May 29, 2011

Gardening-my cure for POTS

OK, the title is a bit misleading.  Gardening has not cured my POTS, but it is one of the best things I have come up with to help me feel better and cope with the major life change that POTS has thrown at me.

First, there is the physical activity benefits of gardening.  Then there's the mood boosting/cheer me up aspect of it.  There's also the great joy in having fresh, nutritious organic food for my family to eat without having to deal with a trip to the food store.  And finally, I've even managed to make a few bucks here and there selling veggie and herb plants I don't have room for.

Here's what I'm growing so far this year - all veggies grown from seed and all organic:
Kirby cucumbers          Lemon cucumbers          Sugar Snap Peas
Zucchini                       Watermelon                     White icicle radishes
Red radishes                 Red Bell peppers             Tabasco peppers
Heirloom peppers         Baby spinach                   Leaf Spinach
Mesculun Lettuce Mix  Arugula                            Thyme
Flat leaf parsley           Greek Oregano                Spearmint
Chocolate Mint           Pineapple Mint                 Cilantro
Savory                        Eucalyptus                        Edible lavender
Rosemary                   Genovese Basil                 Nasturtium (edible flowers)
Blueberries                 Strawberries                      Beach plums

And tons of plants from seeds/cuttings/bulbs:
Lilacs                         Montauk Daisies               Hydrangeas
Impatiens                  Coreposis                          Thumburgia (black-eyed susan vine)
Columbines               Sweet Pea Vines               Morning Glory Vines
Coreposis                  Bulbous Buttercups           Liatris
Cosmos                     Pansies                              Petunias
Mimosa                     Cantebury Bells                Mini Daffodils
Regular Daffodils     Tulips                                Mini Grape Hyacinths
Regular Hyacinths    and more I can't think of...

Doctors are always telling us POTSies to get as much exercise as possible.  Easier said than done!  Substantive exercise is VERY hard to do when you can barely stand up without passing out.  Gardening is a great activity because you can do most of it sitting down, and when you have to stand up, it's usually not a far walk to grab the shovel or the flower pot or whatever it is you got up for.  When I do have severe lightheadedness or a pre-syncope episode, I just lay down in the grass or wherever I happen to be in the garden.  It's actually kind of fun to just plop yourself down in the grass and stare at the clouds for a few minutes - unless the ground it wet because it just rained - then I find myself cursing my POTS.

My greenhouse is about 100 ft away from my veggie garden, and both of these spots are about 100 ft away from my house, so I do get a really good work out walking back and forth between the garden, the greenhouse and the house.  Some days I can make it all the way without stopping, even though I'm always short of breath.  Other days, I have to take a pit stop and sit down along the way to get my tachycardia under control and catch my breath.  Conveniently, my hammock is right between the garden and the greenhouse, so that's where I plop myself when I cannot make it all the way.

Some days I cannot even get out of bed at all, and that's another reason gardening is great, because you can do it when you feel good and skip it when you don't feel good. Your plants will not be mad at you for missing a day's work, and they will not give you make you feel guilty about ignoring them.  Although I always set my sprinkler on a timer to go off every 3 days just in case I have a long episode of not being able to get out of bed - don't want the plants to die while I'm out of commission.

Probably just as important as getting exercise is keeping your spirits up.  There's no denying that POTS makes you feel like crud most of the time, and like any chronic illness, it's easy to get depressed or just down right moody.  My life was busy and vibrant and fun before I suddenly got sick, so it was very hard for me to adjust to being sick and unable to enjoy the things I used to enjoy, like surfing and snowboarding.  Gardening has been my saving grace.  I feel so at peace when I am sitting in my garden.

I have good "thinking time" in the garden too. I take delight in watching an earthworm dig his way under my blueberry bush or ants crawling through the grass carrying pieces of leaves or cookie crumbs 10 times bigger than they are.  Watching these little critter really makes me realize that my health problems are really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  There is a natural order to the world and it has gone on like this for millenia.  Life will go on whether I'm sick or not, so I have to do everything I can to enjoy everyday that I am blessed to be alive.  Just as I'm having a meditative moment, a random thought will pop into my head... I wonder, do earthworms and higher order animals get dysautonomia?  Do monkeys get POTS?

Gardening is something I look forward to and try to work on all year long.  Even in the middle of winter, I am sketching out my veggie plot and combing through seed catalogues.  I was in my greenhouse starting seeds in February!  I also try to save as many plants as I can from one summer to the next, bringing them indoors or putting them in the greenhouse, so there is always something that needs tending to.

As I mentioned before, I have started to sell a few spare plants here and there.  Not making any real money on it, but I'm trying to figure out a way to do that.  I am growing 500 beach plum plants right now, and hoping to turn that into a small business - selling the plants for beach restoration projects and the fruit for jam/jellies/pies, etc.  We're calling it the Long Island Beach Plum Farm and if all goes well we'll be selling the jams, jellies and other products this fall under the name Hampton Beach Plum Co.

Perhaps one of the reasons I have thrown myself into gardening so much is that it is one of the few things I can control.  I've spoken with lots of POTSies and we all seem to be very upset by the fact that we no longer feel in control of our bodies.  We want to feel normal again, and we're trying with all of our might to do that, but we don't have control over our autonomic nervous system (which is why it's "autonomic" in the first place!).  So maybe I can't control the dilation of my pupils and my blood vessels, but I can decide how much spinach to plant and how often to water it, etc.  And maybe it's also because gardening gives me something productive to do with my time.  I can't stand not being able to work and be a productive person.  But there is nothing more rewarding than sinking your teeth into a big juicy watermelon that you grew from seed and nurtured all summer long.

If any of you POTSies want to start a small garden and you want some tips, feel free to contact me.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could! I like in an apartment, so unfortunately I can't! Maybe someday when I get my own house :) It sounds like such a great idea!

    Glad you found something for you!