I have often written about summer being a struggle for me. The heat, the lack of structure, and long periods of time to myself are all factors in my discomfort and tendencies towards depression.
Last year was a particular challenge. In addition to the ways summer is typically difficult, I was adjusting to being newly married, was reacting poorly to changes in medical issues, and was struggling with the ever-building dissonance I felt with my church of ten years. Things were quite difficult for me mentally and emotionally, and I had to slash my expectations for myself down to a short daily to-do list of tiny steps towards larger goals. The time left over I spent doing whatever I felt like I needed to do at the moment–even if it was wrapping a blanket tightly around me and closing my eyes and pretending the rest of the world away.
I write in personally difficult times because I want others who are struggling to know they are not alone.
Right now, however, I am not struggling. Summer is still not my favorite, but the challenges seem friendlier and the despairing moments that still come are shorter and manageable. My counselor has commented on the unusual amount of energy in a time of year I usually struggle. And so, while I still very much want you to know you are not alone, I also want you to know that however hopeless and futile life seems in your darkest moments; sometimes, things are better.
There are some pretty key circumstances that contribute to this summer being better for me. The biggest one is having found a better balance in the medical issues. Almost as huge, I’ve been married over a year now, and so change is not as daunting. Every little aspect of our relationship is no longer under my analytical microscope as a certain prediction of our relationship for the rest of our lives. And, after a lot of anger and sadness and frustration (and hashing it out endlessly with my counselor), over the winter, I decided to step away from my church and seek worship and community elsewhere. While I miss many of the people dearly, it has also been a relief. Also, last summer, I was anxiously preparing to teach my first grad class, while this summer, I’m much more confident in refining what I’ve already created.
Things change. And sometimes, that means things get better.
Practically speaking, there’s one more key factor in this summer being better: I joined a gym.* I’ve never had much trouble making myself exercise, and I’m a walking testimony to its emotional benefits. But in the summer, exercise becomes one of a long list of tasks I have to come up with the energy to make myself do. Although I have access to a neighborhood fitness center, I wanted to take some exercise classes to make it more fun (I used to do Zumba regularly and really miss it)–and I realized that joining a gym would be the most cost-effective way to try out lots of different classes and go as often as I wanted.
I’m only about a month into summer–but so far, joining a gym has been incredibly helpful. I sometimes have trouble getting out of bed in the summer (a defeating cycle in which I get up later and later so fall asleep later and later), so going to morning exercise classes gives me a set time to be up and be somewhere. It means I’m around other people, which, regardless of whether I actually interact with them, helps keep my perspective from skewing in the long stretches of being inside my own head. Plus, it doesn’t take as much energy to just get myself there as it does when I’m exercising completely by myself, so it seems easier somehow.
We can’t skip the difficult times. But sometimes, things are not so difficult. Practical coping strategies don’t always “work.” But sometimes, they do. I deeply empathize with you if are in one of the more difficult times, especially is what is supposed to “help” just isn’t working. At the same time, I want to offer you the sliver of hope that how things are right now is not how they will always be.
*Occasionally I think, “Why didn’t I think of joining a gym before?” Oh, right. Because gyms cost money. When I was single (and so on one income), I couldn’t justify the expense. As grateful as I am to be able to add this one piece to make my summer more bearable, I know it’s a luxury, and one many cannot afford.