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What She Said: A love letter to autumn and why there’s more to it than woolly jumpers 

What She Said: A love letter to autumn and why there’s more to it than woolly jumpers 


by Caroline Foran
27th Sep 2023

IMAGE.ie columnist and bestselling author Caroline Foran on the sad reason this time of year brings such comfort.

Picture this: it’s a Sunday afternoon in late September. The wind is howling, the rain is beating off the windows, there are about 37 lamps switched on (I personally cannot tolerate an overhead light). You’ve got the soothing tones of Billie Holiday or Harry Connick Jr, along with the comforting scent of cinnamon apple crumble filling your home. Your child is happily playing with their toys, not requesting a snack or a pee every two minutes (this is really becoming a far-fetched fantasy now, I know). And you’re thrilled about it. 

While others lament the loss of balmy summer days, I am in my element. The thing is, I have long tried to be a summer person. And I continue to book summer holidays in far-flung places with high temperatures, only to remember once I’m there that I feel like (and probably resemble) a pitbull in heat. I’m cranky, I swell up, nothing fits, I break out in a head-to-toe heat rash, the sun gives me cold sores and I usually get some sort of dickie tummy from a dodgy margarita. Destined to live inside a Nancy Meyers movie – or anything penned by Nora Ephron – I come into my own in autumn. Everything falls into place. That first feeling of a chill in the air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, not sweating my mammaries off when I go for a walk with the buggy, how is this not everyone’s idea of bliss?

Although sweater weather and pumpkin-spiced lattes have become synonymous with the most basic version of autumn, for me, it goes deeper. Growing up, I struggled with anxiety for years and years without ever labelling it as such. We just didn’t have the language in the early to mid-2000s. As a teen, when my peers wanted to travel and get as far away from their parents as possible, I wanted to – and needed to – stay close by. I grappled with summer teenage house parties, only to find myself locked in a bathroom, having a panic attack. When my friends bounced around each other’s houses having sleepovers, I always had to come back to my own bed. I remember looking for excuses not to go on my sixth-year holiday, or any class trips, without having to admit that the very thought of going sent me into fight or flight mode. I was always sick – I missed almost all of my fifth year of school – and as a result, I wanted to stay at home. It was a vicious cycle of feeling sick (IBS) and then feeling anxious, but I also felt sick because I was anxious. I couldn’t break the cycle because I didn’t have the tools or the awareness, and so my teenage years went by as I held my breath, just trying to exist. 

But in autumn and winter, when the weather warranted staying in or getting home early, I would relax a bit. I had a DVD collection like nobody else; the only time I didn’t feel unwell was when I was cuddled up on my sofa. My mother would sit beside me, absorbed in a magazine or The Sunday Times, while I watched When Harry Met Sally (or something of that ilk) for the seven thousandth time. Meanwhile, my dad was in the kitchen whipping up what my nana described as a ‘wet dinner’ – meaning anything with gravy. My dad would call me in to do the gravy taste test before it was ready. My brother (six years my senior) was usually out and about doing normal teenage or twenty-something things. I felt so different and so odd and I worried deeply about what was wrong with me, but on these autumnal evenings, when there was no expectation of me other than to stay put, all my worries would dissolve. I felt normal and that, when you’re a teenager, is the ultimate goal. 

In those moments, deep in my comfort zone, my stress response that seemed permanently engaged would downregulate. I didn’t have to keep pushing against myself and forcing myself to be another way, I could be as I was, how I was feeling, no questions asked. It still breaks my heart that I had so little understanding of what I was going through – or why – or that I was not the only one struggling with anxiety in their formative years, though it certainly felt that way. I feel so sad for my teenage self, that I only felt truly comfortable when at home with my parents, but I’m grateful I have such warm memories of these times when all was well. 

These days, anxiety no longer rules the roost like it used to, but I am still and will always be an autumn girl. I have a question I always ask myself: ‘If it weren’t for your anxiety would you want to be doing this? Would you want to stay at home by the fire if you didn’t feel anxious?’ (Or to give you another example, ‘Would you want to camp in a wet tent at a festival if you didn’t feel anxious about it?’). If it’s anxiety that’s driving the behaviour, it’s something you might do well to push against, sometimes. But if it’s not anxiety and it’s just your personality talking, if your idea of heaven – anxiety or no anxiety – is a cosy night in, then you’d do well to honour that part of yourself. And there’s no time like autumn in which to do so. 

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Lennox Half-Zip Brown, €40

4th Arc fleeces: Rosie Connelly’s brand, the fleeces are the perfect throw-on that you can style up or wear as is for this time of year. The new brown colour is my vibe. 

Bluey: A comforting watch for my son but equally for me; there’s a lot we can learn from the mother, Chilli, and there are just so many hidden jokes for parents. 

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, €13.99

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang: An incredible read, centred on diversity, racism, cancel culture and the delicate world of book publishing. I gobbled it up in just a few evenings. 

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