping skills – at work with the kids, I call these “calm down” skills – for me, it’s deep breathing, and counting slowly. In moments of frustration, anger, or anxiety, these do me an enormous amount of good.
- Acceptance – some days, I fail. I fail to get out of bed; I fail to accomplish anything (a horrible feeling for someone who has achiever running through her blood). I fail to connect with others; fail to let others in. I just do nothing but binge watch Netflix in the A/C while eating very little (and likely nothing of nutritional value). On these days, I am just learning to accept myself, as I am. I know that the older I get, these days get less & less; but I also know they still happen. So, I accept them, and do better the next day, or the next.
These are the ways I deal when Summer get’s me down, as it inevitably does every year.
It’s odd, being in the field, and sharing this. It makes me feel vulnerable, open to scrutiny. But, the fact is, I am better able to get into the trenches with clients and those I minister to, because I have my own experience with struggle.
I know that these may seem like a given to some, and to others may be a struggle, but I also know many of these will help others who struggle with any number of mental health issues (research supports a lot of this, as does anecdotal evidence). I’d encourage anyone struggling to try some of these, and to seek out professional help.
None of us really has to walk through all of this alone.
And, on the eve of yet another celebrity suicide, I’d say it’s time to open the conversation.
It’s time to recognize that it is ok not to be ok; but it’s not ok to not be ok alone.
How do you beat the heat? Have you found ways to cope with anxiety or depression? Does a particular time of year affect you more than others? If so, how do you deal when you’re down?
If you are currently struggling, please reach out to someone you know, don’t go it alone. If you don’t know where to start, start with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Also, 211.org can lead you to resources in your area.
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