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Why Gardening is Not Just about What You Grow, But How it Makes You Feel

How playing in the dirt helped me tune in to my mental health more than ever

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Take a moment to look at my picture perfect squash; this is not just an ordinary squash. I grew it from organic seeds that I planted in my window and watched as they emerged from their shells and flourished. They were my little project, and full disclosure – I did not really know what I was doing, but gardening was a way to focus on something else besides the growing number of Covid-19 cases and the sadness and worry taking over my thoughts every day.

Photo credit: Janeane Bernstein

I realized that growing vegetables became less about what I wanted to grow and more about getting outside and focusing on something else.

The beautiful, portrait-like picture is my first squash; it is about the size of a Nerf football and I keep checking on it every day. When my Dad was sick with stage 4 cancer, all I grew were weeds, and rarely watered anything. My garden reflected what was going on in my inner world; it was a sad, depressed state and the last thing I cared about was my lawn and garden. I am now in a healthier mindset and this is a complete antithesis of how I felt five years ago.

There has never been a more important time to take care of ourselves and do things that nurture our mental health. If my garden is overgrown and a sea of weeds, this screams neglect, and chances are my life is in disarray. When my dad was sick, I could have won a prize for the craziest, biggest, wildest weeds that took over everything like a bad movie.

Right before Dad passed, I picked out some drought-tolerant plants (that I would not kill from neglect) and I fixed up our dismal yard. Slowly, I started spending more time outside, planting and watering again. My yard and garden reflected the healing period in my life. Flowers started blooming, and the reemergence of life made me smile a bit more. My stepmother has always been an incredible gardener, so I tried to plant some new fruits and vegetables in our garden.  

For a long time, I did not even go outside and pay attention to the dreary wilting grass and trees.  I didn’t care. Again, this reflected my inner world, which was a wreck.

My stepmother taught me that organic fertilizer helps plants and edibles grow more. It took me a while to think about putting something with feces in my garden, but when I finally added the fertilizer and more water (duh—water is key, people) to my garden, boom! Mangos, zucchini, and potatoes! If you look at sh*t as something good, you can apply that analogy to your life. Think of life’s sh*tty moments as fertilizer to grow something better and find a more meaningful life.

Years ago, I thought gardening was so boring, but now I love the idea of playing in the dirt again and throwing vegetable scraps in the ground and seeing what surprises grow. When you think about it, we use feces to grow beautiful fruits and vegetables, so it can’t be that bad.

Now, if we can just look at our sh*tty moments as “not so bad” and figure out a way to use them to grow into something better or happier, that is the gem here. 

Once you feel sh*tty, it is hard not to feel sh*ttier, but eventually you will bloom again. You just have to want to thrive and rise up from the sh*tstorm. Pay attention to how you feel during this time and you might find that you wanted a change all along; this really is a time of awakening and the importance of making self-care a priority. Focus on how you can bring about positive changes in your life and the lives of others; being kind and showing compassion has never been more important. Change can be scary and millions of people, including myself, are going through an enormous amount of upheaval that we never would have imagined. Be patient and take really good of your mental, physical, and emotional health. Better moments are in store for us and they show up when we least expect them to happen.

So, you see, this beautiful picture of my squash is not just a symbol of my gardening skills; it is a symbol of my mental well-being.

I began to care enough about what I could do to enhance my life, learn something new, and grow something beautiful. I now make a conscious effort to get out and check on my growing family of squash plants and whatever else I created from old vegetables. Playing in the dirt and seeing what new creations emerge is just what I need right now. In some ways, I reflect on being a kid making mud pies and getting dirty and spending hours outside. Who doesn’t need a change of mindset to focus on the possibilities in life?

Adapted from Janeane’s 2019 book, Get the Funk Out!
%^&$ Happens,
What to Do Next! 
© 2019 by Janeane Bernstein. Published by Post Hill Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
www.janeanebernstein.com
http://getthefunkoutshow.kuci.org

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