I love my summers. I've had free summers for most of my life. I was lucky enough to be raised by a stay-at-home mom. We spent our summers at the municipal pool, going on vacations, running around the neighborhood, riding bicycles, and in the cool dimness of the public library. Occasionally, we'd spend some time at day camp or sports camp. We took swimming lessons in the morning and spent afternoons playing with friends. When we got especially stir crazy, Mom would take us to the mall (a nearly 40-minute drive north of my very rural hometown) for shopping and a movie.
In 2012, I gave my notice at my teaching job and made the switch to working in a public library. I was thrilled. I had serious dreams about making a difference in a public library. I was working with children, I was going home to West Virginia, I was achieving my goal. What happened, a year after I accepted that job, was that summer arrived. Suddenly, the time I'd spent -- for many years -- relaxing and traveling, was now spent doing more work than I'd done in years: programs, presentations, storytimes, activities, outreach, and scrambling. Summer, in the children's library game, is the busiest time of the year.
I did the summer reading thing for three years. By the time I had finished my third summer, I was done. It wasn't just that I missed my summer vacations. It wasn't just that I was spoiled by my many years of long summer breaks. I was spent. I was exhausted. Also, I was deeply depressed, utterly lost, and completely without direction (but, that's not the fault of summer reading).
Last summer, I was determined I was going to enjoy my time off. I planned a month in South Carolina, a week with friends at the beach, and a solo vacay with my dog. Nearly all of that time was spent feeling desperate and miserable. My solo vacay was just like my regular life but Chesapeake Bay-adjacent. The time in South Carolina was spent at my Dad's house and I got too comfortable just sitting around in the chilled living room, watching TV. When it came time to come home at the end of the summer, I was already in a deep, dark funk. By the time school started, I felt worse than I had in May. I'd failed.
A big part of my failure to succeed at relaxing has to do with my depression. When I don't have somewhere to be, I tend to lose my mooring. I fall into a lazy pattern of sleeping late, pajamas all day, and binge watching TV I don't really even like. It's what I used to do in the old days when I was still teaching. It's what happened to me during a good portion of last summer. If I don't have a reason to get dressed, I just don't get dressed. My house tends to fall into a state of chaos. I get too overwhelmed to tidy up. I get too overwhelmed to do anything. Then, I start crying.
Since last summer's supreme unhappiness, I wanted to make a new plan for this summer. I booked myself a week at the beach, a week with family, and two weeks at remote writing retreats. If you've read my last post, you know my beach vacation was kind of a wash. However, the rest has been more or less a success. Now, I've been home for almost two whole weeks. Home. Alone. Nowhere to go. On Monday, I started to feel the first twitches of cabin fever.
I bought myself an inflatable swimming pool. I fill it with hose water and lie in it while reading young adult novels that were written in the 1950s. That's my new thing this summer: mid-century YA. I've been unpacking from my month long trip in June and July. I've been cleaning. Still, I was beginning to feel a little...foggy. Yesterday, I knew I needed to get out of the house. I knew I had to speak to someone that wasn't just on the phone. Where was I going? To IKEA, of course!
What my trip to IKEA did for me was to get me away from my to-do list, away from lying restless and irritated in the inflatable pool. It re-charged me. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I dreamed of a long, uninterrupted summer vacation. I dreamed of days on the beach and plenty of time to do all my organizing tasks. I dreamed of writing without having to stop until I was ready. The problem with that is, though, that I don't work very well with no deadlines, expectations, or responsibilities. I just don't. My mind needs more structure than that and it needs something concrete on which to fix. Without it, the depression takes over. It fills in all that empty space with doubt and fear and sorrow.
Living with depression is like living with a really unpredictable roommate. She's quiet one day and raging the next. She makes a huge mess of your place and then can't live with the chaos. She loves order but can't make herself create it. She is both devastated and delighted by spending a whole day in bed.
I'm beginning to understand what I need to keep the cabin fever at bay. Next week, I'm off to my final remote writing retreat. I'm excited about it! In the meantime, I'm gonna keep cleaning, and lying in the inflatable pool, and walking the dog, and reading old young adult fiction. It's gonna be exciting. Well, it's gonna be...maybe...like...relaxing.