How Gardening Heals Me

Well I suppose it was only a matter of time before my 2 blogs conjoined but I didn’t think it would happen in the same week I started them both. I’m writing here about my health and in the other about gardening and here they come together in a post about how my gardening is good for my health. It makes sense I suppose since it’s so much of my life. Perhaps the two most crucial factors in my existence except for my partner and our relationship. My relations with Gardening go back to my childhood tho so do my illnesses, some of the most significant ones that is. I’ve had Asthma since I was born. Literally. They put me in an incubator at birth so I could breathe and gave me medicine from the get go. And I can look back and see how the Bipolar Disorder has affected my whole life, from the time I was a small child even. So here they come together in a post that will tell you a bit about how it’s worked for me to garden so long and so faithfully, and not so faithfully and how that’s impacted me.

In many meditation classes they teach you that a very important part of learning to meditate is learning to “ground” as they call it. It means being able to connect with the earth and put your energy in synch with that of the planet we live on. Out of which our bodies are made. It’s not just a metaphorical expression. It’s a literal one for me. Grounding for me is literally putting my hands in the soil and getting dirt all over them. It’s diving into the realm of earthworms and compost and the decay of organisms and the regeneration that comes out of that mix. It’s a primal instinct to stick our hands in the dirt and mothers are always fighting their children to keep them from getting dirty. But I’d say that there have been enough studies to show that we’re depriving our children of something instinctive when we keep them out of the dirt. It’s been focused on bacteria that may help us keep our bodies free of disease but I think it’s more than that. It’s the primal connection we’re missing out on and keeping our children from experiencing.

I’ve put my hands in the dirt for as long as I can remember. Before I was actually gardening I was building in the dirt and making waterways where I could play with the runoff of the water as it flowed over the soil in patterns I loved. At some point I started to work with my mom and dad in the garden and help maintain it. I learned to plant and prune and to weed and hoe and all those other things we hate when we’re kids but I didn’t hate them. Well maybe the weeding I did some. But I loved the gardening and started  landscaping at an early age, something I’d develop into a profession as I grew older and went to college and studied Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design. I worked in Nurseries and had my own businesses for well over 20 years making gardens for other people, including my parents where I could experiment and play with my ideas. I did this in  my work too of course but I got paid for that and had to accede to the wishes of my clients. I wanted to do my own thing of course and I often was able to even in business.

My story takes a different turn in my late 20s when I started having migraines and was in agony too much of the time and couldn’t work as I had before. I’d gotten a job building logging roads in the high sierra to survive and that was bad for me who had always valued planting trees, not cutting them down. It went against my souls’ journey and it messed me up. I was involved in a serious auto accident that crunched my spine and began a period of disability that continues to this day. I kept landscaping tho I had to hire workers to do things I couldn’t do myself. But I still did it. I even moved back to the mountains in Washington where I was living and tried to homestead in the hills. I tried to create a garden with not enough water and too hard a soil to work and eventually I had a breakdown and my back gave out on me for good. I never again was able to work commercial landscaping. That was in 1988.  Since then I’ve had to work jobs that were indoors and kept me away from the gardens I loved. I couldn’t have access to green ever in the apt. I lived in in the city and I began to get more ill. In 1995 I had a severe breakdown and was diagnosed with the Bipolar Disorder that has plagued me my whole life. Finally I had an answer but it was a curse as well.

Over the next few years I lived alone and in an apt. with no way to garden. I was too disabled even to work a small community garden that was only a 10 x 10 plot of land in the neighborhood. I was sick and failing badly. I couldn’t touch the soil and even tho I went for walks in the neighborhood it wasn’t the same as gardening. This went on for several years until I met my current partner and in time moved into a home with him and had a chance to garden again. Here I’ve created my garden again. Here I have my Botanical Garden that allows me to collect the plants I love and to put my hands into the soil whenever I feel the need and to ground myself and get back to the earth in a real way and live fully and completely again.

I’m not cured or anything, I probably never will be,  don’t think that. I still suffer a lot and I’m in pain all the time, Especially when I garden. But it’s so good for me that I do it anyway and it keeps me alive and strong and as healthy as I can be. I have to ask for help when I need it but I do and I find it with my partner and friends. You can read about this aspect of my life in my other blog: Gardening in Greenwood, and I’ll continue this story there. But this will give you a sketch of my life as a gardener and why it’s so important for me to dig in the dirt and heal myself with the planet we live on. It’s a real thing and getting dirty is essential to us all if we want to live good lives and be healthy. So do it. Get dirty and feel the soil in your hands and let it heal you. That’s all I can say for now.

