Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to a condition that I believe afflicts many people but is rarely discussed and little understood. My research is sketchy. Most of it involves disclosures over glasses of wine with women friends. But I’m convinced I’m not the only one who has noticed. I’ll call it Seasonal Festive Affective Disorder.
The way my theory goes, something happens at those wonderful, awful tipping points experienced by people who live in four very distinct seasons. The particular tipping point I am concerned with is the winter-into-summer one (let’s forget about spring for the time being, I’m on bad terms with that season). At the winter-to-summer juncture, when everything in nature is waking up, we of course are being roused, too. The good news is that those of us who experience the scientifically documented seasonal affective disorder will see our symptoms lift. This is the wonderful part of the tipping point.
The not-so-good news involves the awful part of the tipping point which, for me, is best summed up here.
Please note the beach house, the snazzy car, the bathing suits, the boyfriend/girlfriend interaction, the surf boards, the general merriment.
If this images makes you happy, you do not have Seasonal Festive Affective Disorder. Enjoy your summer!
If, however, this image makes you anxious and perhaps even fearful, please join me and my woman friends for a glass of wine some time soon. We will compare notes about the Great Big Buzz Kill that sets in at the very same time the relief does.
The anxiety I speak of can spring from a spectrum of issues. SFAD isn’t the same for everyone. It could be about body image. Issues around identity and purpose. Memories of college or (worse) high school summers. Perfectionist tendencies. Unreasonable expectations imposed by self or others. Boyfriend problems. Tight budgets. Too many choices. Too little time.
Ah, too little time. For those of us living in the upper-ish Midwest and regions north, that’s a biggie. We have to fit all that frolicking into three wee months. Think about it. You’ve got a job, maybe you’ve got kids and family obligations. Where to find the time for all the surfing and flirting and sunbathing and margaritas you’ve been waiting on during the other nine, dreary months? Not to mention the summer blockbuster movies which require you to actually sit inside, meaning you’ve got to find a way to make up more time outside. In just three months. It’s a lot of pressure!
I first became conscious of this affliction when I was young and fresh out of college and living in a rural town. I was starting my career in journalism. My job as a reporter required odd hours. I didn’t know anyone. And it was summertime. Summertime! I was hard-wired to think summertime = fun. But I had to prove myself. It was a small town. I couldn’t exactly cut loose. Conundrum. Confusion. Anxiety.
Looking back, I realize something was at play even earlier. I recall times when I, as a member of the Youthful Summer Work Force, would hit Friday afternoon. The cute boys and cute girls would jump into their cute cars, full of talk about Going Down the Shore or Into the City or To the Lake, and I’d be excited about … the book I was reading. The Cute Ones were naturally adept at having fun. I imagined that the girls could hop out of their ski boots and into a bikini in a blink — nothing but a quick shave standing in their way, plenty of cute male and female companions at the ready. Who were these people? I couldn’t measure up.
Ever since, the arrival of summer has brought with it a queasy sense of pressure.
One of the first women friends I confessed this to burst forth with an admission of the same feelings (I must have had a sense). Her version was more wrapped up in identity. She was completely confident in the workplace. She knew how to dress, how to talk, what to do. But the summertime brought things like backyard barbecues, lake-cottage invitations, even (shudder) pool parties — and she dreaded each one. She didn’t know how to master the Merry Outdoor Milieu the way she could master the Professional Indoor Milieu. Nor did she like mayonnaise-based side dishes. She was completely happy using the longer summer days to sit on her condo balcony and get caught up on homework for her distance-learning class.
You don’t have to have sympathy for those of us with SFAD. We accept responsibility for managing the affliction. But you do have to admit that (A) The average human being wants to take advantage of a sunny day; (B) Society has certain widely shared assumptions about what a fun sunny day looks like; (C) Not every human being shares the same definition of fun.
So I would like to speak up for those people who, when given the choice on a beautiful summer day between reading a good book in a hammock and going to a festival to carouse in a beer tent, would usually opt out of applying makeup, fretting about the width of their hips, or being a vivacious barrel of laughs. Most of the time, they would choose the hammock.
All of the time? That would just be weird.