Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Gardening for a Long, Healthy & Happy Life

I believe that gardens are the key to living a long, healthy, and happy life. Yesterday I turned 47 years old and am feeling reflective. This morning I was in such gratitude to have the energy, strength, and stamina for one hour of gardening with the help of my husband. Every day I experience new wonder, joy, hope, and inspiration in my garden.

There was a time, in fact many years of my life, when I could spend whole 8-hour days and entire weekends, working in my garden. Memory of these extended physical days spent tending my garden followed by a long hot shower and happily exhausted falling into bed for the best night’s sleep is bittersweet. I grieve for a healthy strong body with seemingly boundless energy.

Autoimmune disease and a number of chronic conditions have claimed my body. Crohn’s Disease has uninvited set up her permanent home in my bowels, and stubbornly refuses to leave. Every month it seems there is a new diagnosis, a new condition, a new part of my body affected. From my eyes, mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, thyroid, liver, gall bladder, brain, blood, skin, muscle, to my joints there is a constant ongoing battle in my body.

On a daily basis I never know how I am going to feel or what I will be able to accomplish. My energy, fatigue, and symptoms are mostly unpredictable. Most days it feels I am losing, as if “my body” is something separate from me, my personhood.

My body is not my adversary or my enemy.

My illness is my greatest teacher.

For much of the last year and a half I was so angry I refused to embrace illness as yet another opportunity for growth. I raged against that idea. Crohn’s disease and my other co-occurring conditions were unexpected and I was not going to surrender without a fight, let alone accept them.

For the last 18 months I have been on a dizzying array of medications, protocol diets, supplements, and treatments. I’ve consulted with numerous specialists and completely altered my lifestyle. Crohn’s Disease has no cure and I will have it the rest of my life. Since diagnosis my goal has always been to achieve remission, which my understanding is complete absence of symptoms.

Despair, desperation, hopelessness, failure, shame, guilt, and fear have dogged me at every step of the journey.

Here I am over a year later and I still experience symptoms on a daily basis. I have some improvements, which I am so grateful for. I am also incredibly grateful I do not experience a terminal or degenerative illness. Due to my health, I can still only work up to 15 hours/week and I only have about enough energy for about 4-6 hours a day of activity. That has been a huge adjustment for this go-getter workaholic used to 50-60 workweeks balancing multiple jobs and commitments. Recent diagnostic testing shows my Crohn’s inflammation has not improved and my GERD esophageal ulcers are worse.

Crohn’s remission has remained illusive.

Quality of life and preventing the worsening of my illnesses is my new health goal.

Every day I try to be as mindful as possible to what my body has to teach me. As new insights unfold about my childhood, past traumas, my relationships, and my creative process my illness is really proving to be my best teacher. I can have good quality of life and a healing positive attitude no matter what physical symptoms I experience. Each moment, each day is a new chance to be fully present in acceptance.

Acceptance does not equal approval.

I can dislike and not approve of my illnesses all I want. I do have to accept them, because that is reality. I have accepted Crohn’s Disease, my other conditions, my fatigue, my symptoms, and this entire process. Acceptance is the beginning of my physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

My garden is an integral part of my healing process. Sitting in my garden as a place of sanctuary and restoration, I more able to stay fully present in my body in the moment through painful emotions and physical symptoms. Fully experiencing my garden gives me hope for the future and helps me look forward to all the seasons of my life. When I am fatigued, defeated, stressed, angry, and sad I come to my garden. I observe the plants, the flowers, the bugs, the birds, the animals, and the weather. A deep breath of nature is always healing.

The healing power of nature helps me even when I am not actually in my garden. When I have uncomfortable, intrusive, and painful medical procedures I visualize and meditate on my garden.

During my professional and academic training as a horticultural therapist I learned the evidence-based research behind the healing powers of nature. Views of nature lower blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. These are all tangible measures of stress reduction. When hospital patients have a view of nature they need less pain medication. When prison inmates have a view of nature they have less sick calls to the infirmary. Nature can stimulate long-term memories in people with dementia. Nature is so healing it changes people’s lives.

My garden is changing my life.

Tending my garden for short periods provides gentle exercise, keeps me limber, and reduces my muscle and joint pain. I sleep better on days that I garden. The chatter in my brain quiets when I garden. Due to my hypothyroidism and low iron I have poor circulation and feel cold most of the time, so gardening in the warm summer sunshine feels amazingly healing for my body. Gardening gives me an excellent opportunity to honor my energy level and not overdo it. Believe me, I want to overdo it and garden for hours, this has been a challenge for me to embrace “easy does it” and just slow down.

My garden puts my life in perspective. I tend my health and healing like my full-time job and I can easily become overwhelmed and completely self-centered. Taking restorative time in my garden brings me back to the present moment, acceptance, and gratitude. How could I not feel gratitude surrounded by all this beauty?

Turning 47 and dealing with serious health problems has helped me embrace what is really important in my life: my husband, my friendships, my creativity, my spiritual path, and my recovery. I want to live 50 more years, fully experiencing love, joy, and beauty. Tending my garden and restoring in nature are going to keep me physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy for the second half of my long life!

Happy Gardening,