When a gardener needs to self-isolate!

So, it’s Day #4 of self-isolation and although it’s getting boring, and I’m not feeling my best, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

I picked this cold frame up from a supermarket, the night before I decided to quarantine myself, and just enough supplies to get me through the week ahead, but have only just felt like building it. Flat pack can be a faff, as I’m not the best at following instructions, and I don’t have the patience of a saint, but somewhere inside me I found the stamina to put the pieces together, and that got me thinking…

A lot of people would already have been feeling isolated and fragile before Covid-19 descended on them, and the panic-buying ensued, potentially making one of their only sociable situations seem more solitary and hostile as they left the store empty-handed and full of fear. Age is no barrier to loneliness, but mobility and confidence does make contact more accessible.

Empty shelves, however, is everyone’s problem and when, suddenly, the things you took for granted disappear, spare a thought for those less fortunate and less able to fend for themselves, and consider ways in which you can make them feel less alone and this societal disease disappear. There has to be a positive to this negative, and you can be a part of that solution. Be kind.

Disconnect to Reconnect

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A bit of a random post, but something made me google ‘Earth’ today, and I found myself looking at seemingly far-off images of our planet and the place that we are fleetingly lucky to call home. I have felt very detached, lately, for one reason and another, and posts about ‘connection’ have really struck a chord with me.

Sometimes it can feel as though we are existing, but not truly experiencing anything, and it’s easy to become disconnected from the miracle that created us, in an effort to survive the recurring monotony that can sometimes befall us when we lose sight of the life that we are attempting to create for ourselves.

I looked at the earth from the moon’s eye view, and it seemed out of reach, like I was stuck on a barren rock and had no way of getting to that sparking sapphire suspended in space and time. Then I realised that it was a metaphor for my emotions. It looked so near, but also so far, and I had no vehicle to bridge that gap across the void.

Perhaps you are feeling the same, but berating yourself for being self-indulgent when there are others around you who are less fortunate or experiencing their own very real struggles. All struggles are equal when it comes to our mental health, and observing how you are responding to your environment is one of your biggest assets.

It’s important, though, to keep things in perspective; you have infinitely more resources around you than you would have if you were stranded on some inhospitable satellite, and the void that you are visualising is just a black dog that can be tamed if you respond with kindness and remain open to the beauty of the world around you.

This concludes today’s lesson and World Book Day. Whatever your situation, take the time to do what makes your soul happy. And remember, you are stronger than you think and more valuable than you know. Don’t let anyone or anything eclipse those sunny thoughts or stand in the way of your progress. You’ve got this!

 

Perfectionism and the battle for enough

Assignment blog

So, tomorrow, I’m putting this assignment to bed. It’s long overdue, by anyone’s standards, but it’s been a tough 3 months, being all things to all people and working full-time. I’ve learnt a lot, not just about the history of garden design, the characteristics of plants, and the benefits of different materials, but also about myself.

I will always be a perfectionist, which can rob me of time during open deadlines, and while this has its drawbacks, it also has its benefits: I get to see and feel things deeply, not all of which is pleasant, but I also see beauty in glorious technicolour and pick up on details that may pass others by. It’s an inherent part of my makeup, which I’m constantly battling with.

And although my dear mother suffered the same ‘affliction’, she was a deep and beautiful soul, who left too soon, without ever realising her uniqueness, because she compared herself to others, and created that out-of-reach future self, which makes us feel that we’re never enough.

I’ve been and done more than enough, lately, and shown strength where I may have previously faltered. I’m trying to be the best version of me that I can be, even if I go down a few blind alleys and give myself a constant guilt trip about the house that I don’t have time to clean or the strong and inspirational father who I have to miss a weekend with to complete assignments or recover from a long week.

But, tomorrow, I’m having a ME day (after I’ve flicked the duster and brushed things under the sofa) and taking a Yoga for Anxiety workshop with Anna at Empower Yoga Birmingham, when I will be enough, more than enough, for one day at least.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Stress

It’s time to stop, check in with yourself, and notice how you’re responding to your environment and those around you. The truth is, none of us is immune to stress; it can creep up on us as we continue that relentless pursuit to pay our dues, being all things to all people while we neglect our own thoughts and feelings.

