As Australia gears up for summer, my body powers down. All the victories and failures; regret, elation and frustration; guileless resolutions: everything coalesces into this tight ball right beneath my collarbone.
For the past five years, I’ve picked up the flu in the first week of December like clockwork. They say your body tells you what’s around the corner mentally, which is why your stomach squirms before you’ve even started thinking about the scary thing you have to do tomorrow. In my case, being knocked down is my mind preparing me for the fact that soon, I may not want to get up again.
Conventional wisdom says we’re not supposed to be depressed in the summertime. The days are longer, people show more skin. Many of us aren’t at work. But somehow, the most profound periods of depression I have ever had have been during the season I look forward to most.
There’s a fancy term for this called Seasonal Affective Disorder. I was always of the opinion that if anything, I was more liable to feel that in winter, when it’s cold and shitty and your rich friends are on boats in Europe drinking spirits for lunch.
The depression you get in summer is different. It’s hazy, like tar on the road on a really hot day, where the air seems to wobble in your vision. Because of that, succumbing to it isn’t a sharp drop but a shallow dive into sadness. You’ll be swimming for a while before you realise that you’re somewhere you can no longer stand.
It’s entirely possible that we get depressed in summer because it’s the only time our brains decommission for long enough for us to feel anything beyond what’s for dinner. Freed from their chamber of busyness, our minds breathe some fresh air, and freak the fuck out.
When there’s nothing to do, there’s even less of a reason to get out of bed. One of the largest misconceptions around depression is that you’ll immediately be submerged in melancholia, that life will turn into the final act of a Shakespearean tragedy overnight. Rather, the tenor of Australia post-Boxing Day is the perfect allegory for how the summer blues work. It’s a vast swathe of nothingness. Nothing is happening, nothing is urgent and you feel nothing.
By the end of the holidays, I feel like I’ve had a lobotomy. That long first week in January, particularly, is a bit like suspended animation. Time staggers forward like an Irish backpacker after Christmas. The sunshine is no longer appealing. The beach is full of rudely gleeful children. Everyone seems to be having a great time but I can’t stand it – or myself. Humidity blankets my body, and without a fight, I let it weigh me down.
When it rains – and it always does – it’s a silent relief. Wrapping myself up in the thinnest sheet I own, I lie diagonally on a mattress coated in leftover sand, watching as my standing fan battles valiantly against the sound of thunder outside an open window. It is in these long hours between afternoon and evening on a day I don’t ever remember being this sad, that I think about rebooting my life and becoming an entirely different person. I’ll cut my hair, I think. Wear different clothes, move house and stop worrying about whether my flyscreen is still efficient.
Tomorrow is a new day. It might be a weekend.
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