If like me you use gardening as a tool to help keep your mental health under control, you might find that January can be a little bit harder than expected.
I am sure a few people reading this won’t have read my first blog post ‘Allotment therapy’ so you may not know that since march 2017 I have been suffering with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after the birth of my daughter, and struggling on a day to day basis with my mental health. One of the only things that I find is a good therapy for me is my allotment and gardening, but I have to say this new year has been a little more tricky than I had anticipated. Compared to spring, summer and autumn of last year my ability to cope has been hard with the added lack of energy, motivation and sunlight has left me feeling pretty rubbish.
For me the hardest part about dealing with mental health issues is trying to explain to friends and family how and why I am feeling rubbish, when in reality I hardly understand it myself. One minute you are fine, positive, making plans and feeling upbeat, but that can quickly turn, this is something I find really hard to deal with as it can be so unexpected. It can be hard enough to explain mental health issues and PTSD to myself never mind others but I want to make it clear how someone facing PTSD issues can feel and what sort of battles they face. This isn’t a sympathy plea just an insight into how it effects me and why it is so important for me to have a therapy tool like gardening and my allotment to use to help improve how I am. I honestly feel like the stigma around mental health is getting better, people are looking upon it more positively so I hope that by talking about it a little more openly it will help people to understand it all a little more clearly.
Here a few of the things that I can suffer with on a day to day basis and some of them I will suffer with only when I am having a really difficult time.
A startled response
Lack of motivation
Poor self esteem
Very poor concentration
Short term and long term memory loss
Guilt (for me feeling like what I have been through isn’t as bad as what other people have been through so why should I feel like this)
For me PTSD isn’t suffering a traumatic time and thinking about on the odd occasion and getting upset, this is something I am battling with every day, it’s just that some days I handle it better than others. This for me is a personal experience of what PTSD is, everyone deals or suffers with it slightly differently, and I think that goes for all mental health problems.
I can find anxiety is my biggest battle, but it isn’t anxiety as you know it. Its not the anxiety where you are worrying that bad things could happen, PTSD is about what DID happen, it can be very hard to tell someone suffering with post-traumatic stress that ‘everything is going to be ok’ because for us, the things that cause our anxiety have already happened to us and we get a constant reminder that it did happen and that we are struggling to come to terms with what happened.
It has nearly been a year since my breakdown happened, and to me a year is a huge milestone to achieve. I thought 2018 would start off really positive and be filled with joy because I have made it through the toughest year of my life, without returning to that initial dark place I started off in, but things are never that simple. I had been feeling really well, the spring and summer on the plot was divine and gave me just what I needed. October was a beautiful harvesting season filled with goodies and November wasn’t too bad either I managed a few good dry days on the plot and managed to achieve getting some big jobs started and completed. December was full of fun, having two young daughters to fill you with the Christmas spirit was enough to pass the time, I also did have a giggle for a while with my epic spud failings on the allotment, if you didn’t hear, my Christmas potato haul was huge. . . three tiny potatoes!
Well January you have been something completely unexpected. . .
January came along and sort of surprised me, I was really excited at the prospect of a new year new me scenario and a new year on my allotment plot, with lots of exciting things lined up. Seriously it couldn’t have been any more opposite if it tried. Goodbye optimism, goodbye energy, goodbye motivation and hello miserable me. My allotment can cheer me up at any time and it always seems to pull me out of any mood I have fallen into, but the mixture of bad weather, not getting to the allotment, lack of daylight hours have been somewhat of a problem.
