For the last 4 winters I have spent a lot of time crying, filled with desperation and self-loathing, exhausted and unable to ‘snap out of it’. Happy way to start a blog eh? (stick with me, it gets better, I talk about tits soon…) I’ve hidden it pretty well, but I’ve basically felt like shit. I, and my GP, suspect I have a dose of SAD, or Seasonally Affected Disorder. When I first heard about SAD I didn’t believe it was a ‘thing’. Having now lost, cumulatively, nearly 2 years of my life, my ambition and my normalcy to it, I am certain it is a ‘thing’.
Therefore, since the beginning of August, I have been absolutely terrified of the coming autumn, and the inevitable winter which follows. The pattern has been as follows: by the end of July I am generally just about getting my shit together, feeling like myself again, feeling strong and capable and excited by life. And then September comes and the nights draw in, the weather turns in October and by November all sense of who I am is lost and my internal monologue is incapable of having one positive thought. But not this year. I recognise it now and can’t do it again. I want to avoid medication so have been considering what I can do to help myself to a happier winter before the darkness closes in. I am suddenly aware that I have to learn to love myself in order to silence some of the demons.
Almost without meaning to, I have started a very strange ritual recently. Every day I have spent 5 minutes staring at myself, naked, in the mirror. I have rarely, if ever, looked at myself naked before. And if I have it has definitely been with a critical eye, and a sigh of disappointment at my various flaws which are all I am able to see. And then I tut and walk away from the mirror. This time it has to be different.
I look at my breasts – in my opinion, one of my best features and yet I am not happy. They are probably a centimetre less perky than they used to be, and I much prefer them if I just hoick them up a bit and objectively my right one is larger than my left one and… I look at my breasts again. This time I see the pleasure they have given me, and many others, over the years. The outfits they have pulled together, the heads that have rested on them. That barely noticeable vein which crosses my right breast is not ugly as I have always thought, but is proof that there is blood pumping round my body, keeping me standing and breathing, and thinking.
I continue. I notice the stretch marks on my thighs which I’ve had since I was 15, and have hated every day since then. But I remember they are simply proof of my becoming a woman, the only time I didn’t have them was when I was a child so why would I hate something which is evidence of the fact that I have grown up? Growing up is surely a remarkable thing!
Then the belly. Which is really difficult to love. True, it is evidence of a lot of good times, but it has also given me a lot of pain. Personally I think I deserve a six-pack considering the amount of workouts it has had while throwing up the previous night’s party. And surely the regular agonising cramps from a variety of food intolerances must have strengthened the muscles? But I’m a long way from a six-pack. I try to think positive. Remarkably I still have a slim waist, and this means I can wear some pretty dresses and I am lucky that my waist has had a lot of arms around it. Ok, I’m not unhappy with my torso, but will continue to try and love the belly.
On to my legs. I am really quite short so they only look good in high heels but I can’t wear high heels as I fall over constantly and cannot bear the agony. It also doesn’t help that I seem to be growing bunions and have a bony lump on the top of the right foot. So, no heels. Just lumpy stumpy. But these legs have done remarkable things. They have taken me to the very top of Mount Kilimanjaro! And don’t forget Ben Lomond (a hill in Scotland, not a man, but they have also led me to many wonderful men’s bedrooms) and abseiling down Twickenham Stadium, and into a forest to see the biggest tree in the world, and around New York City a dozen times…and the list is endless. Ok legs, I quite like you.
I eventually rest on my freckles and wrinkles which instead of showing inevitable ageing are simply evidence of all the sunshine, both physical and spiritual which I have had in my life. Nothing negative there at all.
My final thought amuses me. I have never looked in the mirror because I have never been happy with my body. When I was 25 and a lot hotter than I am now, I hated it. I regret not loving it then, and I will regret not loving my current body when I am 50. As Caitlin Moran says, as long as you are human shaped, you’re doing ok. And I am definitely human shaped.
I finally realise that I need to recognise, as I never have before, that this body is not just a vessel for this strange brain, but is deeply connected to it and needs to be looked after and stimulated just as much.
After this exercise (which I advise everybody to try, it’s quite ‘eye-opening’) I have decided to take some, erm, exercise. I can see the contradiction of learning to love my body as it is, and then wanting to change it, but it is precisely because I am looking at my body for the first time, that I realise it deserves to be looked after, and I have never really done that. And besides, I am quite at peace with contradictions. My eldest sister recently said to me that accepting the contradictions in your brain was a sign of maturity, so just like I want Scotland to be independent and I really don’t want them to leave the UK, I am content with the idea that I can love my body as it is, but want to give it the chance to be the best it can. So hot yoga and healthy eating here I come (again!).
Other attempts to ward off the evil SADness include starting a mindfulness course to try and focus on memory and concentration, and to train my brain to see things differently. In the first session we ate a raisin and lay down for half and hour, so I think I’m gonna like it. I’ve made an appointment with a GP/nutritionist to finally get to the bottom of those stomach issues and I have joined the local library having recently re-discovered my love of books, thanks to my amazing pal, Lucy Robinson’s The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me, which got me into reading for pleasure again having not read anything for ages, in the misguided belief that I should only be reading the ‘classics’ or screenwriting textbooks which therefore led me to not read anything for a really long time because they were both, clearly, pretty boring.
Who knows, maybe I’ll avoid getting SAD this year, but if not I’ll be ready for it and if all else fails there’s always medication. But, and this is unusual for me, for this ailment I’d rather eschew the drugs and aim for a long-term solution.
So, dear Whitney – I know you couldn’t manage it, but you’ve inspired me to learn to love myself. After all the children are our future. And I decided long ago never walk in anyone’s shadows. And will learn to depend on me. Ok, I’ll stop now, and report back when I’ve found it, the greatest love of all, inside of me.