PTSD JOURNEY - KIRSTY WARD
Hello I’m Kirsty Ward aka My Little Allotment a self-confessed allotment and grow your own fanatic, mix that in with a dahlia and houseplant addiction and I would say I’ve definitely got the green fingered bug.
My love of gardening started four years ago now after the birth of my second daughter Mila. I went thought lots of difficulties throughout my pregnancy and birth and this all took its toll on my mental health six months after the safe arrival of Mila. There was a sudden shift in my mental health and in March 2017 I have what I can only describe as a breakdown resulting in me being very poorly mentally and physically. After a very turbulent month of being ill, having panic attacks, night terrors, vomiting, sweating, anxiety, insomnia, flashbacks and irritability I had booked myself in to attend some CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions with a phycologist to help figure out what was going on with my mental health. It was here in my first session I was diagnosed with PTSD and it came as a huge shock to me as naively I had only heard about this in cases related to war veterans.
I spent time at home looking at ways to help PTSD in my own time as my CBT session were helping me and getting back on my feet I needed something outside of that room for day to day living so I could manage better.
This is where My Little Allotment was born, I had read about how gardening/focus therapies are really good for helping people with PTSD. I mentioned this to my husband and he suggested to me about getting and allotment at which I laughed and replied ‘are those still around?’ I really had no idea there were allotment sites still open the last time I was on one was when I was little. I’ve always shown an interest in growing my own as my dad had an allotment when I was small and has always grown stuff in our back garden growing up. I decided that getting an allotment an learning how to grow my own would be a fantastic way for me to help my own mental health and wellbeing so I contacted the local council. Within three weeks I had my keys and I was down on My Little Allotment plot digging trenches for the spuds.
From the moment I stepped on my allotment and started to develop the space how I wanted,
growing plants, sowing seeds and digging the earth the allotment was saving me. My allotment has now become my coping mechanism throughout the year so I can deal with how my PTSD affects me. It’s also the only place where I’ve really been able to find myself again. I’ve completely fallen for gardening, I’ve found a way for me to release my creative outlet, a way for me to be mindful, a way to help my wellbeing, a way to lower stress levels and ultimately a way to keep my mental health in balance.
There is so much more detail into my story and how I got to where I am but I can tell you this, having a garden, allotment or outdoor space is incredible for your mental health and wellbeing. Getting outside, doing exercise, releasing endorphins, reconnecting to nature, engaging your senses and watching a tiny seed grow and develop into a huge pumpkin or bloom into a flowers is so incredible to watch and be part of. I will be forever grateful for this beautiful piece of land that has saved me from the darkest places I have been in my own mind.
SMALL WONDERS OF NATURE - HANNAH POWELL
In 2009 I burnt out and was diagnosed with a Functional Neurological Disorder. I would twitch and jerk in response to sound or touch. I looked like a peculiar air drummer, with no rhythm. These disorders, which in other people can cause a whole host of symptoms, including paralysis, seizures and blindness, are not structural. Tests come back normal. They are 'functional', that's to say our brain's function is affected and it sends the wrong signal to parts of our bodies. Which is ironic because we can't function. I took six months off work and spent a month virtually confined to my flat or the nearby pavements. There was very little information available to help me, and the diagnosis journey took several months.
I found my own way to get better. Cranio-Osteopathy, Acupuncture and
Counselling became my holy trinity. My practitioners and boyfriend were my lifelines, each helping me inch my body back to better health. By the time I was diagnosed, the neurologist and psychiatrist discharged me. They told me to continue with my own approach.
Living in London near the Thames, I took daily walks and set myself the challenge of taking one good photo every day. Some were manmade objects – textured rope on the dock, architecture or 'street photography', snapping at people sitting on benches. More life-affirming were the small wonders of nature. I became obsessed with them, and they gave me a reason to get dressed and go out for my daily walk.
Walking triggered my 'twitches' so this was no mean feat. I saw leaves sparkling with perfect rain drops, verdant moss, weeds growing in pavements, swans and grebes nesting and pots full of vegetables on houseboats. On days I couldn't leave the flat I took pictures of houseplants or gazed at the London Plane Trees filling our window with green.
My life was in limbo, but around me, plants were growing; the seasons were changing, and there were moments of pure joy to be found. Seeking out these positives played a huge part in helping me heal my body and mind. During this pandemic, when our world is forcibly shrunk, I recommend you tune into the small wonders of nature – be it in your garden, park or on your well-trodden local walk. I'm also writing a book about my experiences.