Health and good growing to you,

Steve

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31 comments on “How Gardening Heals Me

  1. Steve~ Thank you for sharing this with us and for commenting on my post. I could not agree with you more; that we are depriving our children of something vital and life-giving by keeping them wrapped up in layers of protection, against dirt and the outdoors and etc….and I can relate to how blogs get conjoined; I have 5 blogs and they slip over into each other sometimes. I thought you might be interested in my “gardening” blog,…http://shebringsmewater.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/earth-day-2012/
    Namaste,
    Mari

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    • Thanks for your comments here. I think we do have a real problem with our poor kids and soil. It’s an issue. I fear all the anti-bacterial dispensers you see everywhere now. We’re becoming a nation of hypochondriacs IMNSHO. I read and commented on your post as well. What a great recipe!
      Steve

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  2. I love this post, Steve. I am a new gardener, but have always spent time outdoors … windsurfing, hiking, backpacking, camping, reading, meditating, and kayaking. Time outdoors is an essential thing for me, and is part of my spiritual path. I love the way gardening allows me to combine several of my interests … health, exercise, spirituality, science, cooking, good food, beauty, and being outdoors.

    Lately, I have been working in my own greenhouse and in another greenhouse where Joe (my husband) and I volunteer. I get a real sense of well-being after putting my hands in soil, planting seeds, and soaking up some sunshine.

    I’m glad that you are able to have a garden again, and that it brings you healing. You have inspired me and I am off to do some yoga and meditate. Joy to you, Candace

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    • Thanks for your kind words and thoughts Candace. It sounds like you’re a real outdoors person and I so relate. I’ve try to spend as much time outside as I can, tho I’m not an athlete and mostly just hike/walk or garden or homestead and other such things. I saw your greenhouse and it looks great! I wish you luck with it. Putting our hands in the soil is such a very healing thing to do and I’m glad you get to do it, just as I love it myself.
      Happy meditations!
      Steve

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  3. Oh my goodness Steve I had no idea:-) I did not suffer till I was much older and I never had to deal with bipolar which is a hard journey. My husband is a psychologist( school system with mostly teens), so I do understand how very difficult it is when you are younger. Today they are better at dx problems at a younger age.
    Oh how you must of suffered all those years. And the years you were unable to put your hands in the soil. Now you have such a beautiful garden + wonderful partner to share your life with:-)
    I totally see you in your garden now when I view your photographs. It makes more sense. The curved paths are comforting to you I bet, and your wonderful habitat.
    Thank you for showing me this post, I would of never known about it + I am hoping you write about this again on your other blog because I know there are many people just like you( me included) that find placing our hands in the soil is how we keep on living in this crazy world! Truly a beautiful story with a happier ending. I know you still suffer , but you have your garden:-)

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    • Thanks for all the great feedback about this post Robbie. It’s helping me to make up my mind. I’ve been thinking of re-blogging this post on Gardening in Greenwood just to give folks a sense of the many sides to my gardening and life. Your input makes me think I should do that. I really appreciate your comments to me all the time. You’re so kind. I’m glad that gardening is so healing to you too. And that you wrote about it. It helps us all when we talk about these harder parts of life I think. That’s what this whole blog is about in fact, for me and those who connect to it. It’s very hard sometimes but it’s my life so I have to try to live it as best I can. People like you help me do that you know. 😉
      Thanks so much for your visit,
      Steve

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  4. Reblogged this on Gardening in Greenwood and commented:

    I wrote this well over a year ago in my other blog, Naked Nerves, which is about Living with Invisible Illness. Some comments I’ve gotten recently have made me feel that it’s perhaps relevant to post it again here now. The picture is a Ghost Fern underneath an Ukigumo Japanese maple.

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  5. I’m glad you shared this. It’s such a difficult subject and many people simply try to hide their condition by hiding themselves. Very brave how open you are about it. My older sister struggles with what we now believe to be bipolar disorder, among other things. It’s proven very hard to nail down and harder to ‘treat.’ This past year especially has been extremely stressful for our whole family. Your experiences really resonate with me (as an observer of her behavior).

    Getting my hands dirty has always been very healing for me so for years I have tried to interest her in gardening, to no avail. I am very happy to hear your story though, with all its ups and downs. It gives me some hope to know there are people out there living with this disorder and still managing to achieve some measure of happiness. Thank you.

