It’s May and my summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder is back. Do you feel the summertime blues too?

desert under yellow sunset
Photo by Fabio Partenheimer on

The room where I write and draw looks out the front window of my house. The (almost) daily visit from the mail carrier is generally my cue to get up and away from my desk for a few minutes. I stepped out the front door to get the mail this morning and was hit by the first sign of summer. The heat from the sun radiated off of my cement driveway and directly into my face. For a few moments, I forgot to breathe. When I did take a deep breath in, the air was hot, heavy, lifeless, and stagnant. I got dizzy and walked slowly to the mailbox and back.

When I sat down at my desk, inside the air-conditioned box where I would largely be living for the next four to five months, I was dreading the near-term future. This was worse than my normal dysthymia. The hopelessness and lethargy were more intense. I stared blankly out the window or at my computer screen, doing nothing. As the days wore on I became more irritable. My patience with the dogs and with people around me grew short. I started ruminating about the past, and mistakes made in my career years ago.

What is Summer SAD?

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a seasonal depression that occurs when the seasons change. The majority of sufferers experience its onset as winter approaches and the days grow cold, dark, and short. Typically symptoms resolve as winter passes. A much smaller portion of SAD sufferers experiences depressive symptoms in the summer, rather than the winter. I am firmly among that small and select population.

My Experience With Summer SAD

I dread the onset of summer every year. I hate scurrying from an air-conditioned home to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office or shop. Breathing in the stagnant, motionless, hot heavy air is a struggle. What’s more, the heaviness of the air seems to weigh on me, lowering my baseline. I need to work actively every day to fight depression and reach what I call “zero”, just a good baseline, a normal day. Yoga, journaling, eating healthy, getting sufficient sleep, working with my therapist, and avoiding too much alcohol are all part of the routine. In the summer I need to work even harder it seems.

My comfort zone is a walk on a cold morning, breathing in the air and feeling a sting in my nose, my fingers gently aching in the cold. The winter skies have clarity, deep blue with the haze frozen out. I can manage any level of cold by putting on the correct clothes and moving enough. I cannot exist with or manage the heat. It always wins, sending me scurrying inside.

The longer days add insult to injury. I look forward to the arrival of the summer solstice (June 20th this year!). Even though relief from the heat is months away, at least it signifies the days getting shorter.

A rapidly warming planet will be a difficult place for me to live.

Fifteen years ago, when I first moved to this part of the world, I could at least count on and look forward to the occasional winter snowstorm. Unfortunately, there has been no snow at all the last two winters, I fear there will be many more like it.

This past winter, I traveled alone by train across the Scottish Highlands. I did it in part so I could see winter again. Waking up early putting on a coat and walking the streets of Glasgow, or Inverness, felt like home. Furthermore, my favorite summer vacation was a recent trip to Canada’s Gaspesie region, where the daytime high temperatures were in the 70s.

I have not yet figured out how to cope with my summer SAD. Obviously, this is a problem. I know I cannot keep wishing the days away. I am getting too old for that. Acceptance of the situation has been difficult, and I need a practice of radical acceptance. It is not realistic for me to simply pack up and move to the Yukon.

I have had some success sitting outside in the sun, during the hottest part of the day, and looking for things to be grateful for. A few times I have spotted a bird or lizard to photograph. The other day the wind blowing through the trees prompted me to get out the camera and work with Lightroom again. Although they were small steps, they were positive.

wind blowing through the treees
Long exposure photo of wind-blown trees. Credit: Bill Boese

Why am I affected by Summer SAD?

I have read about many of the underlying causes of summer SAD, but none of the typical ones apply to me. A summertime disruption of my schedule does not affect me. Also, I am not working currently, and my children are grown. I do not have body image issues that cause me to have anxiety about going to a beach.

I believe that part of the reason is simple. I love the cold. I love how it feels and looks. I miss it when it is gone. While a simple explanation would be the absence of the chilly mornings, the faint smell of wood fires burning at night, and the cold clear dark starry skies, I think there is more to it.

15 years ago my wife and I packed up our young family and moved from the Northeastern US to the Southeast. While not dramatically different, the climate here is warmer and summers are longer. The move and its aftermath were difficult. The move forced my children to adapt to new schools and make new friends. The job that initiated the relocation disappeared shortly after we completed the move, during the financial crisis of 2008. Although the new position I was put in helped pay the bills, my career derailed and I never overcame it. We never replaced the old neighborhood’s social network.

Reflecting on the decision to move here as a disaster is easy. I believe a large part of the distress and anxiety I feel in summer derives from it. I believe it is the “thing” or the past trauma that causes my present anxiety.

As I write this, I am planning to move back to the northeast. This is not entirely motivated by my desire to live in a cooler climate, but it is a contributor. I also do not believe it will completely solve my problem. I suspect that will only come with acceptance and forgiveness of myself for past decisions. I will continue to work to accept and eventually have gratitude for the path that has led me here.

Until then, I will be counting the days until October arrives.

Summer SAD Resources:

  1. “Tips for Summer Depression”, R. Morgan Griffin, WebMD, 9/14/2023,
  2. “Summertime SAD: 11 Ways to Chase Away the Warm-Weather Blues”, Michelle Pugle, EverydayHealth, 5/12/2023,

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