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How a 'Gardening Australia' Episode Changed My Life

Hello and welcome... thank you if you have been following my posts about gardening and mental health – it is a topic that I am very passionate about... and so I wanted to share a bit more about my story in case there is anyone else out there that it may help, and because it was someone else’s story that changed everything for me!

My kids in our backyard flower garden

For those of you who don’t know me... I am someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, for an array of reasons that would take more than a blog post to explain.  But, I have been able to find ways to manage it, live with it, and more-or-less persevere... At some point in my twenties, I realised that there were a few things I had to do to keep myself sane... eating well and exercising regularly were imperative; I needed to have meaningful work in my professional field... and I needed to seek out help or go to therapy during the tough times.

In 2018 I found myself here in Newcastle... a new town... just married... with a new baby (Oliver) and a new house that needed a LOT of work.  It was an exciting time but a tough time as well.  All of those things that were on my list of ‘ways to stay sane’ started to slip. I wasn’t working, I wasn’t able to spend much time exercising, and I wasn’t eating or sleeping well.  And then, just when I started to think about going back to work... I fell pregnant again. 

I was very sick with Ella while Oliver was still a demanding, breast-feeding baby... it was a tough time for me.  Ella was born in April 2019 and I’ll never forget the first day that Robbie went back to work and I was left alone with the two babies.  I was so scared and stressed that mentally I was spiralling downhill, so much so that I barely produced any milk for Ella.

But... our renovation was well underway!  We had the fence built around the property – having protection from the road made me feel less afraid of being outside with a wandering toddler. The backyard had been excavated and re-built with the sandstone retaining walls and patio, the front yard was levelled with soil, and the driveway was removed.

I finally had a new job – turning this barren block of land into something better... a habitat full of flowers, food, and life!  I had done pieces here and there, but now I got serious about it. There was so much to do! This property was a blank canvas; there was nothing but the big mulberry tree in the back yard... and grass... and the starved earth that was revealed beneath the ripped-up pavement... I really had my work cut out for me.

My days consisted of looking after the babies... and gardening.  Every day we went to the garden centre, and every day I planted something new. Every day, Robbie would come home from work and help me break up clay, wheelbarrow-away rocks, and build garden beds.

I wore Ella in a pouch on my back, or I left her on a blanket and worked close by. I built Oliver a play area in the garden so he could be near me. I worked on the public garden during the one hour each day when their naps coincided. I became obsessed and if I wasn’t out there, I was online researching plants... it became my whole life.

And it made me feel better!  It shut my mind off to everything else that was going on, all my other worries, and I felt nothing but joy as I watched my hard work turn into something beautiful – something good for me, but that was also good for my little family.

I had started to see a doctor after I had Ella, when I was feeling so hopeless... I spoke with her about the garden. I told her that I was spending too much time out there, digging in the ground until I was broken and burnt and that it was the only thing I felt like doing... And she told me it was okay.  She told me it was okay to do what I needed to do, and that the garden was a fine place to do it.  She told me that for many new mothers... survival-mode... is fine.

 

But something still left me a bit worried about my newfound obsession... until an episode of Gardening Australia aired that would really change my life... It was Series 30, Episode 26 and it aired on July 26, 2019.

The story was about another young mother, her name was Manu. She was also in her early thirties, also struggling with her own depression and anxiety after having her second child. She describes her experience with postnatal depression and panic attacks and the breaking point when she finally decided to get some help.

She started to see a clinical psychologist who introduced her to the concept of using the garden as a form of therapy!  She describes the day when her therapist brought in some wonderful, homemade compost and put into her hands for her to feel and smell...

Manu simply said that it made her feel a whole lot better.  And from there, a gardening journey began that changed her life so much that she went on to study permaculture and soil biology... she made gardening a central part of her and her family’s life and even turned it into a career.  

When I saw this, my eyes filled up with tears.  Suddenly, everything started to click. I realised that this was a real thing, what I was experiencing... that it wasn’t just me.  I felt like everything in my life had suddenly fallen into place when I came to this realisation that what I wanted and needed to do with my life – full time – was grow things.

If you have the time, hop onto ABC iview and look for Gardening Australia – Series 30, Episode 26 – if you want to watch this wonderful story! I have re-watched it so many times. Manu says, at the end, that she just hopes that her story would help someone, and de-taboo our imperfect selves.  Well, it has certainly helped me!  And that is why I felt compelled to share my little story as well, in case it helps even one person out there.

I hope you have enjoyed this little glimpse into my life and my garden and I am ever so grateful if you have made it this far.  Thank you so much for being here with me.

With so much love,

Xx Elizabeth 

(All photos are from 2019 Xx.)


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  • Joan Drennen on

    Your story is beautiful and inspiring! Thank you for sharing.


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