I got diagnosed with ADHD at 3 but wasn’t given any medication. ADHD affected my ability to socially interact with people, and I got bullied a lot for being different right through school and college. When I went to uni, I felt a bit more accepted as there were lots of people who were different there. I felt that some people understood me more.
I tended to mask a lot, rather than connect properly with people. I was always really guarded about being truly myself in front of people. This left me exhausted and whittled me down. It made me feel like I was constantly lying to people. This is when my depression really set in about the end of second year of uni.
After a long period of quite chaotic behaviour I finally spoke to my mum about how I was feeling and told her that I needed help. I felt like I was flying around in a hurricane, whilst also trying to juggle, and everyone was just screaming at me to get out of that hurricane.
I spoke to an educational psychologist who recommended I speak to my GP. My GP then referred me to a mental health centre where I started to see a consultant. This wasn’t a positive experience as he made me feel like I was a fraud. He asked if I thought it was ADHD or was it just my personality. This made me feel like my life was a lie and I began to feel suicidal.
I did go back to the GP and was able to tell him what happened. He was really understanding which made a big difference. He wrote to the mental health centre and asked that I see someone else. I got another consultant which was a much more positive experience. She went on to recommend I see an occupational therapist (OT). I was really nervous about seeing yet another worker as I was still all over the place. The OT explained my symptoms and how it could affect me. It was a huge effort to keep up my appointments as symptoms were really bad, and I had to tell myself “just keep saying yes”. It really was exhausting.
I think I had been seeing the OT for about 6 months when she referred me to Chrysalis. I had been struggling to leave the house at this point. I wasn’t convinced about the idea but the OT kept telling me it would be good for me and she brought me along for a visit. I was really nervous, I didn’t want to talk to people. When I came in I went to my usual coping mechanism and started to mask how I really felt. I spoke to staff and another gardener but was too nervous to remember much about it. I knew people were being nice to me but I was way out of my comfort zone.
Coming along to Chrysalis felt like a huge step, almost too big a step for me at the time, but my OT kept encouraging me. She knew it would be good for me, even if at the time I didn’t recognise it.
When I first started coming along to Chrysalis, I literally knew nothing about gardening. I didn’t even know how to hold a spade or dig. I told everyone that I was fine at the beginning, but I didn’t feel fine. I started coming along twice a week and quite quickly wanted to come more. I discovered that the heavy exercise in particular helped me relax, but I still found it difficult to speak to people.
I had only been here two or three months when it was suggested that I took over some responsibility for the polytunnel. I was really taken aback that I had been trusted enough to take on this responsibility.
I started to feel comfortable at the garden and to really open up to staff about things that I hadn’t been able to speak about before. I really felt people had trust and belief in me here. I usually built walls, but this felt like genuine trust, so I tested them out and they passed!
I took over the management of the polytunnel, I learned all things gardening, including landscaping. As I became more confident I was able to speak to more people, including random people who can to visit the garden. Sharing my new skills made me feel proud, it gave me a sense of belonging and I felt for the first time that people genuinely wanted to be around me.
Being given a lot of responsibility and being able to help others settle into the project has been really important to me. I knew how it felt for me at the beginning and the difference it can make.
I started working with Enable employability service about 9-10 months after I started at Chrysalis. I explored with the worker what type of job would be suitable. There were a couple of nursery groups that regularly visit the garden and one of the horti workers had pointed out how good I was with them and the kids started to look for me when they came in. I knew it was important for my mental health to continue gardening as I was aware by now that the physical exercise, the socialising aspect, the support I got here (particularly when I am having a bad day), just being out in nature and feeding the birds, are all good for my mental health.
We explored maybe doing breakfast clubs and after school groups. I went for 2 interviews and was offered both jobs on the same day. One of the nursery managers recognised me when I went into one of the interviews and recommended me for the job as she had seen first-hand how I was with the kids in the garden.
Last year I completed my 2-year placement with Chrysalis and moved on to the Growing Chrysalis community project next door. I was initially really upset about leaving, it may seem silly because I knew everyone, but it was still really hard. However I was able to deal with these feelings and recognise that I wouldn’t have been able to before.
I have been employed now for 2 years, have moved into a flat with a friend and have survived a break up of a long-term relationship. The garden community has been here for me when I needed it and helped me through this all.
In Growing Chrysalis I recognise that I can help people more and in doing this, this is helping me. I feel part of a community and have a whole community to fall back on now. It is a support system in itself, I can help people and people help me. I am connected to a lot more people now from all different backgrounds and ages, all with different skill sets. I am learning from everyone and have so many more skills now.
I’ve helped build a polytunnel, learned to use tools. People here count on me and trust me and give me responsibility for lots of things.
Projects like Growing Chrysalis are so important. You don’t need to be referred somewhere to say that you need support, everyone needs support and a community to belong to. It’s great for people who have come through Chrysalis too as they are now supporting people from the Growing Chrysalis side too. It’s about sharing interests and stops people in the community feeling like they are on their own.
Lots of community groups use the space and everyone is welcome here. There is less stigma and more opportunities to meet people. It’s also really beneficial for kids to be outside and learn how to grow.