Thursday, 10 October 2019

World Mental Health Day and Gardening

Gardening and Mental Health are fantastic partners:

No this isn't me jumping on a band wagon.

I take anti-depressants. I have done for around 12 years.
The reasons for my depression are a complicated jumble of chronic illness, the death of my mother, trying to self-build a house and renovate another, workplace bullying, and the classic: hormones.

After being brushed off by a doctor near our old house, we decided to transfer to the practice near our self-build. The 10 minute assessment appointment turned into an hour. I reeled off everything that was happening to me, I sobbed, she listened, she asked me some questions on a standard test to try to gauge my current state, and she decided I needed to give myself a break, she would get my medical issues fully investigated and while I was waiting for Consultant appointments and scans she wanted me to start taking an anti-depressant.

I broke down in tears again, not so much because I felt like a failure for needing anti-depressants (which is very common), but because she had heard me, really heard me.

We started on a very low dose of something to boost my serotonin fact the pharmacy printed label said 'take one daily to boost low mood'.

My GP checked back in with me a couple of weeks later, then again a couple of weeks later, and we agreed that though I'd noticed an improvement, it was very mild, perhaps we needed to increase the dose a bit.

Currently I'm prescribed 3 times the amount I was on when I started (which is still well below the maximum daily dosage), and for me it works. I feel balanced, my responses to stress, anxiety and sadness are much more in proportion - I now recognise just how bad I was back in 2007.

I think it is incredibly important that we talk about mental health and stop being afraid of anti-depressants. Talking openly to people at work, I've discovered quite a few people who have been prescribed them. Some only for a short time, and some much more long term like me.

I've seen people give up because the tablet prescribed didn't work, or gave them side-effects - to these people I say wait, speak to your GP about your concerns. There are a lot of options out there, just because one tablet hasn't helped doesn't mean a different one won't. I was lucky that my GP chose carefully for me. Also anti-depressants aren't like flipping a light switch, things take time to work and find balance. My husband was incredibly supportive which helped enormously.

I've seen people begin to feel better after taking anti-depressants for a short while, and stop taking them suddenly because they think they are 'cured'! Again, go to your GP, do not just stop taking anti-depressants, always do it with the support and guidance of your doctor, you can fall into very dark paces (metaphorically) when you go cold-turkey. A dear friend decided to take himself off his tablets suddenly, and became very ill. When I asked him why, he said he hated the idea of taking anti-depressants - like it labelled him in some way, we discussed it long and hard, I reminded him that some people (like me) have a chemical deficiency/imbalance and the tablets are there to support our body much like taking a vitamin. Think of it simply as a daily supplement and the demonising voices begin to fall away.

Soon after, with his GPs guidance, my friend got himself back onto his tablets and I made him swear never to take himself off them again without first consulting his doctor.

So can gardening really help?

Well it certainly helps me as part of my daily self-care 'routine', and millions of others swear by it too.
Not only are you moving muscles, breathing fresh air and hopefully picking up some much needed vitamin D (but do wear sunscreen!), you are also absorbing yourself in an activity that needs concentration, but shouldn't add to your stress if you do it right.

For example, deadheading flowers focuses your eyes and mind on finding those faded blooms, carefully tracing the stem back to the next flower or leaf node, and snipping it cleanly off with sharp secateurs or scissors. Each one removed is a success, and will reward you with more flowers in a few days/weeks.

Sowing seeds, potting on seedlings and planting them out can have similar powers to train the mind away from stress and anxious thoughts. If listening to birds singing (or neighbours arguing!) is stealing your focus, try bringing it back by listening to some of your favourite music, or maybe a mindfulness podcast if you find these helpful. Some actually find these things anxiety inducing, so do listen to yourself. If you are overwhelmed, stop and change how you are accomplishing your goal, but continue to aim for it.

Don't try undertaking a huge project like building a deck or digging a pond - now is not the time to put extra pressure on yourself. Choose small easy goals (like removing a single dead flower), prepare your tools and surroundings, and take deep steady breaths. If all you manage is that one flower head today, that's perfectly fine - remember that it is one more than you achieved yesterday, and allow yourself to smile when you do succeed.

Rebecca xx.