The Gardener is Sick: A Year Later

A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote about my experiences as a gardener who couldn’t garden due to illness and what that taught me about myself and gardening. I ended the piece by musing on a reassurance from my partner Davin that come spring both the garden and I would be here.

Eventually, spring did come and I was still here. And so was the garden. Better still, I WAS able to garden. And while some things had changed (including me), looking at the garden, it was as if nothing bad had happened. Self-seeding annuals came back. Most perennials survived. There was an abundance of food to eat, especially in terms of self-seeding crops and wild things. There were more pollinators and interesting critters than ever before. Life went on.

That said, it was not as it had been in past spring seasons. While I was buoyed up by the excitement and promise of the season, I had to pull back and be very careful not to push my body too hard or create work that I might not be able to keep up with in the future. Recovery from an illness like this is not a straightforward or easy path. Healing takes time. It is often unpredictable. It isn’t always a linear process wherein you get better and better until finally everything is exactly as it had been before. Too often this is a false expectation that we have and since it is an “easy” narrative, it is one I see most commonly perpetuated in film, television and books. The person is gravely ill and then magically there is progress and we are shown a montage of doctors visits and days in the sun and then, poof, everything is better. What we are never shown is the in-between or the stories in which things don’t improve at all. I am still engaged in the process of healing, so I will say a few words here about the journey through the in-between. The in-between is small (sometimes painfully so) leaps of progress accompanied by days and sometimes weeks of inexplicable new challenges. It is questioning your future. It is stumbling around in the dark feeling terrified and uncertain and off balance. It is often having few answers and an endless seeking through books as well as uncomfortable and sometimes traumatic appointments with new health care practitioners for specks of knowledge that apply to your individual body. It is repeatedly running through a checklist of every symptom you have ever had and reminding yourself that things have improved because that symptom has gone, only to have it come back. The in-between is learning to accept your limitations and frailties while also acknowledging and even celebrating your strengths. It is redefining who you are, what you want from life, and finding joy and happiness exactly where you are, even if where you are is exactly the opposite of where you would prefer to be.

A year ago I wrote that by the following fall it would be as if this had never happened. That’s such a laugh to me now that I can’t imagine ever uttering those words.

Despite all I have said above, there are ways in which I am grateful that this happened. Those are difficult words to write, because they suggest, at least superficially, that I have enjoyed this experience. I can’t mince words here: I hate this. There are times when it has been brutally abysmal. And at times it still is. But where there is dark there is also light. The illness has taught me things. In many ways the lessons have not been new, but are more or less a clarification and a refocus on things I already knew or had been working toward.

For example, I have never been very good about asking for help. I have always been caught up in demonstrating my independence and strength. I can do it all myself! But I got sick in such a way that there was no choice. I had to ask for help. I had to learn to humbly receive help when it was offered. In this way I have become so much more aware of the lies that we tell ourselves about being able to do it all alone. We are by nature communal animals. We belong to each other. We need each other. This is not a weakness of the individual; just a fact of our nature. Now I find myself feeling much more gratitude for the community that I have and am figuring out how to go forward in the world in a way that puts what I have learned into action. A year ago, I was unable to imagine publicly asking for help in publishing my book, Grow Curious. A month has passed since I launched the campaign, and it is coming to an end in just 3 days. Failure will certainly come as a disappointment, but whether it is successful or not, I was able to try, and the outpouring of support, trust, and belief that friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers have demonstrated by backing it financially or going out of their way to spread the word about it has touched me at my core. The goal of the book is about finding connection through the garden and I have been surprised to find the depth of connection that has come through the process of trying to fund it.

Being sick in this way has made me a mo

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