Posted Thursday 22 April 2010
When I was a child, going to my paternal grandparents home was always enjoyable, especially if I was going there after school instead of home.
My papa’s back garden was an allotment, a throwback to the war (Dig for Victory!). One day I would be harvesting cucumbers, or grapes in the greenhouse, and the next experiencing the incredible magic of digging up potatoes – such bounty hidden below the soil!
I’ve had depression and anxiety problems for as long as I can remember. I told my mother about it, in the words of a six year old – "I never feel well, not my tummy all the time but in my head" – but nothing was ever followed up. I was an only and lonely child, and though I did have friends, my mental health didn’t improve and I was slowly dying inside, afraid to ask for the help I needed, afraid to be a nuisance.
At 19, I had one almighty breakdown. There was no more hiding it - I was mentally ill, and this time people had to take notice. I was self harming and flitting between not eating and being bulimic, and the bulimia lasted over a decade. My anxiety slowly got worse, to the point where I could not go outside alone, couldn't take a phone call and lost pretty much all my friends except my boyfriend (now my husband).
I have gone through two psychiatrists, one psychotherapist, one round of CBT, occupational therapy, art therapy, and a fling with hypnotherapy and meditation too! Nothing has ever really helped and any help was very short lived.
I have been told that talking therapies do me more harm than good and that quietening my mind is destructive. So I take medication, have a lovely support worker, and keep myself busy with photography and sewing projects, reading and trying to keep a house.
Since April 2008, my husband and I have kept an allotment. It was his idea - he loves gardening. I thought I'd just tag along and help. I thought it would be good exercise, and I love digging and making holes, making an ultimately constructive mess. I had no idea what the allotment would end up meaning to us. It has quite literally saved my life.
The allotment year brings hope to the dark days of winter. All you can think about is ordering seeds and going round nurseries looking for bargains. Then you become a parent to hundreds of seedlings. Watching that dried up little bit of nothing slowly emerge as a tiny speck of green is addictive and exciting. Seeing new life and new hope is a strong antidote to depression, even for a moment (and really, don’t we all live for the little moments?).
There’s even satisfaction to be found in locating ‘the enemies’ (slugs, snails, aphids etc) and engaging in the battle to save my precious crops.
Then the best part of the whole adventure – harvesting. At this point I always remember my grandfather and witnessing the harvest of those potatoes for dinner. Oh, my goodness, I was amazed that these spuds were hiding there under the soil all that time. The short time in the garden with him that day is one of my happiest memories.
Ecotherapy is not a panacea. Sometimes it can make you feel worse, even though you want to be there. This cancer of the soul is sometimes stronger. But gardening quintessentially equals hope, and though that is an intangible thing, it is the greatest ally when it visits, even for one sunny afternoon.
I have chronic depression and acute anxiety, and I most likely always will. But with support I am learning to cope with it, to take each day at a time and live in hope, cultivate hope, and spread it like a disease :)
Carrie, Mind media volunteer
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