I love summer. Lighter evenings, longer days, warmer weather, summer dresses, perhaps even some sun if we’re lucky. Generally speaking, as seems to be common with most people I speak to – when the sun is out, I’m in a better mood. However, as someone who also experiences periods of depression, I’ve found that this isn’t generally the case when it comes to my mental health.
I’m fortunate that I’m currently in a much better place at the moment but, when I think back to a few years ago, I found the summer months to be an immense struggle.
When the clocks sprung forward, it all felt a little bit daunting. The things I’d usually look forward to about the change in seasons now served as reminders that I really wasn’t ok.
The lighter evenings and longer days meant more time counting down the hours until it was dark enough to go to sleep. The warmer weather meant more plans to cancel and, as a result, more excuses to make up. I couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to decide what to wear each day – something which would ordinarily bring me a lot of enjoyment – and so the summer dresses stayed at the back of my wardrobe.
Perhaps depression is a little easier to understand in the winter. It’s dark, it’s cold, most people are spending evenings at home not really doing much. If I was having a particularly bad day / week / month, it didn't feel so wrong to get home from work, change into my pyjamas and just go to bed.
Yet when summer rolled around, it seemed as though everyone was out and about having the ‘best time ever’.
And then there I was, struggling to get out of bed.
For someone experiencing depression, it can be difficult to watch those around you enjoying themselves. I'd mute group chats so as not to be met with the constant barrage of plans, I'd excuse myself from after-work drinks, and I'd invent reasons not to attend BBQs and family gatherings.
“But it’s such a nice day…” people would say, “you should get out the house, it might cheer you up."
Yes it was a nice day but, whilst their words were well-meaning, they simply weren't helpful. I already felt as though I was wasting my summer and I knew I should get out the house, but it just didn't seem possible. A nice walk on a sunny afternoon might do wonders if I'm just having an 'off day', but depression is so much more than that, and a sunny afternoon isn't a cure.
Depression doesn't care about the weather, your weekend plans, or the birthday coming up that you'd do anything to be able to enjoy. It doesn't think to itself "summer is here, time for me to disappear for the next few months." That isn't how it works.
I'm in the fortunate position of having friends I could be honest with. Friends who would still keep inviting me to things 'in case I felt up to it' and didn't judge me when I stopped replying to messages for days or weeks on end. They'd suggest shorter periods of socialising that felt a lot less daunting, and remind me that they were still around if and when I felt up to going out.
In more recent years, I've managed to enjoy my summers without the weight of depression casting a shadow over them to quite the same extent, and for that I'm incredibly thankful. I think my own experience has also made me more aware of how others might be feeling, and I'd encourage anyone who thinks a friend might be struggling to try to understand and have a little patience.