Now my plan was to get to the plot, do some winter jobs, potter about, do some digging, fill the raised beds, plant my raspberry canes and the rest of that huge list I have made. No no no that DID NOT happen, what did happen was every spare day, minute or hour that I could make it down to the plot we had snow, torrential rain or winds that could have possibly lifted me and my raspberry canes into the air! Resulting in me making one lousy hour trip in the whole of January to the plot to drop some things off and harvest some more kale. I also on this trip forgot to take my water bottle so I couldn’t even make a cup of tea, which in turn made the trip even more lousy than intended. Due to this horrific start to the new year and a constant fluctuation in my mood I have really struggled my way through this month. I have basically fell into a horrible dip at the start of this year where I have been through every emotion in the book and every PTSD related side effect possible. This month has been really tough, and there have been days where just getting out of bed has been a problem. luckily I have had some amazing support to push me through but I have decided that I CANNOT feel like this again next year so a plan is needed.
I want to make sure that this time next year I am prepared and ready for January, I want to make sure I have a plan in place to help me beat those January blues! I want to stay positive and motivated next year during the winter months, so if the same thing starts to happen, I have all of these things to fall back on. Obviously most of these ideas will be gardening/allotment related, as this is what works for me the best.
Sow chilli and sweet pea seeds in the New Year
Propagate succulents over the winter time
Make bird feeders for the allotment and garden with the girls..
Read more gardening books, please reply and leave your recommendations.
Find new local garden centres to visit (they have this magic about them to cheer me up, plus most of them serve coffee and cake)
Make a scarecrow for my allotment
Save some of my harvested vegetables in the freezer so over winter i can make fresh soups, a new flavour each week, using all of my own grown ingredients.
Clean out all plant pots, Callie my eldest daughter loves washing up!
Make a detailed drawing and plan of my allotment for the ne growing season.
Make wind chimes for the allotment and garden with the kids.
Make sure I sign up for all of the catalogues available for seeds and bulbs so I can spend time picking exactly what I want.
To be able to achieve the point made above, start saving money in a jar now so I can afford my seed and bulb addiction.
Make visits again to Homebase and B&Q for some great January sale bargains.
make plant markers with the kids
Start chitting potatoes
Make sure I make a larger collection of indoor plants in my house
Build a hedgehog house
Make cd spinners to hang in fruit bushes to stop the birds eating the fruit.
Join in with the RSBP big garden bird watch next year.
Explore at least one national trust garden
Obviously if I get a free day and the weather is dry I will get to the plot even if it’s for an hour to potter about and have a cuppa I know it will always lift my mood.
Most importantly as a reminder to myself and to others that even with all the planning in the world, highs and lows in mental health occur.
For me there is no quick fix, the battle is long and unsteady, but in time I will learn to deal with it better. I know for me my allotment is my go to therapy but I also have to remind myself that I have an incredibly supportive family and group of friends that I need to fall back on when times get hard. I find I isolate myself when things get tough (which is a common thing with PTSD) but can be one of the most damaging things to do. I hope that this year I can be a little bit more open with my family and friends when I am struggling. I sometimes find it harder saying it out loud in person than writing it down on here, as I feel like the screen gives me that little bit of protection. opening up on my blog for me is a way of healing so I will continue to be honest on here about my battles, and hope that one day the stigma surrounding mental health will disappear and we can all just speak about it more openly.
My allotment is my haven, my sanity, my love, my hobby and my go to place for reassurance that I am ok. My allotment shows me that in winter time we should take some time to relax and recover ready to be fighting fit for spring, so will be ready to bloom for summer. I have been lucky enough to find somewhere peaceful and soothing, where my mind can switch off, relax and forget. An allotment or gardening isn’t for everyone, but if you have read my blog and maybe feel like you want to give it a try, you should give it a go. It’s not all about diving into the deep end and getting an allotment or doing a full renovation of your garden, start small with a propagator on a windowsill and see how you get on. Just growing some lettuce or herbs might give you the growing your own bug that I seem to have caught.
If you have any other ideas of things to do through the winter that help you get by during the long, dark, cold days let me know, I would love to add a few more things to my list. I am also really interested to know what you all do to stay happy.
I should be receiving my new camera soon, which means its video blog time. Let me know what you want to see for my first Vlog, maybe an allotment tour, how to sow seeds, question and answer time, or any other ideas let me know!
All my love Kirsty