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    • Thank you for your kind words. I agree that it’s very important to write about these things and I’ve done a lot of that here in Naked Nerves. If you go to my categories for bipolar you’ll find a lot of posts on it and other things like coming out about it. I hope maybe some of them might be useful to you in helping your sister. It’s too bad she isn’t into gardening, but maybe she has other hobbies or things that interest her. It’s important to have things to occupy your mind so you don’t dwell on all the difficulties you face or have to listen to those crazy voices in your head. It’s hard and I sympathize with her a lot. I hope she can get the help she needs soon. But ultimately it’s up to her to help herself. I don’t mean this to be harsh at all, but it’s the truth of it. We have to be responsible for ourselves and take good care of how we live our lives. I just wrote a post on aging with illness as you wrote me this comment. It’s about getting older and being sick. A big challenge…
      Thanks again for writing me and I wish you and her the best of luck,
      peace,
      Steve

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      • It’s actually a relief to hear you say that it’s up to her to help herself. We have expended all of our energy trying to support her and get her the help we believe she needs. Unfortunately she is resistant to every effort we make and very angry. We are now in “get on with our lives” mode, trying to show her compassion without getting bogged down. It’s really tough. I’ll head over and read more of your blog. Thanks again ~ my very best wishes to you on your journey, sheri

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        • Sheri, if I may I’d like to suggest a good book for you and your family to read. It’s called “How You Can Survive When They’re Depressed” by Anne Sheffield. It’s written expressly for family members of people who have bipolar or are depressed. It’ll help you understand what she’s going thru better and help You decide how to help her without burning yourselves out. Its critical you don’t get to that place if you want to stay friends with her, and it sounds like it’s getting close for you. People who won’t acknowledge their Bipolar illness are Very hard to deal with. My brother was the same way. He also had AIDS and that’s what killed him but the bipolar kept him from getting the help he needed. It was devastating to me to watch. See: http://gardeningingreenwood.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/fagus-sylvatica-purpurea-pendula/ for his story. I wish you the best of luck and encourage you to educate yourself as best you can on this awful illness. It’s the best thing you can do for her to help her, and keep yourself sane in the process! But it’s still up to her in the end… Sigh. I share your frustration and sadness.
          Thanks for the good wishes…
          Steve

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    • Thank you for your kind words. All of us belong to the earth. We just need to remember that and try to live in harmony with nature. It’s so healing to us all.
      peace,
      Steve

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  6. An outstanding post Steve. You have put into words what many of us gardeners feel. We all start gardening with the most basic intentions in mind and before we know it, we are so in tune with our gardens that they become a real part of who we are. And such a comfort. I can’t count the times that being out in nature has helped me through many, many challenges in my life. Thank you for sharing yours.

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    • It’s really wonderful to be able to be putting my hands back in the soil now. It’s warm enough to dig and plant some things and to weed and prune and just Be with the earth in Her changes. A great time of year is Spring… 😉
      cheers,
      Steve

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  7. Excellent post. You found synthesis between two blogs, which is a sign of synthesis within. I appreciate your transparency, your “Naked Nerves.” So true that too often, kids are kept from getting “grounded” in dirt. Grounding is so important, as you explain. Steven, you are an amazing survivor! Love ya’! XXOO 🙂

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    • Thank you for your insight. I appreciate your comments about Naked Nerves. It’s important to be transparent at times I believe. I agree that kids today are getting the short end of the stick in not being allowed to play in the dirt the way we did as kids. Grounding is real and so necessary. You’re a real survivor yourself you know. I’m pleased to know you!
      Hugs, 🙂
      Steve

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      • You are welcome. I wish I could be as transparent in sharing my predicament as you do. Yep, I’m a survivor also…would love to share my experiences as you do but don’t know how, yet. I’m pleased to know you…XXOO 🙂

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        • You know it’s actually the transparency you show us in your blog that attracted me to you in the first place. I thought “How Very Real’ this person is and how very revealing of her heart. It’s all woven thru your work, whether it’s your photos or your comments and writings. It’s there. You are a survivor and you do talk about what you go thru very well. I’m sure you’ll get more comfortable sharing more as time goes by and you do more of it. You already do it so well… 🙂
          Be well dear,
          Steve

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          • Wow. Thank you Steven. I’m still going by what I’ve been told in the past. I’m still trying to get comfortable revealing what I’ve survived because it is difficult to put in a way that does not turn people off. I’d like them to feel comfortable knowing I’m a broken soul trying to mend it self, but in the interim, enjoying and caring for the life and what the earth has to offer. Thanks my friend. XXOO 🙂

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            • You’re so welcome. It’s all true. You just need to keep doing it and you’ll feel better about it. I jump off cliffs all the time when I write. It’s part of the process I guess. How’s your fear of heights? I’d say it’s pretty good… Remember, we can reinvent ourselves at any moment in time if we want to enough and keep at it. I believe in your ability to do that. You already are… 🙂
              Keep up the good work,
              Steve

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            • I’m terrified of heights too… But you have to push thru it and go for it anyway. At least that’s what I see you doing, and me too. It’s a challenge for sure but we get to be new people when we’re done! If we ever are, that is… Reinvention can take a lifetime I guess eh? 😉
              hugs, dear friend,
              Steve

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            • I agree. For me one of the main reasons I’m here is to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. I figure it’s part of my job. That and working on myself are full time occupations.. 😉
              hugs,
              Steve

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