An honest note from our author, Ruth Owen, about her own mental health:
It was a couple of weeks ago. I’d been feeling . . . low? Sad? Overwhelmed? Sometimes it’s impossible to describe, isn’t it? But something had been slowly building (as it does every so often) week by week.
But as I sat in my little front garden that evening, hoping desperately that none of my neighbours would pass by to see me blubbing into some kitchen roll, the male blackbird who “runs” my garden suddenly took umbrage at something.
Now he’s quite the diva at the best of times (aren’t they all, especially at this time of year). But on this occasion, shouting hysterically, he hurtled across the garden and nearly took my head off before disappearing into the hedge. I’ve seen him do this a hundred times. I’ve suggested to him on many occasions that he might want to stop being such a drama queen. But somehow, on that evening, his antics just suddenly had me laughing and laughing and the tension inside temporarily eased.
Of course, one blackbird didn’t cure how I was feeling. It’s a big, complicated picture of ups and downs. Things that are happening right now in my life and how I respond to them, and things that just happen inside me. But in that moment, I was so grateful to be outside and for that funny and tiny interaction with a wild creature who cares nothing about me or my life – unless I’m digging or moving pots.
I’m lucky to have a garden and it has helped me so much in this past, difficult and often horrible, year. Seeing some little green shoots appearing (especially when you’ve given up hope that a particular plant or tray of seeds is alive) can be so uplifting. Colour, smells, birdsong, rain falling and even failures are somehow bearable when they are in a garden. I have a sense of trying hard, but I know that ultimately nature will always decide what happens. It’s such a different feeling to how problems or failures can affect me in other parts of my life.
When I’m in my garden, I work hard, but I also just drift from task to task. My everyday life is all about lists. Work lists. Home lists. A list for the year, month, week, day. . . But when I’m in the garden, I never make a list. I know roughly what jobs are the most urgent to keep things moving or to keep a particular plant healthy. But I just choose something to do. And only when I’m nearly finished, do I allow myself to choose the next job to go onto. It’s incredibly calming to barely think ahead and to just move from task to task. And if I get distracted and find myself just watching a bumblebee, picking some weeds out of the gravel or sitting with the cat for a while, that’s all good, too.
For me, gardening and being outside is essential for my mental health. And while I know that gardening or the great outdoors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I will never stop trying to spread the word. After all, if one noisy, diva-like blackbird can make you smile when you’re at your lowest, a whole garden, park or woodland has got to be good for your soul.
Some recent pictures of Ruth’s beautiful garden at her home in Cornwall.