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My confidence blossomed with gardening

Tuesday, 25 January 2022 Mike

Mike blogs about how working as a horticulturist helped his return to the world after suffering severe depression.

I started working at Mayfield Nurseries in Southampton seven years ago, and it’s been a life-changer – and a lifesaver. Mayfield is a social enterprise that supports people like me struggling with mental health. Every penny we make from plant sales is ploughed back into helping people with mental health issues. I volunteered for the first 18 months, and for the past five years I’ve been fully employed here.

"I lost friends because they didn’t understand depression. Because it isn’t physical, they don’t see it."

Before coming to Mayfield I suffered with anxiety and depression for over 25 years. At it’s worst my depression was paralysing. I went from having a job, my own flat and going out with friends to losing my job and  not going out at all. I just couldn’t physically do it, I couldn’t even step out of the house. I couldn’t catch a bus anywhere. If I did do anything I had to be accompanied by a carer. I lost friends because they didn’t understand depression because it isn’t physical, they don’t see it and if they don’t see it they don’t understand it and they don’t have a lot of compassion about it. So they go. ’Why isn’t he working?’

I hated it, I didn’t feel like a man, it wasn’t me. I’d changed from being that outgoing person to a hermit. If I was invited to parties or events I would make excuses and not go. If I did go I would only stay for five minutes.

People thought I was arrogant and rude. But I consider myself to be a nice person, it was just extremely difficult for me. One time I was going out with a friend, something I really wanted to do, but I got so nervous I couldn’t do it. I ended up walking home along the M62 and got stopped by the police.

Progressing in low steps

I started getting better with very slow steps. Psychiatrists and doctors taught me coping mechanisms. I used to smoke back then, so it would be like, ‘Right Michael can you go to the corner shop for a packet of fags?’ I tried to go to the shop to get some fags. I would get to the shop but be unable to go inside and then I’d go back home. To someone else that might be a wasted journey, but it was massive to me. The biggest thing for me was buses and trains because I knew once I got on I couldn’t get off. So I started by getting on for just one stop, and gradually built up.

What made me cope with my panic attacks better was having my kids with me as much as possible. The kids were younger back then, my lad was a right little tearaway so it was brilliant for me. I was brought up to push myself, and to get on with it. If I felt a panic attack come on, I would get my son and do something.

I started getting out more and doing things, so I thought I would start volunteering and re-educating myself.  Because of all these new things, I had trouble sleeping and eating. I would throw up and sometimes the effect of sleep deprivation was terrible. I called it washing machine head, as I would have the same thought going over and over. I must have done my wife’s head in!

But after volunteering somewhere else for about 18 months things were improving for me. I was getting more confidence, and I said to my wife I want to go back to paid work. I was offered an apprenticeship, which was great, but I couldn’t run my home on an apprenticeship. Once you get stuck on benefits it’s hard to get off them.

We came over to Mayfield to do training one day. I met the team that worked here and I, clicked with them straightaway. I asked if I could volunteer at Mayfield.

Handling things better

Just telling my story to the team at Mayfield, it helped me get over the tears every time I talked about it. I worked for 18 months as a volunteer. I still got nervous, but I was handling things a lot better. I stepped back, I slowed down, thought about something and then went ahead and did it. If I can plan ahead I am more confident.

Eventually a job opportunity came up. The staff pushed me to go for the peer support role. It was a massive thing having been on benefits for so long. It was only a six-months contract but something said to me, ‘If you are not gonna do it now Michael, you are never gonna do it.‘

"Everything is special about Mayfield. When I first came here it was like an oasis. It felt safe."

The horticultural team had an opening for me to join them. I was learning about the plants all of the time. I started as a junior and progressed to senior horticulturalist.

Everything is special about Mayfield. When I first came here it was like an oasis. It was my little bubble, it felt safe. Everyone was so supportive. Mayfield keeps me busy and active and working with people. And giving back is massive to me. Helping people, that is what this place is about. Without my friends, family and colleagues I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Mike’s blog is one of a few that are spotlighting the importance of connecting with one another and the role that nature plays in supporting our mental health. They are also celebrating our garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show designed by Andy Sturgeon. Here you can find out more about The Mind Garden.

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