Spring Isn’t My Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Warm weather is… a major challenge. The major challenge, actually, at least until last year. It’s a huge sensory trigger for me, it’s pretty much inescapable, and at some point that spiralled out of control and took on a life of its own. The way I describe The Heat Thing has fluctuated a lot – a pick ‘n’ mix of language around autistic sensory regulation, anxiety, phobia, seasonal affective disorder (summer-onset SAD is A Thing, by the way), but I’ve never quite found anything that fits. What I can now tell you is that it feels very similar to March 2020 and the imminent, unavoidable shattering of life as I knew it, so there’s that.

We’re now almost a year on, back in full lockdown, deaths are just as high, I’m still no closer to any aspect of my February 2020 world, and there’s snow in the forecast.

The more positive corners of the internet are focusing solely on that last part. Spring is coming, I’m told, as so many others count down the weeks and meticulously track the sunset, each day a little later than the one before. The light is coming. Things are bleak now, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It would be mean to begrudge people the only certain joy they have left – I just wish I shared it. Instead, it reads as a reminder that things are bleak now, but they could be about to get bleaker.

The more metaphorical “light at the end of the tunnel” isn’t there either; instead, all I can see is history repeating itself. For me, the gradual easing of restrictions seems to mean watching everyone else move back towards normal when I can’t even realistically go home, and complain about how unreasonable it is to “only” be able to do far more than I can. Even at this early stage, the media spotlight is on summer holidays abroad, and it’s multiple levels of detached from my reality. It’s not all bad, of course – we’ll be able to do more and see more people as a family – but I wouldn’t describe it as better. It’s just a different type of bad.

The strange thing is, spring and summer and people spending more time outside will help with the pandemic. Things will be better at least for a while, for the country generally if not for me specifically. That is the time the growing, gnawing worry is building up to. It’s hard not to feel like a bad person for it, or just generally alien, generally wrong. Then in autumn and winter, when the outside is no longer a battleground, cases might rise again. We won’t know until we get there. It might happen every year; the period of safety becoming unsafe, the period of freedom becoming restricted, because of nature itself. Almost confirmation, amongst everything else, that the new world is not one I belong in.

Before the pandemic, when I wrote about The Heat Thing I wrote about reversal; I didn’t feel bleak in the season others describe as bleak. This winter, though, has felt very bleak. Of course it has – have you seen the world?! I’m struggling just as much as anyone else is (frankly, the strange competition to have needs met when things are difficult for everyone could be a blog of its own) – I just don’t have the same light at the end of the tunnel. The calendar is still looking ahead to a plummet, but the starting point is the ground.

Frustratingly, even the winter weather is having an impact – rain, snow and ice make running impractical, dark mornings make it even harder to get out of bed, and when the morning run is the only time I leave the house, that has a huge knock-on effect. For obvious reasons, it was winter when I started running and summer is not better, so it feels like a poor excuse. Letting winter get in the way feels like letting the side down. “What would it even be called if you had seasonal depression but at both ends?”, I thought to myself, moments before realising I might have just named my problem.

In her recent article for Tiimo about her experiences of summer-onset SAD, Josefina Troncoso describes a pervasive double standard: the expectation to be the very definition of empathy to a majority of people who rarely, if ever, return the favour. Being mindful that other people experience things differently is what we should all aim for, but too often, this is only applied one way. For me, the same rings true more generally in being disabled in the pandemic – we must be kind and aware of the circumstances of others, because that is the right thing to do, but the same consideration for our circumstances is rarely forthcoming.

I’m self-conscious of how often I write about weather. I worry that when I complain about the emoji on newspaper weather forecasts, the “hope you’re enjoying the glorious sunshine” in e-mails, the endless stream of “spring is coming” posts, it sounds petty and trivial. And individually, it is petty and trivial. But it’s constant, and the pervasive sense of feeling like an alien or an aberration is damaging. Especially right now, when the pile of evidence is so much greater.


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