If you’re isolated or live alone, it’s even more important to be honest with yourself about how you are reacting to each twist and turn in your daily life, because, without witnesses, you can forget to deploy that OFF button and hurtle headlong into meltdown.

More and more people live alone, due to choice or circumstance, and one would hope that there are people around to support you, and who recognise when you’re taking on too much, or to be a voice of reason when you’ve been running on empty.

Be that friend to yourself, right now, and challenge those thoughts, which are, perhaps, telling you to carry on, regardless, when there is no dashboard to display the point at which you’re about to derail. We all have our limits: observe them, respect them, and respond with kindness.

It’s #timetotalkday2018

Time To Talk

When you don’t get enough sleep it’s easy to let your thoughts run away with you and start focusing on the things that you thought you’d resolved and would otherwise have managed to let go of. Instead, you begin searching for something deep within yourself that doesn’t live there any more, rather than accepting that it’s gone. For some, it’s a bit like when you know you’ve left your cashback in the self checkout, but continue to open your wallet, hoping to retrieve it. For others, it’s an overwhelming sense of despair that you thought you’d learnt to live with, but returns, threatening your peace of mind and ability to function at any level.

Know that this emotion is common to many, even if the reason is unique, and that your affliction, physical or mental, is a valid cause for disappointment and a part of living with the sense of loss associated with grief of any kind. You can’t change what happened, but you can change the way that you respond to it and leave room in your heart for everyone and everything that comes your way. While reminding yourself of your vulnerability, also reflect on the strength that it took to recover from that experience, and the beautiful soul that’s been preserved as a result of your growth. You’ve come a long way, my friend; don’t turn back. We’ve got this!

Darren

 

Help make homelessness history, one kind act at a time

Doorway

Let’s tackle homelessness, one kind act at a time!

There have been shocking statistics about homelessness in the news, recently, with local councils estimating that more than 4,751 people a night sleep rough on England ‘s streets as of Autumn 2017. That’s up 169% since records began in 2010, and rising.

The reasons why someone finds themselves in this no-man’s-land are as diverse as those existing in this perpetual Groundhog Day. Devoid of interaction or purpose, their voices are muted and their lives hang in limbo, swept aside like spent leaves on an Autumn day.

In the words of Ben, from London, “Every day I wake up is just another day closer to death. “If I didn’t wake up, tomorrow, sometimes I’d think it’d be a blessing, then I wouldn’t have to do another 24 hours of this.” How, in 21st-century Britain, can we allow words like this to form in the mouths of our citizens?

The longer that someone is homeless, the bigger the impact on both their physical and mental health and the further removed from society they become, reducing their chances of reintegrating with and contributing to the community that created their predicament.

In the spirit of Bernadette Russell’s ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, I want to create a ripple effect of Kindness Scouts who, rather than turning a blind eye on their daily commute, stop and engage with those sleeping rough, from a position of safety and compassion.

Perhaps you can forgo your daily coffee fix on your way to or from work, slow your pace and extend a warm hand on a cold day. You might not have a ‘responsibility’ to that person, but you do have the power to give them hope, a meal, and a kind word or two.

How would you feel if you were identified as a ‘problem’, if your life amassed to nothing except for the tattered clothes that you were wearing, and the doorways you slept in were the same ones that closed in your face on a freezing night?

Be a part of the solution. Be a Kindness Scout and let’s help make homelessness history, one kind act at a time.

Tag your kind acts using the hashtag #KindnessScout

Thank you! Darren X

Statistics source: ITV News – 25 January 2018

Walled garden to exhibit at Gardeners’ World Live

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The Leasowes Walled Garden is joining forces with the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) at this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live, taking place at the NEC Birmingham, between 15-18 June. The collaboration came about after the walled garden entered and won the group category of last year’s Wild About Gardens Week ‘Plant a bat feast’ photo competition, organised by The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), The Wildlife Trusts and Bat Conservation Trust (BCT).

Since winning the competition with its ‘Biodiversity and Bats’ area, created by volunteers, the walled garden has continued to build on its conservation efforts, incorporating a wildlife pond into what will become a beautifully spacious and well-thought-out wildflower meadow. Volunteers and visitors alike are free to take in the peace and quiet of the walled garden and heritage orchard, during designated hours, benefitting from this unique and restorative setting.

