Otherwise known as reverse seasonal affective disorder.
You’re likely to have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder- SAD for short. You may even have heard it described as “winter depression”. It’s characterised by a feeling of low mood, irritability and loss of interest in normal activities, prevalent during winter months. It’s real and it’s exhausting for those that suffer.
Summer SAD is this in reverse; summer months bringing about the low mood with an improvement seen in winter months. You can read more about symptoms and treatment on the NHS website, but I want to focus on another reason why people may find the summer months difficult and I think it may be one of the causes of SAD.
Polymorphic Light Eruption or PMLE is an itchy, burning skin rash caused by sensitivity to sunlight. Fluid filled blisters often occur too. It is a painful and frustrating condition and although it is physical in its presentation, it has huge psychological, social and emotional impact. In the summer, there is an increased expectation to be out and about enjoying the long, warm days with an assumption that everybody loves the sun! If you don’t, you can be misunderstood as being miserable or overreacting. When your skin reacts like the picture above (which is a fairly mild case in this instance), it can cause a sense of dread of the sheer exhaustion of surviving summer. It doesn’t always feel ok to share that though, oh party pooper you 😉
I am writing this from my experience. Experience of making myself be outdoors with others so I wouldn’t be the awkward one. Experience of suffering the consequences of keeping quiet and joining the outdoor party. Experience of feeling utterly miserable on the inside but keeping others’ convenience and happiness at the fore front.
As I have made the link between reverse SAD and PMLE and experienced the psychological effects as well as the physical, I have begun to take more care of what I need in living with this condition.
– I wear clothes that cover my arms as they are the worst affected. Yes I’ve had comments about ‘being dressed for winter’ but as it’s me dealing with the consequence of not covering up, I have become ok with doing this. It might seem unusual to others, but it’s usual for me and that’s ok.
– I’m allowed to stay indoors. That’s right, I have choice! There are times I will be in the sun because a person or occasion is utterly worth it but I have choice in how I manage it. Sometimes the choice is to not be out at all. I am learning to meet my needs too even if they’re misunderstood.
– I can seek out a dark room to retreat to, physically and mentally. It does me good, even if it doesn’t do others good. Again, it’s what I need and that’s ok. It also helps if I get in there first with the vampire jokes too, because they will happen!
– I spend time with those who want to spend time with me, even if it’s indoors. The ones who suggest indoor places have an extra special place in my heart!
Ultimately it’s about me knowing what I need and having freedom to operate within that. Only 10-15% of the UK population suffer with PMLE and out of those many will endure reverse SAD because of it (this is my lived experience opinion, not medical fact but it makes sense right?). So I share this to speak out for a small community to know you’re not alone in this summer struggle and if you happen to read this and think your summer despising friend is a miserable soul, be the one to ask and understand- they will appreciate you forever for it!