I remember being surprised when, years ago, I heard that suicide rates jumped in the spring. The more I thought about it though, and the more years—and seasons—I live through, the less this statistic surprises me. I am not, nor have I ever been, clinically depressed or suicidal; however, I do find myself feeling down and out more frequently in the summer—the months of sunshine and bathing suits and kids laughing in large groups—than in the winter. And I actually believe it is these very components—the sunshine and bathing suits and kids laughing in big groups, the ones that are supposed to make summer so fun—are the very same ones that make it… well, not so fun for me.
First of all, I am a writer and an introvert. Winter’s cold and snow and ice allow me to hole up at home with a book and my computer without guilt. It’s too cold to go outside, I say to my friends, gleefully. And they seem to agree. There are fewer parties, events, or, as I prefer to think of them, reasons to feel left out and/or things to feel pressured into attending. What’s more, in the winter, whatever parties there are, are less visible for the simple reason that they take place inside. No one’s barbecuing on the lawn or kicking back in the park, playing basketball or frolicking with their dog. Especially in Iowa.
In the summer, people can’t be so easily avoided. Which is a good thing, in part: I readily admit that I often need to be forced into social interaction. But at the same time, as an introvert, I need time alone, to rest and recharge. Without that time, I turn into a kind of whiny, sullen zombie—and it’s harder to get that time in the summer, when everyone seems to want to hang out for hours on end, by the lake or the beach, and when outdoor parties seem to happen every night. (Am I sounding like the grinch?? Well, I kind of am, I guess.) The problem is, if I do turn down invitations—to a party or a hang out—I start to feel guilty: I think, I’ll regret this later or I’m a bad friend. It’s what they call a vicious cycle.
What else? I prefer to exercise in the cold, bundled up, than in the heat. I’m extremely pale and sensitive to sun exposure. Oh, and, perhaps worst of all, summer—with its pool parties and the zillion magazine articles on “How to Get a Bikini Ready Body”—makes me painfully aware of the ways in which my body differs from others’, re-triggering a lot of old insecurities. Every year it gets harder for me to adjust to wearing summer clothes—the first few times I put on a bikini, I feel pasty and fat, even when, up until that moment, I would’ve said I felt great about my body. What’s more, it’s nearly impossible, as a young woman wearing clothes that are comfortable in summer heat, to feel desexualized, to feel shielded from the male gaze. I notice that I get cat-called more in the summer and it upsets me. I noticed that worry more about my weight, that I wish my boobs were a cup size bigger, my waist, an inch smaller. I miss the option of hiding behind a cardigan, of kind of ignoring my body because I can, because it’s all wrapped up anyway.
And then all of this is exacerbated by the fact that being depressed in the summer is alienating. This is not what you’re supposed to feel. And, according to Instagram, no one else does feel it. They’re all out having a blast in their bikinis in the sun.