My container garden
About, Creating Change

Preparing for Failure: Adventures of a beginning gardener

Disclaimer: I am not an expert by any means. Not a therapist, medical or mental health professional. I do not diagnose, treat, or tell people what to do. The main purpose of this website and blog is education and support. If you are unsure how the suggestions and resources here may affect you, please discuss any changes to your existing treatment plan with your medical and mental health providers first.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is one of my triggers. I often feel extreme anxiety and the edges of a panic attack rising when I try something outside of my comfort zone. The negative self talk – voices in my head of people from my past telling me I am a failure and that I will kill the plants or hurt so-and-so and embarrass myself if I continue – starts as almost inaudible whispers. Then they get louder and louder, interrupting my work, changing my thoughts, and invading my sleep.

Most of the time these days, I have coping strategies and techniques in place to help me notice the negative thoughts and self-talk as soon as they appear. But sometimes, the anxiety manifests in my body with muscle paralysis or loss of motor skills – my hands and fingers stop working; or my shoulder muscles freeze up, and I can’t lift my arms or turn my head. When that happens, I have to use a combination of body work and mental coping skills to work through the barriers.

Bodywork – what is it? How can I do this on a budget and with little experience? Is it safe?

Body work comes in many forms, and is not always what you expect it to be. I used to think exercise, massage, reflexology, and movement or physical therapy type modalities were the only types of body work available. Then I discovered yoga, qigong, and moving meditation as a form of body work. Sound healing and music – singing, dancing, playing instruments requires our minds and bodies (even our souls or spirits) working together, moving together too. How is that not bodywork if our body is moving and actively participating in the activity?

Then there is energy work and working with herbs using holistic medicine – shamanic traditions, western herbalism, plant medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, and ayurveda to name a few – to get our insides and outsides moving into health and wellness too.

I feel like bodywork is any activity or experience where our bodies are active participants. Maybe you agree or disagree? Maybe you are skeptical. That’s okay because I am too. It’s all new to me, this idea of bodywork being more than exercise, massage, and physical therapy.

The term I use these days comes from my herbalist teachers: Movement

I can’t participate in traditional types of exercise and massage without having panic attacks. BUT I can move my body in small ways throughout the day. I can incorporate movement into my life through chores, hobbies, and other interesting activities that work within my limitations.

For me, that realization came with a change in perspective and perception (of myself and the world around me). So even though movement and exercise of any kind can bring on pain and mild panic symptoms, I still do it. For expensive experiments like massage therapists or classes, I budget money and time for one or two sessions at a future date. Then spend the time between now and then working on coping strategies to help me enjoy the activities.

If the sessions have a positive effect, I plan for the future by budgeting time and money for the next round. If the sessions feel neutral or negative, I reflect on the experience and put it aside to try again some day. And sometimes my budget means I can’t go to a session for months or years. That’s okay because the past sessions gave me a starting point for research and self study. I might not be able to work with professionals, but I could still practice and build on what I learned.

So why is gardening a trigger? and why would I want to start gardening if it is a trigger?

Gardening is a memory/flashback trigger because many of the women in my family were/are gardeners and our relationships are complicated. Then there were the in-class experiments during elementary, middle and secondary school that sometimes worked, often failed and made me an easy target for bullying because gardening and plants were boring and un-cool compared to anatomy and physiology. Or all the people constantly telling me I had a black thumb and was responsible for killing so many plants/hurting animals and people. Or that I was too slow and should just stay away because I was getting in the way of their work.

Lots of negative messages around gardening and working with nature, something I’ve always enjoyed. I was the girl with the rock collection who loved the science museum and walking barefoot on the lawn. The girl who watched bugs and let them crawl on her (until the trainers used that as punishment and torture so now I feel anxiety any time they get too close) while investigating the trees and plants in her neighborhood.

These days, I can acknowledge that people from my past most often shamed and ridiculed me about my activities when it was something I showed talent for or was good at in some way.

And that is part of why I want to start gardening. I love plants and enjoy being around them. They create community and offer companionship in their own unique ways. It’s a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship between the plants and me (or myself?) where we take care of each other in a shared home environment. The plants bring color, life, clean air, sometimes food, and beauty into our home. In return, I provide shelter, water, warmth or cool air, nutrition, music, and some pest management.

It’s a different way of looking at gardening and plants, but it works for me. My past makes connecting with humans and being around people a real challenge. I am not a “people person” and openly admit that. Being around people brings out the worst of my anxiety and PTSD symptoms. Being around plants and animals, not so much. Insects can go either way.

But I feel connected to plants in ways that I don’t feel around people. They are alive with unique ways of communicating with each other and interesting personalities. Plus, they are fun to be around and responsive to love, attention, affection, and care – much like animals and humans. I feel connected to life and community instead of isolated, lonely, or alone.

Solitude is my way of life. I am never alone because the alter personalities are always with me. I don’t feel lonely often, if at all, because of my connection to nature and a strong spiritual practice. But, from a mental health and healthy lifestyle perspective, I could be considered isolated and isolating because of my choice to not interact much with other people.

Plants are my way around that. Yes humans are social beings and need connection/community to be healthy and stay healthy. Emotional and physical stimulation come from socializing and interacting with others.

But who says that socializing and interacting has to be with humans and only humans?

A Beginning Gardener

old and new friends hanging out
Some friends are doing better than others. The newbies are hanging with the stuffed animals for now.

The other reason I might be afraid to garden: I hate when plants die. Especially if I am the reason because I made a mistake or didn’t catch an infestation in time. Or ignorance because I didn’t notice the plant getting sick early enough to bring it back.

As you can see from the photo, some of my succulents are not doing so great. I had a problem with root rot and didn’t notice until too late. Lost some of my plants over the winter and am working to revive the snake plants while also start growing some herbs and flowering plants too.

But I have more reasons to invite plants into my home and life than to stay away from them.

And so I am prepared to fail. Learn from my mistakes. And try again. Maybe (hopefully) next time, they will survive and flourish.

Reflection question: what are some ways you bring community and connection into your life?

Love and Rainbows ~ TJ

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