Monday, July 15, 2019

The Usual, But Different

As many of you know, summer and I have a hate-hate relationship. I dread its arrival each yer, and struggle with depression, exhaustion, agitation, nausea, and other unpleasantries. What many people experience in winter with seasonal affective disorder, I experience in the summer. This year, we had a summery April, which has been pretty typical in the years we've been here. I was preparing for what was coming. But then it cooled off again and was rainy for a month or two. I had a reprieve and was grateful. A couple of weeks ago, summer made its return. I was trying to prepare myself as I always do, but within a few days, I knew I was going to have to change my approach.

We were in Donegal Town, doing a library run. The tourists are back, so there were more people than usual. I could feel myself getting agitated and it was such a relief to get home. A couple of days later, we walked through town to call on veg man. There was an event happening, so again lots of people had congregated. It was hot (to me--other people had things like leather pants on and some had jackets) and sunny. I made it home, plopped myself into a chair and had a cry. I knew that I had to respond to this entirely predictable annual situation in a way that was different from what I've done in the past.

Every year, I spend a lot of time having mental conversations with myself in which I am basically taking myself to task for feeling the way I do. I remind myself over and over again that I am lucky to live in a beautiful place, in a cosy home. I do not have to walk miles to haul water or hope I have enough food. I am safe. There is no war here. I have no right to be depressed because of some seasonal discomfort when other people live in such horrific conditions and I should just suck it up and knock it off. Needless to say, true as it all is, it did not help.

As I considered some of the Buddhist teaching I have heard and read, I saw that I was going about all of this in exactly the wrong way, and actually making things worse as a result. This is what it is. It's July and current conditions are normal for July. My physical response to these conditions are also normal for me. I cannot change them. What I can do is accept and acknowledge that this is what happens at this time of year. It will be sunny and warm/hot. It will not cool down much at night, because there are not enough hours of darkness. I will feel like crap. That is July. Instead of trying to force my experiences into a different place, I am stopping and paying attention to them. Instead of trying to push them away, I am making friends with them and trying to express compassion to myself. And you know what? It's helping. It's not that the exhaustion, nausea, depression, and discomfort have gone away, but I am not fighting against them anymore and that removes the added layer of suffering I placed on myself. I still wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, no matter how much sleep I've gotten and I go to bed exhausted every night, wondering whether I'll be able to fall asleep. I still feel depressed. I still feel like it has been July for a couple of years instead of a couple of weeks. But I am not wishing it was otherwise anymore. I have stopped fighting. Instead of trying to force myself to carry on, I am adapting. When I felt so depressed and lethargic last week that I felt I could not do anything, I didn't try to push through that. I just sat and experienced it, doing the tasks that were necessary and leaving it at that. After a couple of days, I noticed that I was getting frustrated at not stitching, but I was unable to focus on a specific project or even have an idea. I brought an embroidery book upstairs, sat in bed and looked at it, occasionally looking through the window at the harbour, and I felt soothed. Soon, I picked up some scrap cloth and thread and worked on an abstract piece. It was calming and peaceful. I am doing a lot of comfort reading--short stories and Golden Age mysteries. Wherever possible, I am avoiding situations that are particularly annoying, thus conserving energy for the times when avoidance isn't possible. In short, I am giving myself the space to accept the way things are and doing what I can to take care of myself.

Am I enjoying July? No. Am I still eagerly anticipating autumn, crisp air, fewer hours of daylight, and refreshing sleep? Absolutely. When we went to get some groceries the other day, I noticed the fireweed and was bummed at how the blooms were still so low on the stalk. Then I reminded myself that this is how it is and the blooms will work their way towards the top of the stalk as the summer drags on, eventually reaching the top and then turning to white fluff. This too shall pass. In the meantime, I am going to continue this attempt to compassionately sit with what comes up, doing what I can to respond in ways that are helpful, instead of trying to force myself to change what isn't going to change.


Vicki said...

I'm so glad you are learning to better deal with summer. Hot summers can truly mess with your mind and body. I have a hard time dealing with Florida's high humidity. I love going bike riding and on hikes, to the beach, state parks, flea markets and theme parks. But in the summer I try not to be outside for long periods of time unless it's very early in the morning or way past sunset. I don't mind so much if the humidity is low but it rarely is. The older I get the less I like the cold and heat.

Shari Burke said...

Hi Vicki! I confess to being a heat wimp! I consider even high 60s to be hot and that's enough to cause problems, especially if the sun is out. I have a pretty high tolerance for cold and always feel energized in cooler temps, rain, and short days. The humidity is an added yuck factor. It's a smart move on your part to go out at the times you do. I've stayed outside for too long at times in the past and paid a price later, with headache and nausea, so I'm more careful now. I've had so many people tell me that as I age, I will start feeling cold a lot, but so far, no sign of that happening ;-)