The Tired Gardener

Healing Through Growing

How Nature and Gardening Can Help You to Heal Fibromyalgia / Chronic Fatigue

Being outdoors is key to healing fibromyalgia. On this site I share my experience of healing through nature and gardening and show you how.

Like me, you may have been diagnosed with one of the chronic illnesses that leave us drained and hopeless, waiting for a miracle cure – fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue / ME. You may not have a diagnosed disease, but be a busy parent, a carer, or someone who thinks ‘I’m too old/ill, tired and stiff for all that digging’ ? Whatever the source of your tiredness, I hope that I can convince you that anyone can enjoy the healing benefits of being in a garden, anyone can experience the healing joy of participating in creation, sowing a seed and nurturing the new life you have begun. You don’t need energy, mobility, a lot of time, or even a garden!

Getting outside and growing will not cure you, but can play a significant part in your healing, a key distinction in terms that I explore below.

So What Do I Know About Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Growing or Healing?

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This site comes primarily from my experience of fibromyalgia, but my illness had its roots in being the sort of person who is permanently busy and so permanently tired, stiff and achy. I know the frustration of watching a garden disappear under weeds and longing to get outside, but having to justify this ‘me time’ against the demands of children, ill parents and a job. I know how maddening it is to be told that double digging is essential when you have no time for single digging and your back and wrists ache from carting around a wriggling toddler. I know the scepticism around planting with the phases of the moon when catching the right season for a gardening task is a challenge. Above all, I know what it's like when all your energy suddenly disappears and getting out of bed feels like climbing Everest.
Until February 2019, I ran a volunteer programme for the charity Garden Organic, teaching people how to grow food. We focused particularly on people whose health would benefit most from growing, especially as part of a community group. In this work, I saw the mental barriers that people put up against gardening, thinking it is too tiring, too difficult, too expensive, too time consuming, too boring, BUT … I have also seen the joy and healing that growing something simple brings to people who thought that gardening was not for them:

  • An asylum seeker, living in a tower block, in tears over having something to care about. He planted a windowsill salad in a paper cup that he tended on the floor by his mattress.

  • A homeless hostel resident, dealing with his addictions through the responsibility of having a single plant pot to tend.

  • A person who had been completely paralysed by a stroke, enjoying the taste of carrots and sweetcorn she had sown with her husband. He lovingly guided her hand to place the seeds, which they grew by the window where she watched them grow.

So there really are no barriers too great to overcome with just a little encouragement and advice, if you start small and tailor your growing to your energy levels.

Curing versus Healing Fibromyalgia / Chronic Fatigue

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Modern medicine may be able to work miracle cures for some people, but struggles to do more than manage the symptoms of those with chronic conditions. When our doctors tell us there is no cure for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue they are technically correct.

They have no medical cure, but that does not mean there is no hope of healing and recovery.

A cure comes from outside and we expect it to be quick and easy, a physical solution to a physical disorder. In contrast, healing comes from the old English word hælan, to make whole and as such it involves not only the body, but the mind and the spirit. It takes time and often a personal dedication to prioritising being over doing.

It also takes a lot of support and encouragement to make the changes you need. For me, this came through a wonderful online recovery programme The Chrysalis Effect. If you haven’t done so already, do click on the link. It was a life changer for me and through it I found the support of people, who have fully recovered themselves, to make the changes to my life that have put me on the road to recovery.

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Before I found The Chrysalis Effect, my GP told me that I had to accept that ‘middle aged women ache’. I replied that yes they do, not because they are middle aged but because they generally do far too much and don’t look after themselves. With support from TCE I rectified this and my aches and pains have gone. Unfortunately, I am still middle aged but at least I no longer feel twenty years older than I am.

If you too have been told that you are tired and achy as a natural part of aging, politely inform this misguided person that they are talking nonsense. Aches and pains often come along with age, but are not inevitable and are often helped by some gentle exercise and a lightening of the spirit.

