Wake me up when September ends: How 2020 stole our annual back to school reset

Instead of offering the usual promise of new beginnings, this September is tinged with monotony, but we can still make our own fresh start, writes Harriet Hall

Wednesday 02 September 2020 15:34
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It starts, like a click of fingers, the moment the sun begins to tuck itself away on the Monday of the August bank holiday. Every year, the same shift, intangible but unmistakable. There is no countdown, no fireworks display, no fanfare, no crashing hangover the next day – but a new year is upon us, nonetheless.

Led by the muscle memory of our school years, at the beginning of September we are met with a sudden urge to organise, screwing up our incomplete To Do lists and opening fresh notebooks to mark them with new nibs and new goals; plucking out our autumnal layers from the wardrobe once again and perhaps even heading to the hairdresser for a fresh shade.

The back-to-school mentality that remains with us for life, long after we’ve tossed out our General Studies notes, marks September as our annual fresh start without the added pressure (and inevitable subsequent crashing disappointment) of midnight kisses or doomed new year’s resolutions.

Whether our schedules are dictated by the academic year or not, many of us will be lucky enough to enjoy a summer holiday of sorts – or the spirit of one, played out through picnics in the park that go on until sundown. Our skin usually bears the freckles and strap top tan lines that betray these halcyon days. The final hurrah of Notting Hill Carnival marks the end of festival season and we begin Autumn with a sense of satisfaction of the memories we have banked as the first leaves begin to brown and fall.

In the fashion world, September is the most important month of the year – when the new season’s collections hit shop floors, the bumper editions of magazines are still sitting on news-stands and industry peacocks flock to showcases of upcoming collections in fashion weeks across the big four fashion cities (Milan, Paris, New York and London) showing us what the mood will be for the coming seasons.

But this year, things are different. Of course they are. This year things are, dare I say it, u-n-p-r-e-c-e-d-e-n-t-e-d. September, instead of offering the promise of new beginnings, is tinged with monotony. Home workers sit at the same dining tables, wearing the same tired old slippers that have taken them through the past six months; we all face the same unrelenting threat, the anxiety so familiar it has burrowed deep into our being.

The idea of investing in a new winter coat, doing a clear out or getting a new hairdo all feels somewhat inconsequential, when we face more of the same – and when saving the pennies is more important than ever.

Like tired rubber bands, we have been stretched too far in 2020, pulled beyond our limit, and are finding ourselves unable to snap back

Like tired rubber bands, we have been stretched too far in 2020, pulled beyond our limit, and are finding ourselves unable to snap back. The best weather the UK has seen in years was largely lost to lockdown as we retreated into our homes, emerging only for daily constitutionals or weekly applause that gradually lost its vigour as we wondered how many more weeks, how many more lives lost?

Whether a parent looking after children at home while trying to hold down a job, someone facing the tail end of the furlough scheme and anticipating the very real possibility of redundancy, or simply someone carrying on as best they can, pandemic burnout has come for us all.

Perhaps because we didn’t know how long it would last, we lit the candle at both ends, putting in the extra work because we thought it would soon pay off – a recent study shows that people have been working an average of one extra hour a day since remote working began – either way, our ability to cope is waning.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s difficult to feel the usual fresh start excitement and sense of positivity that come with September when so much has been lost – and so much loss is still to come as the threat of local lockdowns loom and the R number teeters around one. While many have embraced summer holidays, just as many have returned to the stress of quarantine, or been forced to cancel long-awaited trips abroad.

Where previously we had convinced ourselves that the pause button that was pressed on our lives back in March would be released – surely it would be released – before winter came, the realisation that the limbo drags on seems to be hitting harder now that outdoor gatherings and the novelty of summer are soon to be a thing of the past.

As we inch ever closer to Christmas, which usually promises family gatherings and kitsch festivities, events have already begun to tumble like dominos out of the calendar; the reality begins to dawn that we may not actually be able to gather at all this year. It’s no wonder we’re struggling to feel any kind of fresh.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year, it is the need to be kinder to ourselves as well as to others. Instead of trying to continue pushing past the exhaustion in the hope of a jubilant end to the pandemic, perhaps acceptance might be the only chance we have for a fresh start in 2020 – accepting that this won’t be the year we become the best version of ourselves or embrace every new opportunity with gusto. And that’s OK.

It is the constant need to better – not us – that needs to change. In 2020, simply surviving, not thriving, may be the best we can do – and that in itself warrants a celebratory walk among the leaves.

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