After a couple of weeks of abnormally warm weather in June, San Francisco has returned to its regularly scheduled summer weather programming. I have many childhood memories of bundling up in warm clothes to “watch the fireworks” from various local vantage points and mostly seeing colored flashes in the fog.
I can’t remember feeling oppressed by the grey days of endless fog growing up in San Francisco. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have anything to compare it to. It’s similar to living with anxiety and depression—you never question what your “normal” is until you’ve experienced something different. Though I don’t remember being gloom-sensitive as a kid, my mother would complain regularly about the lack of light in our basement apartment (undoubtedly struggling with her own depression). I was also lucky to have an annual break from the urban fog scene. My extended family would make summer sojourns to rural Inverness in West Marin county. This area is prone to stretches of coastal fog too, but I remember it as being sunny there more often than not.
Those born outside the Bay Area may miss their “seasons” but we have our versions, strange as they may be (and drastically altered during drought times). “Summer” to San Franciscans is the brief period of warm weather as the days begin to shorten in September/October. I only experienced an extensive periods of sunny days in the traditional mid-year months when I attended UC Santa Cruz and lived there for a summer. I also made friends who lived “over the hill,” which exposed me to the baking summer heat in the Santa Clara Valley. After college when I’d travel with my then-boyfriend to visit his family in sunny Saratoga, we’d both welcome the presence of the cooling blast of fog as we approached Daly City along 280. You’d transition from poolside party weather to needing your parka and a scarf in under an hour’s drive.
That same boyfriend loved the cold foggy climate in San Francisco. I think it suited his depressed artist temperament after years in relentlessly sunny suburbia. He loved the surreal and timeless quality the fog created. I could appreciate the fog’s beauty and the plaintive calls of foghorns but I was starting to crave sunshine. (Recent studies show a definite link to Vitamin D deficiency and depression.)
It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I learned to notice fluctuations in my physical and emotional states and their causes. First it took knowing that there were other ways of being and feeling. When I was prescribed an antidepressant after several years of therapy, I was happy to try something to get me out of the dark place of sadness and frustration I kept returning to. I was very fortunate that I responded quickly and positively to a low dose of the first prescribed medication. Within a few days I felt a calm settle over me and I thought “Wow—is this what ‘normal’ people feel like?” It reminded me of when I put on my first pair of glasses. I’d never known that the world could have clarity and definition. I had assumed everyone saw the same fuzzy-edged version of reality that I did. From this new baseline I was able to make more progress addressing underlying issues and learning healthy coping skills to moderate the peaks and help with the valleys.
When last year’s combined upheavals of job layoff and other traumatic circumstances hit me, my friends and family all at once, it was bad timing for a particularly grey summer in the city. This year I vowed to be proactive in finding more sunny climes before feeling too bogged down by daily grey and a corresponding gloom in my spirits. Even those of us who choose to be car-free can search out Señor Sol by hitting one of the many public transit options leading North, South, or East. An afternoon spent in some sunny, sterile suburb would be good for a dose of vitamin D and also remind me to appreciate the interest and variety offered in the dirty, gritty, grey, but beautiful city I call home.