Hello again summer sadness, my old friend

The summertime blues are very real. But why?

Sad emoji.
(Image credit: Illustrated | titoOnz/iStock, Apple, matma/iStock)

I've felt like crying a lot lately. On the surface, this isn't immensely out of character — I love crying, and will do it on pretty much any occasion — but there is something different about this particular bout of the blues that I can't seem to shake. It's more wistful and melancholic, more abstractly moody, and occasioned by nothing in particular: a sunrise view of Manhattan seen out an airplane window; the way my family's bony, ancient cat seeks out the sunshine on the kitchen floor each morning; the sound of identifiable music booming from a passing car at night.

If I were to try to put my finger on it more specifically, I'd say I feel like crying because the days move like molasses, because it's hot and I'm unable to justify buying a second air conditioner, and because I can't seem to get over the thought that adults should get the whole summer off too, just like when we were kids. But if I'm being honest, it's even more straight-forward than that: I'm sad for the simple reason that it's this time of year again.

Feeling bluesy in the summer is, at least superficially, a wholly selfish act. No one is supposed to be sad in the summer, and to find oneself down without any good reason takes some level of determination (one would think). Being sad in late July is contrarian, defiant, rebellious, a middle-finger in the face of everyone out rollerblading or eating ice cream cones or going to amusement parks or sunbathing or otherwise having a good time.

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General wisdom holds that the sun is supposed to make you feel warm, healthy, and happy. And for awhile, maybe, it even did. I remember those first bright, optimistic days of spring that glittered rosily with promise, I do! But by the end of July, you've gotten your first sunburn and bandaged between-the-toe blisters from flip-flops. You've had ice cream headaches and skinned your knees and there's sand in the bed and you know it will be practically November before you stop scraping the sides of your feet against the tiny grains at night. You feel guilty for not doing things on the days people call "perfect," but sometimes it seems like you're the only one who realizes that having fun takes so much effort.

While being sad in the summer is lonely, it's hardly uncommon. Every year like clockwork, people's moods begin to dip at the end of July and continue to be down through the long dog days of August. The phenomenon has different names — some call it the summer scaries, referring to the anxiety brought on by the approach of fall, but it's also called the August blues or the mid-year slump. The mood is even immortalized in pop culture, from Eddie Cochran warning that there "ain't no cure for the summertime blues" 50 years ago to Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness," which inexplicably bubbled back into the charts this month, seven years after it was released.

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The medical community believes that the summertime blues could be a form of seasonal affective disorder, brought on not by the lack of light that induces the condition in the winter, but instead by the unceasing daylight and cultural pressure to be ebullient about the season. "[S]ummertime depression often brings insomnia, loss of appetite, weight loss, and feelings of agitation or anxiety," writes The Smithsonian. "Summertime SAD can also create an increased feeling of isolation. If misery loves company, [wintertime] SAD sufferers can find plenty of other people to commiserate with during the dreary winter months. But during summer, most everyone else seems to be having a great time."

There might be something particularly bluesy about this year's summer, too. The Guardian observed that 2019 has been especially hard on people and dubbed the phenomenon "mid-year burnout." Guardian readers reported being "more exhausted" this year than in the past. "I wake up in the morning and think, did I get drunk last night?" one respondent said. "And then I remember, no, this is just what normal feels like now."

For me, the issue seems much simpler: Nothing makes me feel quite as mortal as summer. It's a season of traditions, of returns to vacation towns and family reunions, of watching the people you knew when you were young get married and step into a new phase of life. I get dizzy thinking about how my own childhood at some point slipped past unnoticed, that lazy naps with boyfriends in the back of my high school pick-up truck at some point turned into obligations, meetings, phone calls to my super about the leaky ceiling, trips to the grocery store. I cut my own watermelon now, and I have to stock my own fridge with lemonade.

I would argue, though, that if one must feel melancholic, then there is no better time than in the summer. It is the best season to be moody because you aren't trapped inside to stew with your thoughts. There are more places to cry without being noticed thanks to the tolerable outdoors; there are also more ways to practice self-care, from going on an evening run to taking longer, more meandering walks with the dog.

And, in a few weeks when September comes, I know things will level out and that this unshakable feeling of being on the verge of tears will subside, then be forgotten. Because while there might not be a cure for the summertime blues, as Cochran famously determined, he left out one thing. Summertime doesn't last forever, and neither do the blues.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.