Visitors to my garden often comment on the range of shrubs, the beauty of the flowers and the abundance of fruit and vegetables. I bask in the compliments; but the majority of them don’t know where it all began and just how important it is to me.
For years, I took absolutely no interest in the garden. The kids and the cats loved it; the glorified mud pit where they had many adventures. While they enjoyed life, I struggled with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. Hospitalisations, therapy and medication all helped, but when things got bad, I would hide away for days, sometimes weeks, on end.
I remember the day I was standing at the kitchen window, looking out at the mess I called a garden. It was a ‘goodish’ day, so I decided to take advantage of it. I wandered around outside, moved some rubbish, straightened up some old pots and took stock! A few weeks later, I pulled up some weeds (probably some plants as well!) Looking around I could see that I was making a difference. I began to look forward to these short bursts spent in the garden and was starting to plan out what it could look like.
On days when I was feeling energetic I wielded a spade and after half an hour, I was exhausted but calm - I defy anyone to say that gardening is not a brilliant work out! - Then, on days I was feeling less enthusiastic; I would grab my trowel and set off on a weeding mission. Not everyone’s favourite gardening task, but for me, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a bucket full of weeds, and, after half an hour, my head is clearer.
On days when I really just wanted to stay in bed, I would force myself out into the fresh air, even if just for a few minutes to appreciate all my hard work. Inevitably, once I was out there, I would end up doing some small tasks.
As I wandered around garden centres choosing plants I even found I began to enjoy shopping again. Having hidden away for so long, it was daunting to be out amongst people but I had found the focus that had been lacking for so long.
When it was raining, I learnt to enjoy reading again…about gardening, of course! The gardener and writer, Monty Don, who has also suffered from depression, became my hero. I took inspiration from his gardening tips and honesty in how depression had affected him.
Gardening has taught me to accept the ups and downs of nature, just as I have grappled with the highs and lows of bipolar. I have at last discovered a therapy that works for me. By matching my mood to activity, I get fresh air, exercise, enjoyment and the bonus of a lovely garden to sit in.