A Poem About Reverse SAD

I wrote “Slipping Under Spring” to bring awareness to a poorly understood type of depression, Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (RSAD). RSAD is also known as “Summer Depression.”

RSAD resembles its better-known cousin, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), since both occur annually and appear to hinge on modulations of sunlight and the impact on serotonin and melatonin. However, SAD strikes as the days grow shorter and darker, while RSAD snags its prey in open sunlight.
I fall back just as others spring ahead.

My account of living with RSAD comes with full disclosure. To make meaningful headway into our understanding of mental illness and the possibility of new treatments, I believe I must present my experiences in an “unvarnished” form.

In fact, reading honest accounts by others with mental illness played a large part in saving my life. If they could make it through, perhaps I had a shot.
— Heather Cook

Slipping Under Spring

By Heather Cook


I dread spring, I always have.
Summer’s worse: I despise it.
I know, I know:
what a weirdo, a spoil sport.
“You’re so crazy!”
I’ve heard it a million times –
“How can you hate spring? It means summer is coming!
Flowers are blooming; the birds are singing!”
No shit.
Do you think I strive to be as abnormal as possible?

I mean, C’MON! Who dreads spring?
The grey clouds crack open, spilling
 winter’s remains. 
The days grow brighter, pushing
 twilight off so long that it takes us all by surprise.
Kids extract their bikes from cobwebby garages,
and dig for their bats and balls, 
while their parents cluster and curse the winter --
how much snow we had! Oh, the storms, the ice,
cabin fever, winter blues…on and on…
We’re all so glad it’s spring, aren’t you?
Ugh.
Even the neighborhood cats and dogs are happy –
finally warm, they roll on their backs with their pink tongues
lolling, and soft bellies exposed.
They curl into an S  and dream of daffodils. 

But, me, I feel the first sparks of terror:
I’m lonelier. 
Whatever control I thought I had, whatever resolve I‘d built,
another six months of therapy – where’d it go?
The conscious work, the hard work, mood therapy
and meditation: I prayed that this year was the year.
After 35 years, this might actually, finally work. 
I’ll finally be normal. 
I’m ready. I’m ready for spring!
I’d (in my mother’s words) finally “grown up.”
I opened my arms, and welcomed the sun!
But, no. Nothing at all.
I still hated spring. 

You know, 
I don’t get the sun, its appeal,
the love of its color, its lemon-dropness,
the banana-ness, its baby chickiness.
Then, the birds start screaming, waking me at 5:00,
reminding me it’s spring, and soon summer. 
Reminding me that, once again, I’m strange, so separate
from the pack – the minivan majority, the neighborhood normals.
I am supposed to find joy I can’t locate with a compass
or a map – 
I’m supposed to revel in a simple relief that most feel, 
one I can never find. 
I’m disappointed in myself.

I’m disappointed because I really do get it.
 I understand. 
I understand why people love it.
The truth is – I’m envious, envious of the cashiers who smile and say,
“Beautiful day, isn’t it? So good to see the sunshine!”
like I’m in some sort of club I never applied for,
or else I applied, and got turned down.
The I Love Spring Club!
It’s just another reminder that I’m not normal,
and that I don’t belong with people who smile,
shake out their rugs, and polish their windows.
The joy of spring cleaning!
It’s like I’m missing a switch – one that welcomes sun,
the burst of flowers, and trips to the beach --
just more incongruence.

So, for the cashier, I force a smile. 
I understand her happiness - shoveling snow sucks.
I’m sure she hated losing her power and
worrying that she was stocked with water and batteries. 
As much as I can get her, and get that - 
I don’t get me. Well, I do. 
Maybe that’s the point. 
Maybe I just don’t want to face it.
Maybe I can’t take more of it: more of what’s wrong.
It’s not human to choke on spring.
It's hard for me to let winter go.
(Again, not particularly human.)
Winter’s a season I can hide in: it’s a season of coats, and blankets,
grey skies, and storms. It’s a stay-inside season, 
a bundle up season,
an it’s OK to complain season. 
As the earth turns green, I can’t hide fast enough; 
I pray for a three month long illness so I don’t have to make excuses
for why I don’t want to play in the sun again.

So, I try and dodge two seasons of the year,
but it.never.works.
They always come, like taxes, like tears, and
all I can do is brace and beg for change.
Maybe this year, but again, I know better.
I’ll just make it to August when the last days flicker –
the light struggles to stay, stretching its shadows 
across the lawn. It’s stubborn, but not enough – 
it taps out, loses hold, and the leaves crunch and die, and 
every minute is one less minute of sun.
It feels like me, and that’s so damn sad.
It’s so damn sad that I can’t enjoy
something I know is probably so great.
Something that’s been kept from me for so long now, 
something I desperately want, 
something maybe again next year,
Something I’ve never found.

Instead, I slip beneath the surface
just as the world comes out to live.

 

Heather Cook is a 44 year old educator and writer who graduated from Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University. She lives in Maine, hates lobster, and is terrified of the ocean. As a teenager back in the 1980s, Heather was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A bottle of Lithium was put in her purse and onward she went.

She has so many stories.