If you too have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue I hope my work will give you some hope that recovery is possible. Read on for more on how you might start your own recovery rather than miserably waiting for a cure.

The Role of Nature in Healing

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I began my working life as a nurse and remember, as a student, reading Florence Nightingale's Notes On Nursing. She understood that it is nature that heals, not doctors or nurses, but it needs us to co-operate to make this possible. Nightingale wrote that the person with the illness must be put in the best condition for nature to work on them. She insisted that the basics of good nursing lay in good hygiene, good food, fresh air and time. To this a modern nurse might stress the importance of the person taking control of their own healing, keeping moving to whatever level they are capable of and working towards independence, however slow this process might be.

A nurse must ‘put the patient in the best possible condition so that nature can act and healing occur.
Florence Nightingale in Notes On Nursing

How can nature heal the tired body or the aching soul if we continue to drive ourselves, to ignore our body’s demands for rest and relaxation or to hide ourselves indoors, waiting for rescue? Rather than waiting for a cure to be performed upon us, we need to become our own healers and work with and within nature.

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The importance of contact with nature for our wholeness was also understood by Nightingale's contemporary, John Muir, the Scot who founded America's National Parks.

Muir's understanding of the importance of nature to our wellbeing points us to the importance of taking time to step out of our busy lives into a beautiful space, reconnecting with ourselves and with nature to remain whole and to avoid becoming ill. I hope that this website will help those of you who are ‘just’ tired but not yet ill to find these times and spaces, wherever you are.

Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike”
John Muir 1869

But I’m Too Tired to Try

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Even if the demands of life, or the limitations of our bodies, restrict the energy and time we can spend on our healing, we can start somewhere. If we spend much of the day in bed we can open the windows to let the fresh air and the birdsong in, we can sow a pot of seeds for our windowsill and watch them grow day by day. Creating even such a small spark of life gives a sense of responsibility that can prompt enough motivation to get out of bed to water a wilting plant, even when we lack the will to fetch a glass of water for ourselves. Even better, we can sow herbs in pots and have the satisfaction of creating something to give away to friends, family or carers.

We may only be able to potter around the house, but a couple of large containers on a patio or balcony will draw us outside in our pottering and give us something creative to distract from the internal misery. If we plant something edible and beautiful, like french beans with their purple and white flowers, or a strawberry, we create a feast for the eye and the mouth and nourish our body as well as our soul.

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We may have a garden that has become overgrown with neglect and is now a constant reminder of our physical limitations. Look again and see how our failure to keep it immaculately weed free has allowed nature to flourish. In spring and summer, bees will gorge on our dandelions, hoverflies will zoom through the fennel and cow parsley, hedgehogs will bumble through the tangle of overgrown shrubs, enjoying the slugs and snails our neglect has allowed to live. In winter, goldfinches will survive on our thistle seeds and the hedgehogs and beetles will be bedded down in the autumn leaves we failed to rake up. We may not have the energy to manage the wilderness but we can watch it and learn about it, finding joy in identifying our wild visitors and even our weeds.

So What Can I Expect from this Website?

Through my blog I will share with you my own experience of how my love of nature, of growing and of cooking and eating what I grow, is helping me to recover from the chronic pains and lack of energy that characterise fibromyalgia.
Alongside my reflections I will share practical ideas for activities that you might try, whatever your situation or level of energy/mobility.
I also love to learn and this has been part of my own healing, so I will share what I have learned, and am learning, about my illness and recovery, about growing, cooking and preparing foods that nourish both the body and soul. I will also share the resources that I have found helpful and inspiring through weblinks and my bookshelf page.
Whatever your situation or your level of energy, I hope that you will enjoy sharing the joy and healing I find in my garden through my writing.

If you enjoy my work …

My illness has meant that I have had to give up my work and so I am now looking to find a new career through my writing. If you have enjoyed this page and would like to encourage me to produce more, click the coffee cup below to make a small donation; no strings, no fuss, just a little, 'Thanks, keep it up.'

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I wish you good health and happy growing!


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