Why September Makes me Grieve my Anorexic Body…

iPad art: Yasmin Salt
(inspired by a photo from the internet)

Do you get September anxiety? You know, the feeling of going into a brand new term – whether that’s starting a new study year, a new course, a new job… or the people around you starting that ‘newness’. Even if you yourself aren’t necessarily starting anything specifically different to the month before, there is still this ‘newness’ in the air. The leaves turn orange and your reminders of the sunny, cheerful weather drop off.

I read somewhere, that as adults, it’s totally normal to get September anxiety – for a variety of reasons, but interestingly because it’s that time of year that reminds us of all those years of starting a new school-term – the butterflies in your belly. Fresh uniform, shoes that give you blisters – where will I be put to sit in the classroom? What’s my new teacher like? Will my friends make new friends – and who will I get close to this year? Will I even make friends with anyone?  

This was what felt like the ‘innocent’, universal childhood anxiety. Before when going into secondary school – the spotlight felt like it was shining it’s brightest on what you wore, what bag you had – overall, what you looked like as you walk across the playground in the morning. And for me, the fear of not fitting in, of being picked on for being anything different to anyone else.

There’s something about this time 9 years ago, that feels quite raw on the heart. Like I found someone that understood me, that kept me safe, that all of sudden zapped the social anxiety from the priority of my thoughts, and I was in control of something about myself. Except it wasn’t a boyfriend, it was my honeymoon romance with Anorexia.

I remember this bodywarmer made me feel fat. I had to take a photo just to check.

Going into my final year of university (at my local college) was like returning with an extra head. You know like those twins that share one body? It felt like that. I remember going to a first workshop of the term, after summer months of dieting, and finding such comfort in that control, the losing weight… but as I arrived, I noticed people staring – but looking with awkwardness, rather than being happy to see me and throwing a smile. Which was alienating. It’s like they could see that second head I’d grown over the summer, but I thought it was only me that could see it. Through the workshop I remember being preoccupied by what I had for “lunch” – and what I was going to have later. Between also not being able to really concentrate on what was going on around me. This workshop was an acting one, so involved physical activity – and I was dreading yet more moving around, as I was feeling tired from the long-distance walks I’d done earlier. I remember feeling so distracted by this other head though, that I didn’t even mind what was going on around me. It felt like I had a shield, a protector. Moving even more when feeling tired and without energy, felt a good thing. The right thing, according to Anorexia.

This new September feeling, of going into my final year of uni, followed a summer that involved a holiday which was the first spiral of my eating disorder. I felt like I was falling in love fast – addicted to that warmth – which was not from the hug of a boyfriend but the hug of my brain, or so it felt, from Anorexia. (I did actually have a long-term boyfriend at the time – which saddens me to say I was happy for it to end in the couple of months after, because it felt like there was 3 of us in the relationship. I couldn’t concentrate on both…) Being with friends, as much as I tried to act as though I was in the moment and enjoying it, really I felt it was just time to be away from food – and I was still always preoccupied with it.

The start of my journey through mental health services and different treatment options, this body back in that September – despite how much I know it took from me – looking back, it feels like such a big part of me died since this long period of 9 years. Grief hits. Which is good of course, that I am no longer dying from the control of such a dangerous mental illness, and my physical health isn’t at death’s door… but there is this reminder of the one thing that kept me mentally safe from the world and in control – we had our own world together – shared thoughts that others didn’t understand. And when I was ready to realise I was ill – at least people could see it and understand. What I was to find later was that having an eating disorder but being a healthy weight, is isolating and causes so much misunderstanding. People don’t see you with that second-grown head, you are just you. Therefore you must have your shit together, is how it feels.

I can’t tell you how difficult it felt living to such strict standards of the Anorexia back then as it first sussed me out like a predator. Difficult, but worth it for the constant hug on my brain. However, rather than dismiss that part of my life and tell myself all the bad bits it caused – it’s important, for anyone in recovery, to grieve the Anorexia. To recognise what it gave you emotionally and mentally at the time – and how you can replace those things with healthy coping methods. To grieve the body that promised you many things that never arrived in the long-term. All it is, is a honeymoon romance at most – which turns out to be a bitter rollercoaster that’s so unbelievably difficult to get off. But you HAVE to in order to save yourself, and the people around you.

And I have. Yes, I keep tip-toeing round that old rollercoaster, admiring it from the floor – but I have to remind myself of all the things I wouldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t choose or commit to recovery through the years. I have to remind myself that I DO have the bravery to take control of my own thoughts, and my own life-decisions (and so does anyone else scared at recovery commitment)… and yes, it will be a learning curve – probably forever – which is scary at times, but it’s not as scary as feeling addicted to something. ANYTHING. Ironically, as much as you feel in control with Anorexia – ironically you’re absolutely not in control of your own life or destiny.

So when September comes… it does almost feel like you expect whenever you go back to that job or see friends or whatever it is… that people will be coming back to a ‘fresh year’ with their summer bods. They’ll have taken the time out to lose weight or get in shape the way they want to. For me, there’s always this fear – that because I haven’t used the summer to focus on weight loss and change the way I look, which sadly I feel many young people and teenagers do – particularly girls, then I will be the only fat person. The one who’s let themselves go.

I can rationalise this now though. I am on my own journey, and I am my only competitor. If I look back in a month’s time and realise how much stronger I feel in myself – mentally, that is an achievement. And if I look back and realise how much more time I’ve resisted the Anorexia temptation which is always a silent whisper at the back of your brain, once you’ve been through it and committed to recovery… then I can be proud.

I just the last bit of Bulimia to shake off. With my commitment to recovery, I have realised that is what comes as a package for me following the Anorexia and giving up staying at a low weight – due to working through feelings of shame. But if it means a little more Bulimia to work through until finding and being the happiest, healthiest version of me – then it’s worth it.

For anyone else who gets this September anxiety – doesn’t have to be about your body, but generally – know that you are not alone. The dark nights are drawing in, which can make it harder for people too – as well as often a change of routine. Don’t avoid how you’re feelingtell someone, or get upset if you need to. Know that the change of the seasons, are actually quite a big deal on our mental health. The start of a new season, a new chunk of the year – means change. But there’s millions of other humans around you experiencing that too. Keep sharing your feelings and talking to the people you trust. Then perhaps find and/or write the benefits of the Autumn coming up…

…the crunch of leaves, the cozy nights in, the beautiful colours? And also – maybe you’ve got a change coming up that as much as it’s anxiety-provoking is equally EXCITING. Anxiety can be excitement too, so try and recognise that it’s not always a negative feeling to have.

Cue the ol’ cliché saying (which is relevant to all changes of season)…

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy – not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

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