Every morning, I walk outside to check on my garden. I inspect to see if anything has grown overnight or if there’s a ripe tomato ready to be picked.
On the way, I stop to greet my two cats, as they playfully meow at each other. I pause for a moment to take in the comforting warmth of the sun on my cheeks.
For the past few years, I’ve spent most days in my yard—digging up the earth to sow seeds or to plant flowers and vegetables. When I could barely move because of chronic fatigue, I’d painstakingly make my way outside.
Despite my exhausted body and anxiety telling me “No, stay here,” I’d push through and go outside simply to be among the blooms and trees. The beauty of nature helped calm my nervous system, if only fleetingly.
The beauty of nature helped calm my nervous system.
I’ve always loved being surrounded by nature. This became especially important, though, when my life forever changed due to chronic illness.
I got sick six months after graduating college. It was both quick and unexpected. It took a year of pain and suffering for a doctor to properly diagnose me with a largely under-diagnosed autoimmune disease that was affecting my nervous system. The following year included visits to doctor after doctor and blood test after blood test.
Turns out, I had several chronic infections and autoimmune diseases, resulting in numerous debilitating mental and physical symptoms. It was a torturous and emotionally turbulent process that I was afraid might never end.
A year and a half later, I’m free from illness but still recovering. Because my condition was so severe, I could not do much. I was no longer able to read or write—my favorite pastimes. I desperately needed to find a new hobby to distract and heal myself from my daily nightmare.
Along my journey with chronic illness, plants became, and remain, my escape. What started as two neglected succulents from college evolved into 150 houseplants, as well as flower and veggie gardens scattered around my yard. Caring for plants provided me with a purpose outside of my constant treatments and doctor’s visits.
Plants became, and remain, my escape.
When I was suffering from illness, despite my fear of waking up to pain every morning, plants gave me hope and something to look forward to each day. These living, breathing creatures relied on me for their well-being. After my daily watering, I would sit on the floor of my plant room, grateful for a momentary sliver of peace.
Being around and working with plants is great for our health. According to the Mayo Clinic, gardening effectively improves mood and reduces anxiety and depression.
It’s no surprise that throughout the pandemic, gardening became ubiquitous. Maybe because plants connect us with nature—helping us heal and, ultimately, return home to ourselves.