Spring. A time for new beginnings, growth, frolicking lambs and, for me, unexplained anxiety.
As the ice sheet of winter cracks open, flood waters recede and luminous tulips and daffodils push their way out of the sodden ground, I often feel like I’m teetering on the brink of temporary madness. Those first shafts of sunlight to penetrate the clouds and spread their warm, iridescent glow across the land fill me with excitement yet also an unnerving sense that my safety blanket has been yanked away.
The days begin to lengthen and I begin to feel ill at ease and incredibly unsettled. And I couldn’t tell you why.
I don’t know if it’s the sometimes dramatic turning of the season – murky winter days can transform into a colourful, floral panorama in the blink of an eye – or a biological reaction to altered sunlight levels, but change is in the air – and I don’t seem to like it.
Which is strange seeing as I’ve always adored spring and summer. I’m a sunshine child and love nothing more than being outdoors on a beautiful summer’s day. Whatever happens in my body at this time of year seems to be purely chemical, and totally contradicts how I should expect to feel as we leave the dreary English winter behind. I simply start to feel more exposed and even on the warmest of March or April days there seems to be a chill in the air. Then, as with all changes, I adjust and things return to normal. By early summer I generally feel fine again.
It’s a strange phenomenon and one that most of my friends can’t relate to. Spring inflates them with joy and excitement, and none of the anxiety I experience. However I have come across a couple of depression sufferers who admit to struggling more at this time of year, and my most severe experiences of panic attacks, general anxiety and depression have always, without fail, occurred during the spring months. This can’t be coincidence.
Spring is also marked by higher rates of suicide – but psychologists don’t seem to have the foggiest idea why.
The only documented condition I’ve come across that even vaguely mirrors my problem is that of Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder – or Summer SAD. We’ve all heard of the kind of SAD that has people hiding under the sofa during the colder, darker months but until recently I wasn’t aware that an estimated 600,000 Brits suffer from a summer version of this illness. Most of the UK population enthusiastically disrobes and heads for the nearest patch of sand/greenery/roundabout once the temperature rises above 15 degrees, so the idea of sunnier climes sending anyone into a depressive tailspin must seem pretty odd.
But, as always, depression has no rhyme and reason – and a small percentage of sufferers evidently fall under the black dog’s spell during these warmer months.
However Summer SAD is said to start in early spring, and persist until the clocks go back in autumn time. Not so for me – luckily my anxiety generally quietens once I’ve adjusted to the changing season. Several sources also cite heat and humidity as anxiety and depression triggers for this condition, which definitely aren’t weather patterns I experience much in England – especially this early in the year.
So I’m still relatively clueless as to what exactly gets under my skin at this time of year. Being the somewhat sensitive flower maybe I should just accept spring as a particularly stimulating and exciting point in the calendar – that simply pushes me over the anxiety threshold. After all, they don’t call it Spring Fever or March Madness for nothing.
There could be a very reasonable and logical explanation for my persistent springtime anxiety. But with the vast expanse of mental health research at our fingertips today, and still no discernible answers for me on the subject, I’m inclined to think it’s just a trick of the light, a chink in the stratosphere – yet another of the black dog’s great mysteries.