- Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, and it’s most common during winter.
- I’m in the 10% of people with SAD who experience summertime blues but thrive during winter.
- My symptoms have flared during the record-breaking temperatures of this summer’s heat wave.
I’ve loathed summer for as long as I can remember. As a child on family holidays, I’d hide under a beach towel for a week so I couldn’t see the sun. In my 20s, I’d avoid hot-tub parties like the plague and beg my friends to book a table inside the restaurant instead of on the terrace.
Now that I’m older, I shun sandal-wearing, hate the smell of sunscreen, and don’t want to wear floaty, floral prints. And I can’t see the attraction in eating burned barbecue or swatting wasps away while I’m having a picnic.
But I’m not like this year-round. As soon as September hits, and there’s that autumnal vibe in the air, I feel hope. I come alive, embracing the darker nights, the rain, the twinkling lights, and the chance to hole up inside for a few months under a blanket. This is reverse seasonal affective disorder — or SAD — at its finest.
My symptoms start in late spring and peak in the summer
SAD refers to depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It starts and subsides at about the same point each year. Boston University reports that SAD affects 10 million Americans, with women four times more susceptible than men.
For most people with SAD, symptoms are most potent in autumn and winter, including overwhelming sadness, concentration loss, oversleeping, and weight gain that results from unhealthy cravings. The psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, who first identified SAD in 1984, blamed the lack of sunlight for this winter depression.
But I fall into the smaller group of people with reverse SAD. I received a diagnosis in my mid-30s when I took a diary of notes that cataloged my symptoms to my doctor. It wasn’t an easy read, but it helped pinpoint their seasonal nature, and I was referred to a local mental-health center for cognitive behavioral therapy — a talking therapy.
I feel sad, tired, and anxious during summer’s long daylight hours and hot temperatures, and I lose my appetite in the humidity. With local temperatures breaking records at 104.5 degrees, this summer has been tough for me. But I know winter’s frosty chill and 5 p.m. darkness will revive me soon.
With reverse seasonal depression, scientists believe that too much sunlight in summer causes an imbalance of melatonin. Busy social schedules and disturbed sleep also send our circadian rhythms into a spin. And people with reverse SAD can feel more manic during the summer and may feel calmed only when the temperature dips.
One of the most isolating things about reverse SAD is being the only person to take a mood nosedive when the sun comes out. With strangers, I’ll mask my symptoms and make small talk about the beautiful weather we’re having — just to pretend I’m like everyone else.
The truth is: I hate the loneliness of turning down invitations to drink prosecco in the park or an evening at the open-air cinema. I know I’m the party pooper of the group, but I prefer being at home with my woolly socks on and the blinds shut. And I can’t wait for the colder, darker weather so that everyone else wants to join me.
Tips to cope with reverse SAD
Dealing with reverse SAD is a work in progress for me, but prioritizing sleep tops my list. I strongly believe that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after, so I use blackout blinds to squeeze in some extra shut-eye before the morning birds start tweeting again.
Instead of accepting those summery invitations, I seek refuge in cooler, darker spots, such as cinemas, bowling alleys, or shopping malls — anywhere with air conditioning. My friends and family sympathize, even if they can’t relate. And if things get really bad, I know I can discuss an SSRI prescription with my doctor — something I’ll seriously consider if next summer is as long and hot as this year’s.
Rebecca Noori is a freelance human-resources writer with a keen interest in mental health and women’s issues. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her providing advice for beginner freelancers and raising her three kids.