Sometimes I scroll through my social media feeds and want to scream at the number of pretty coloured memes with trite advice.  Don’t get me wrong, I have found great comfort in many of the maxims posted  by friends and acquaintances who share the hard path I am treading. They know from bitter experience what really helps. What I hate are the streams of posts selected for me by bots and generated by faceless companies simply to fill space and generate revenue. Their algorithms are relentless once they decide that I am in need of uplifting self-help advice. They trawl across the web, kicking back a blizzard of ‘suggested for you’ posts into my face as they go.  

Today I am heartily sick of being ill; the possibilities for the future that I have been hanging on to seem to be dissolving, and if I see one more mechanical exhortation to ‘live in the moment’ I think I will explode! This moment sucks, the ones that brought me here suck, and the future frankly looks bleak from where I am today. It’s one of those inevitable down days when I want to ignore all the advice, hide in a cool, dark room, with a huge box of chocolate, and howl.

And then from my screen comes a genuinely human message from a friend who knows: ‘You can be miserable anywhere so GET OUTSIDE!’  It makes me laugh and obey.  Sometimes it takes a human boot up the proverbial, delivered by the wonders of the net, to make you do what you know you should.  

Outside, the sun is blazing down on my poor parched garden.  I don’t have the energy to carry watering cans, and my right hand is bandaged to protect a huge blister, so, balancing my needs with those of the planet, I decide that using the hosepipe just for today will not bring about Armageddon. I potter around in the shade with the hose in my injured hand, teasing out an explosion of sun-spurge seedlings with the other, rinsing their irritant sap from my fingers and the compost from their roots as I go.  Heat, soil and water create the magical smell of petrichor and without realising what I am doing I smile and breathe deeply in response. The healing of today’s misery has begun. I have taken another step towards the distant goal of full health while I think that I am just doing a chore and watering the plant pots.

The next pot is full of ‘weeds’ that I have allowed to grow into a beautiful display of tiny pink rosebay stars and lime green spurge frills.  It used to contain my treasured tea-tree plant which became another victim of the clogging wet snow that destroyed all my rosemary this winter. I bought it from a stall at a county show, from a nursery too far away to justify the drive for one small plant.  The pink stars that mask its dead bones have all gone now and threaten to explode into puffs of airborne seed at any minute, so I grit my teeth and decide to clear the whole pot ready for something new.  As my fingers fumble through the mass of stems, and into the concrete compost of the neglected pot, I direct the hose jet to loosen the weeds’ hold and a different scent rises around me. It’s the sharp, clinical scent of tea-tree!  I take a little more care now to notice the colour and texture of each stem as I remove the weeds one by one instead of in handfuls.  Delicate green fronds begin to appear and there at last is my beautiful tea-tree, resurrected from the energy stored in its deeply hidden roots after months of apparent death.  

My mood has already drifted up with the petrichor, from misery to calm sadness, but now it soars into hopefulness and joy. I call my husband out from the kitchen to witness this miracle.  The sudden experience of joy, coming after sadness, overflows my cup and I need someone to share the bounty. Before I know it I am humming to myself as I alternate between dropping jostaberries into the bowl and my mouth, while the hose soaks the roots beneath laden branches.  The berries’ rich flavour lifts my mood further while my body silently soaks up some much needed sunshine, vitamins and anti-oxidants.  Overhead a red kite calls and the swifts wheel and shriek for joy.  The memes are right, damn them.  If I am to make it back to full health I need to live in the moment, limit the time I spend understanding how I got here, only look up to the distant horizon occasionally to check my progress. I need to focus on finding those little moments every day that give me just enough hope and joy to keep me moving forward and to GET OUTSIDE!

(With many thanks to Elaine)

What, or whose advice has made a difference to you?