Healing & Growing: Fibromyalgia & Gardening

Alison McGrath

I had no idea what gardening meant to me until I lost it, until I found myself bedbound and
struggling to walk to the toilet, heart skipping and pounding, head swimming, drowning in
the hopelessness of medical certainty. ‘Fibromyalgia is an illness you must adapt to. There
is no cure.’
After years of pushing through, shoe-horning those precious garden minutes in around the
growing commitments of work, and children, and parents, and community and…… I crashed.
My body said, ‘No more!’ Even stepping out of the kitchen door to sit on the patio was an
achievement. The lawn was a meadow before No Mow May. Wildlife gardening happened
without me, and my garden became a burden, a reminder of my incapacity and the
hopelessness of my future…
Except for that small voice in my head, my inner nurse, trained to always ask, ‘Why?’, to
look for the evidence rather than blindly accepting medical opinion. ‘Why?’ overcame ‘Why
me?’ and rejected acceptance and adaptation. She enabled me to see beyond the
medicalised heap of body parts I had become and to keep seeking wholeness.
I found my answers and my path back to the garden in The Chrysalis Effect online recovery
programme that I now work alongside. I found people who had recovered – evidence that
recovery is real and worth pursuing. With the support of the programme and some
wonderful coaches and therapists I began to see myself as a garden in desperate need of
care. I dug deep for the roots of my symptoms instead of spraying the leaves with
medication. I began to focus not on my exhaustion but on its cause – the deep drive to fill
every moment with purposeful activity, to feel needed and valued for what I did for others.
I recognised that the shame and sense of selfishness when prioritising myself was an
invasive species that had been planted in me by others long before I could even walk. I
recognised that my garden was choked with the weeds of other people’s expectations and
needs, leaving little light or nourishment for my own flourishing.
In the light of this revelation I began watering and feeding my body and soul, metaphorically
and physically. I allowed myself to rest, learning how to create calm in the chaos through
mindfulness and meditation. My husband and I resumed our old fascination with
fermentation, brewing kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi. I revelled in the realisation that
my health depended on the diversity of my gut biome in the same way that my plants
needed their own nourishing soil micro-biome.
I found my answers too in the work I had turned to when nursing proved too damaging –
teaching others to garden. After years of helping others to overcome the barriers to
gardening, I realised that I could be my own horticultural therapist as well as nurse. My
garden became the place in which I learned to balance doing – pacing my activities and
rebuilding my strength – with being – meditating on the clouds, feeling the long grass
between my toes, swinging in the hammock. I grew to understand that, for me, gardening is
not a hobby or a professional interest, but a vital part of my wellbeing. If I am to be well
enough to enjoy life and support anyone else, it is something that I need to include in the
heart of planning my days rather than shoe-horning in as an extra.
As my strength began to return I looked at the bigger tasks and asked, how can I break that
down? Who can help me? Does it even really need doing? I sat in the spring sunshine and
sowed seeds or potted seedlings for a few minutes at a time – sow and rest, sow and rest. I

bought a lightweight strimmer and cut the grass in bursts of a few minutes over a week
instead of all at once. To ease that need to be of service and to have a purpose in life, I
began to write about my recovery in the garden and share my tips with others by creating a
website, www.thetiredgardener.com
Step by step, day by day, I shifted into an upwards cycle of happiness and physical renewal
and the old cycles of despair and pain intercepted less and less frequently. My garden and I
began to flourish again. Eventually I was able to leave that garden behind to return to
Scotland, beginning a new life in the place of my choosing, and setting up my business as a
wellbeing coach and recovery specialist, Campsie Coaching.

Today, as I write this at the patio table, my new garden is an integral part of my day. I write
for a while and look up at the Campsie Fells looming over my head, smiling at the memory
of climbing to the summit last year. When ideas faulter, or I have a challenging session with
a client, I get up and cut a few more feet of lawn edging or visit the greenhouse to watch the
tomato seedlings grow. Life is good and all is well again in my garden.

Look after yourself with some time out in nature at WanderWomen experiences.

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