Reclaiming summer.

It’s no secret that I love summer. I adore the constant hum of cicadas, and all the beautiful fruits that are in season. From November to February, I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be, than at the beach.

For some reason, summer makes me feel strong. Perhaps it’s the perpetual warmth, which can reach even the innermost depths of the darkness inside me. Or perhaps it’s that my skin is busy, producing enough vitamin D in the sunlight to keep me afloat. Either way, it’s strange that I should feel strong in summer, when summer is the season that has been the hardest for me.

The ebbs and flows of my eating disorder used to often peak in the summertime; coming out to bask in the warmth while my authentic self would be forced into hiding. The lack the routine of school, or in early university days, classes, would wreak havoc on my depression, anxiety, and intensity of self-harm. Without the structure of academia, I would usually crumble more so than at other times, falling into the full grasp of these illnesses.

Therefore, it would make sense to have been conditioned to dislike summer, at least to some extent. I have many years of negative memories from during summer, some from many years ago, and others from quite recently.¬†Many of these I don’t feel ready to talk about yet, because I haven’t worked through them enough to be comfortable to share. It’s weird how most of what has influenced my mental illnesses has happened during the summer. Life is funny like that.

In some ways, summer frightens me; the pain of the past is still all too real and daunting. However, in other ways, I am reminded of my love for summer. I love the smell of the ocean. We love taking our dog to the beach, and watching her run through the sand, but quickly dance away from the water’s edge. I love exploring the coastline with friends, and my memories of camping with them every summer holidays during school are some of my dearest.

adventure, back view, beach

Maybe this is why summer is so special to me, despite it being a season of not very nice things to think back on. Despite it all, summer, essentially, has made me strong. My summer battles have largely helped to craft me into who I am today. I didn’t choose them, but recovery is teaching me to fight back, and if nothing else, I am learning how to be strong from it all.

Therefore, this year I am reclaiming summer, for all that makes it so brilliant. On its own, there is nothing essentially bad about summer. Summer is warmth and light; golden yellows and cool blues. Summer is not what has happened during this time. Summer is instead what we make it, and who we become through the strength it has given us.

At the end of last year, I wrote about how it was one of my goals to wear a bikini at the beach. This would be an act of defiance, a great big scream at the lingering remains of the eating disorder, and at everything else up in the brain that chips in to tell me I’m not good enough, that I’m awful, and that I shouldn’t be alive.

And last week, I did it. I wore a bikini. We went swimming. It was so scary at first, but we had an absolutely magical time. Summer is for swimming, and I am learning that I am allowed to have fun. I am also learning that I can say nasty things right back to the silly lies inside my head. A few days later, I did it again. And this weekend, we are planning to go to a beach waterfall, and guess what? The bikini is coming along. What’s neat is that I’m learning that wearing a bikini to the beach isn’t a big deal. Like at all. People don’t care, and my human body is entirely insignificant in the big scheme of things. And I love that. My brain makes my body out to be such a nightmarish horror, when in reality, it really doesn’t matter. At all. The end.

Reclaiming summer has also being happening in other ways too. Although I vowed to avoid New Year’s Eve like the plague since a few years ago (if you would like to read my little ramble about that, you can do so here), this year my beautiful husband wouldn’t stand by and let it pass. He was determined that I would be able to enjoy myself, and work on reclaiming New Year’s Eve too. So he invited around a couple of our dearest, closest friends, and we had so much fun. I was an anxious mess leading up to the day, but by nighttime, laughing more than I have in a long time, I trusted that everything was going to be okay. Seriously, it was the best New Year’s Eve of my life. I am so thankful for him, for pushing me to strive for brighter and better, when I cannot do it for myself.

This year, I am reclaiming summer. It has been spectacular so far. Thank-you, summer, for the warmth you bring.

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Summer & bodies; not “summer bodies”.¬†

Summer. It’s my favourite season of the year. There’s something about the constant hum of cicadas clicking, saltwater in your hair, and the thick layers of sunblock to protect against the ozone hole. Here in New Zealand, summer means Christmas, a beautiful phenomenon that seems just as magical as a snowy Christmas. The majority of us grow up swimming in the sea, as our islands are long and thin, making the coastlines generally easily accessible.

Summer as children was carefree and wild. You throw on your togs without a second thought, and head straight for the sand and ocean. But once we grow up, and our insecurities and fears grow up alongside us, summer isn’t as simple as it once was. Although we still love the beach and frockling in the sea, we become clouded by fear.

I can’t remember the last time I wore togs to go swimming. I am usually far too conscious and ashamed of my body to be seen in less that shorts and a tank top. Even then, I feel so ashamed and disgusted with myself.

Silhouette Photography of People Swimming on the Beach during Golden Hour

However, this is changing. Therapy and recovery has given me the courage and confidence to tackle this head on. I am now determined that my insecurities about my body cannot stop me from living life anymore. I cannot keep putting life off until I feel completely safe in my own skin. Because I will only feel confident through faking it till I make it.

I am afraid of wearing togs because I believe my body is too big or too fat or too flawed. However, I am learning that these thoughts are distortions, and that they do not serve me. As my husband and I were discussing when we were leaving the beach yesterday, when I was in the depths of the eating disorder and very sick, by my standards I was far closer to a body that was deemed “good enough”. However, in retrospect that body looked terrible; frail and poorly. That body didn’t have the time or energy for anything beyond the eating disorder, let alone swimming, and wouldn’t have been able to cope with the ocean’s drop in temperature anyway. At the time, I was still absolutely convinced I was grossly huge and unworthy, and couldn’t see reality.

Orange and White Koi Fish Near Yellow Koi Fish

Therefore, we are working on the facts to tackle these distortions. My body is now a healthy one. I see it differently to how it actually is. I am allowed and good enough to wear togs to go swimming. I deserve to have self confidence to build myself up, rather than tear everything down.

As mentioned, we were at the beach yesterday, and the day was truly magical. We went for a friend’s birthday, and we played soccer, danced, and waded in the cool water. It was an incredible day, with some of the most beautiful people I know. And guess what? They also happen to be a group of body confident, beautiful souls, whose hard work on creating a positive body image is rubbing off on those around them.

As we waded into the water, I admired their absolutely gorgeous and stunning bodies. I admired the differences between us all. I admired how this made humans interesting and beautiful. Most of all, I admired that they could just do that; that they could do something as simple as wearing togs. This is because as women, it is drilled into us from every angle, that to be good enough, our bodies must be perfect. It sounds stupid writing it out, and in fact it is. That to wear togs at the beach, your body must be perfect. And the reality is, nobody’s is. The perfect beach body doesn’t exist. This is what I loved and admired most about them in this moment. That they were far too full, of confidence and love, regardless of it’s faked till it’s made or not, to be held back by something as petty and ridiculous as an impossible beauty standard.

Recovery is healing me. The beautiful, wise people around me, and their confidence, is healing me. I will no longer be held back by something destructive, limiting, and ultimately false. One of my goals for this summer is to wear a bikini at the beach. I can do it.

(The images of animals in this piece are inspired by remingtonandmargot.tumblr.com. If you check out their blog, Remington and Margot are two Golden Retrievers who love the beach, and also who obviously don’t care what their fur looks like or how their tails wag in the process. Let’s take a leaf out of Remington and Margot’s book, let’s enjoy summer and the beach for the fun and magic that it is, and celebrate our bodies for enabling us to enjoy it.)