The Tired Gardener

Healing Through Growing

Looking After Yourself

Some advice on keeping yourself well while stretching your limits.

'Primum non nocere', or First do no harm, is thought to have been a part of the original Hippocratic Oath, historically taken by physicians. It is equally important to those of us trying to heal ourselves.
For people who are used to being busy and getting things done, it is all too easy to launch into a new project with great enthusiasm and hope, only to collapse in a heap having forgotten our current limitations. Spending all your energy creating a wonderful display of flowers is no good if it puts you back in bed where you can't see or smell them.

Whatever you are planning to do, think and plan first and be prepared to stop if your body says you've misjudged your capacity.

  • Learn to listen to your body and recognise the warning signs that it is tiring. Mine are a slightly tight chest, followed by a fine tremor if I keep going, progressing to clumsiness, dropping things, tripping up and blaming anyone and everyone except myself for why things are going wrong! Yours may well be different. Losing contact with your body and what it needs is a central part of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Working to reconnect is one of the most healing things you can do. Spending time in quiet meditation, reconnecting with your body and how it feels is hugely helpful to healing. Try a phone app or online meditation. Fix in your mind times to check in with your body and ask, how am I doing? What do I need now?
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  • Focus on how your body feels now, not what you could do yesterday. Don't expect that because you had enough energy for something yesterday / last week, you can manage the same time/effort today. Energy levels and symptoms can vary hugely and that's OK.

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  • Stop before you start to get the first warning signs, while you are still enjoying yourself. I know this is a big ask, but there is satisfaction to be found in learning this key skill of self-care. Instead of looking in frustration at a half finished mess, congratulate yourself on having the strength and wisdom to stop anyway.
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  • Build in some time to give your work a 'good coat of looking over', as a friend of mine used to put it. Have a sit down where you can see what you have been doing and congratulate yourself on either a job well done or on having the self-discipline to make yourself sit down. Immerse yourself in what is in front of you and notice the beautiful details. You may be lucky and find yourself joined by an inquisitive robin or blackbird; they are always on the lookout for gardeners who may have uncovered some tasty grubs.
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  • Set yourself a time limit rather than tasks to complete. Everything always takes longer than you think and there are few things more damaging to your body and mind than ploughing on when you are exhausted because you haven't reached your goal yet. As I write this I know this is a lesson I have yet to internalise. Do as I say, not as I do! I did say I'm still in the process of recovering.
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  • Break tasks up into smaller sections. Many activities can be completed in stages at different times rather than doing everything at once. Plan for this and I'll show you how this can be done as I write each project.
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  • Plan ahead. What does and doesn't need to be done? I learned this as a nurse as part of 'lifting and handling' training. The first question should always be, Do I need to lift this at all? followed by, Can I use a piece of equipment / get some help / slide it / leave it where it is? The same applies to any other activity. There's more than one way to skin a cat (I prefer my moggies furry).
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  • Ask for help. Do you have a family member or friend who can help you with the parts that are too heavy/fiddly etc for you? Pottering in a garden on your own is good for the soul, but so is sharing something creative and fun.
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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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