The cruelest month is August, when everybody's gone

August 20, 1993|By Colin McEnroe | Colin McEnroe,Hartford Courant

The author of this article wishes to apologize for the fact that it is not deeper and richer in anecdote and insight. It would have been, if the vast preponderance of people called by the author had not been away on vacation.

What do you expect? It's August.

"It is pretty empty, except for highways," says comedian Diane Jones. "The highways are like crazy, but once you get anywhere, there's nobody there."

That's because it's August.

"It's awful, and nobody calls me back," says Hartford, Conn., interior architect Jack Bursack. "I'm getting a complex."

"You leave messages everywhere," says Ms. Jones. "It's a drag."

Judith Rossner wrote a novel, "August," about how depressed people get in this month, when all the shrinks slink away on vacation. Nobody has ever read this novel. It's too depressing. But it's not just shrinks.

Paul Robertson, general manager of high school radio station WQTQ-FM, believes that the second week of August, in particular, has a magical way of making everyone he knows disappear.

Your barber is gone. So is the person you like on that morning television show you always watch. In August, even your favorite pizza place closes. You would think that something for which there is such a steady, basic, ongoing, critical human need, as there is for pizza . . . Oh, what's the use?

"The general issue that you're raising is the issue of continuity," says Andrew Goddard, a psychiatrist who directs Yale University's anxiety disorders program. "For anyone, in any walk of life, most activities run on a schedule. Continuity is built into most of our interactions. When the continuity is interrupted, most of us feel put out."

There should be a name for this . . . this . . . feeling of desertion, mixed with despair and a frisson of panic that some of us get during this month. Auggui. Aungst. Augape.

Dr. Roderic Gorney, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of UCLA's Program on Psychosocial Adaptation and the Future, knows this feeling. He has seen it in his patients and, in milder forms, in himself.

You get it, he says, "any time the streets are vacant or the phones don't answer or there's a sense of being out of communion with the people who are important in one's life -- even strangers."

In big cities, says Dr. Gorney, people get used to having a certain number of strangers crowded around them out on the street.

"When you go out on the street, and for no discernible reason those crowds have disappeared . . . there's a feeling of being abandoned or without resources," he says.

"In my opinion, an awful lot of life goes on on the strength of predictability," says Anthony Kuchan, clinical psychologist at 11 Marquette University. "When predictability goes away, it does produce a lot of low-grade irritation -- a certain kind of minor stress. You can't get things done quickly."

But Mr. Kuchan says our summertime blues in August are tinctured with tristesse as we feel "that summer period collapsing much more rapidly than, say, January to April."

"The period we think of as our grand recreational period is waning," he says. (Mr. Kuchan, of course, lives in Wisconsin. It will start snowing there soon.)

For people in psychotherapy, of course, August is notoriously a time of desertion. Of course, you could go to your support group and talk about these feelings, but, says Bonnie Nicol, director of community support programs for the Mental Health Association of Connecticut, you can't be sure everyone will be there.

"In our support groups, the membership goes down a little bit," she says. "You're on your own in the summertime. Somebody should start a group for that."

Lacking an Augaphobics Anonymous meeting, whatever can we The experts offered a number of suggestions, but the best came from one of Dr. Gorney's patients who adopts what he calls the "poor me" defense.

"He invokes this whenever he is feeling put upon and betrayed by the universe," Dr. Gorney says. "He mentally projects himself to the time when he was a kid back at camp, and the camp director used to have the kids lie on their backs and look up at the stars and realize that there are innumerable planets orbiting around those stars, and that some of them are probably inhabited by creatures running around and gnashing their teeth over their petty trials and circumstances. And then he laughs, and he says this helps him to calm down."

So think of that. You could be a green fuzzball with a gaseous brain and seven colons living in the West Pleiades.

And it would still be August.

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