When I Realized Caring for My Body Is Like Tending to a Garden


 My dad took great pride in his golf course-esque yard. It was perfectly groomed, green and lush. You know the delight in the perfectly groomed marks left when vacuuming carpet? His yard was equally and tactically aligned; every week was a decidedly different direction. When his emphysema became too much for him to care for the yard, he sold the house. He would not hire someone to care for it. He couldn’t bear to watch someone else tender the greens.

Annisa's garden.
Annisa’s garden.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I have his green thumb, but I don’t think it’s black either. I don’t immediately kill plants and it certainly isn’t intentional. Anyway, this summer my hubby and I fashioned a pretty amazing planter to cover up an electrical box that juts out of the patio. I decided to plant this 22 inch pottery-like pot, full of plants — five dahlias, four petunias and three “white dangle-y flower things.” It was thriving. I was proud. I posted photos to Instagram and Twitter; they were glor-i-ous!

I began to notice their bright happy branches were starting to wither. The dinner plate blooms just hung their sad heads. They looked starved or something, so I watered them, often. I figured since I had crammed so much into a tiny space, they must be choking each other out. They need more water. Right? Day after day they slipped away…

Annisa's garden.
Annisa’s garden.

My hubby investigates the darling dahlias and attempts to water them and to his surprise, pools of water instantly form on the surface. He quickly announces he’s certain they aren’t draining properly. No, dear one, that cannot be true! The leaves aren’t yellow and flimsy. They look, well I don’t know exactly what they look like, besides dead. “Handy helper hubby” puts a small drill bit into the cordless drill to offer a little drainage and upon immediate infiltration to the flower pot…whoosh. A small river floods the patio! He places a couple of other tiny drain holes around the base, and we could have had a Slip ‘n Slide right there on the patio. But, but… they looked dry and…ugh. I took this defeat quite personally. I was certain I’d assessed the problem correctly, but what I had actually done is drown them.

And in the weirdest, most random way my brain works, I began to feel like I understood the drowned dahlias.

My health is definitely taking it’s own Slip ‘n Slide. My health is by no means in a crisis state, but it has been all encompassing. A few days spent in the heart hospital left me with more questions than answers. A doctor that explains away my fatigue as part of my depression and that I should exercise more, OK, start exercising. I’ve dealt with depression more years than I can remember. I know what it’s like in the valley of stay-in-bed-and-shut-out-the-world. I have been able to get out of bed and participate in my life, but I dream of a nap while I sip my morning coffee.

There are more days than I care to admit, that I’m that dahlia with my head hung. Hanging in shame and guilt for my sickness. For my lack of energy. For most everything. I feel quite certain I cannot bloom, but I’m unsure of the condition that is plaguing me. When I really begin to think about the litany of illnesses and ailments, I just shake my head and sigh. When did I fall apart? How can this be my life? And then more of the drooping dahlia attitude because I’m feeling guilt over feeling guilty.

I’ve held the hand of my mom during her chemotherapy, I watched my father struggle with every breath for his next breath. I’ve watched my little sister check her blood sugar and administer the appropriate amount of insulin. For the most part, those of us with chronic illnesses look fine on the outside. We melt into the landscape of everyone’s life without much elaboration. That may be part of the disguise of the dahlia. While others are assessing the situation from their personal patio, there is something contrary happening below the surface. With each statement made to a medical professional, I hear myself, I see the look in their eyes, as if there’s a cuckoo nesting in the dahlias!

As I look closer at the planter on my patio, I realize the petunias and “white thingies” are actually healthy! They look just fine. I had been so preoccupied with the drooping dahlias, I missed the perky petunias.

What a metaphor for my life, my timestamp of today. I’m so busy dwelling on the demise of my health, I’ve missed the beauty of the support I have around me — the amazing people I have in my life, plant seeds of hope. They carefully tend to my needs more than I do. And that’s when I understand fully the confusion of the dying dahlia.

What may appear outward, isn’t necessarily what’s happening below the surface. I have to take care of myself. It isn’t selfish. I have so much more to plant and grow and cultivate in my life.

If I don’t take in self-care like sunshine, I’m sure to wither.

It’s a service to me and to others. It isn’t guilt-driven. It is a gift I give to those whom I love. As it should be for all of us.

Surround yourself with people willing to investigate deeper with you and for you. Perhaps it’s a new perspective that will aerate the ground, a safe place to land where you can spill out like a river. I’m still searching for answers. I’m at a place of advocacy, for myself. I am beginning to weed out the things in my life that are choking out my joy. I am learning to breathe in the revitalizing spaces around me, and to rest when needed.

I will replant something glorious and give it proper attention. Bloom on.

Follow this journey on Annisa Swanson 


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