Visitors to the show are invited to come along and meet one of several volunteers who will be on hand to talk about the restoration project and this year’s Wild About Gardens ‘Bee Creative’ campaign, or you can pick up tips from a resident bat expert who will be giving talks throughout the duration of the show on stand G425. The walled garden’s display will also feature flowers by husband-and-wife team, Paul and Jo Hill of Brookfield Nurseries, Belbroughton, renowned for their award-winning hanging baskets – key to the success of Halesowen In Bloom’s coveted gold award.

The 18th-century walled garden was created in 1776 by Edward Horne, who took ownership of The Leasowes following the poet and landscape designer William Shenstone. It was purchased in perpetuity for the public, by Halesowen Abbey Trust, in November 2014, and is managed with nature in mind. The site comprises 2 acres of community gardens, maintained by volunteers and funded by welcome charitable donations. Mick Freer, project leader, said: “We are delighted that the Bat Conservation Trust has asked us to participate on their stand and have this opportunity to raise the profile of our conservation work and its continued reliance on funding.”

To make a donation, please visit www.leasoweswalledgarden.co.uk or make cheques payable to Halesowen Abbey Trust and send to 59 The Hawnelands, Halesowen, B63 3RT.

Surviving or Thriving?

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Surviving or Thriving? This is the question being posed during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place between 8-14 May 2017.

As someone who yo-yos between the two, it’s often a fine line and a distinction difficult to make. In recent years I’ve learnt to scale those peaks and glory in the views during times of high productivity, and also deliver myself safely to the ground when I’ve either ran out of inspiration or arrived at a path on my journey for which I have no map. I no longer waste my energy tilting at windmills, but having exhausted all avenues, I often consult my extensive support network of friends, family and trusted practitioners, before making any big decisions. It has taken years of resistance, relapses and fine-tuning to arrive at this juncture, and a combination of mindfulness and medication, but persistence pays off.

The longer you live with something, whether physically or mentally challenging, the more proficient you become at adapting your behaviour to fit the situation and responding appropriately. ‘Acceptance’ is the key word, here, and until you reach that point, you will find it almost impossible to move forward, uninhibited, and be happy in the present moment. It can take some people weeks to deliver themselves from the depths of despair, while others take years. Experiencing loss, or any unexpected interruption into our lives, often requires a process of grieving and adjustment. Left unresolved, grief is poisonous to both our bodies and our minds, and if you don’t ‘lance’ those noxious emotions, the more toxic they become.

Redundancy, an ailing Mother who’d fallen victim to the ravages of Cancer, and an unresolved identity crisis, all resulted in exhaustion, triggering a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that completely overwhelmed me and sent me into a major depressive episode. In that moment, I was neither surviving nor thriving, but existing in a place that I can only describe as hell on steroids. My story very nearly ended there, and my experience of the mental health system was largely traumatic and detrimental to my recovery. However, dedicated individuals from my local CMHT – including my GP – saved the day, and the support that I have received has been second to none. This continuity of care is the reason why I’m so happy to be here, contributing to the discussion and the community that helped save me.

Many people, uncomfortable with such heightened states of emotion, either resist help for fear of being annihilated by the initial groundswell that comes with acknowledging their anxiety, or simply don’t fully appreciate the impact that depression can have if left to run amok and permeate every aspect of their psyche. Generational life events aside, we are now assaulted from all angles: In today’s preoccupation with social media, for example, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing your ‘meagre’ existence to that of someone’s highly edited, highly funded version of reality, invalidating your own life choices and experiences by creating an out-of-reach future self. Of course, this is just one blight on our mental wellbeing and there are myriad reasons for becoming mentally unwell and ways to improve our outlook on life.

A lot of the way that we respond to any given situation depends, to some extent, on our upbringing and the conditioning that we experienced as a child. Many emotions lie buried, like a sleeping giant, until we have the capacity to analyse the situation and recognise the part that this ticking bomb has played in shaping our resilience to stress. Reframing your thinking can be exhausting and not a particularly efficient way of living, but it can be achieved as you learn to develop a stronger sense of self and become master of your own mental health. I still have the occasional moment when I go from lucidity to languishing, at the flick of a switch, but those extremes have become much less frequent and short-lived. In the end you learn to be your own hero, but never forget the people who got you there and the impact that you, too, can have on another person’s ability to thrive.

Darren