By Dina Pittman, a gardening enthusiast with OA who describes herself as “too stubborn to give in when pain persists,” on her website, www.disabledgardener.com
Ten years ago, when I was finally able to purchase my dream property and expand my gardening space from a typical suburban plot to a 1.5-acre wooded lot, I thought my greatest challenge would be gardening in the shade.
But it turned out to be chronic pain!
I dreamed of flowing beautiful shade gardens among the oak trees. There’d be an herb garden and roses, and I’d find a way to carve out enough sun for long rows of vegetables. There were no existing gardens, so I’d get to plan everything as I wanted and build the beds using the native rocks on the property, mulching with chips and leaves from the trees.
But every time I attempted to build a new garden bed, I would become injured for days. I went to doctors and the answer was always the same: “You have osteoarthritis.” How could this be? How did I suddenly have arthritis in every joint in my body? I kept searching for answers and trying to coerce my aching body into building my dream garden. As the pain persisted, I shut down. I became depressed and started giving up.
Reactions, as I discussed my diagnosis with friends and doctors, were: “Everyone gets arthritis as they get older.” This was confusing to me because my mother didn’t have arthritis in all of her joints, and she was 80! I was only 50! I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, and everyone else dismissed it as normal aging. Arthritis had upended my life and was threatening my dream.
I was devastated. After years of hard work and raising kids, it was my turn; but it seemed I could no longer physically achieve my dream.
I started a downward spiral emotionally and thought I might as well sell the place. But something made me continue. After some serious soul searching and counseling, I decided I had to accept that, indeed, I did have arthritis in every joint in my body and that was OK.
Once I stopped arguing with the fact that I had arthritis, I started thinking of ways I could continue to garden like I wanted with minimal pain and no injury.
I was on a mission to get back to gardening, and at the core of making that possible were these six steps:
- Manage your mind – I knew my thinking about my pain was blocking me from finding solutions. I got some excellent counseling and coaching and started writing my blog, disabledgardener.com. I also started listening to podcasts as I gardened and gathering more information. Live Yes With Arthritis is a favorite!
- Exercise – While gardening is exercise, continuing physical therapy exercises keeps targeted areas stronger for the demands of gardening.
- Nutrition – Use your vegetable garden to motivate yourself to eat healthier! Every year, I try new vegetables to challenge myself to grow a rainbow of nutrition.
- Methods of gardening – Change the way you garden. I’ve found there are easier ways to grow than my old labor-intensive methods! I’m learning about raised bed, container, permaculture and intensive planting methods for both the vegetable and flower gardens.
- Support – Make sure you’re guarding your injury-prone joints with braces to ensure proper movement. Even the clothes and shoes you wear in the garden are important. Use proper tools that put less stress on your joints. Self-care is important. Learn about your body and respect its limits.
- Complementary pain relief – Discover products that can reduce reliance on prescription medications for pain relief. Learn which products offer real results and learn how to recognize the sham products.
My journey through these steps has brought me back into the garden. The garden is teaching me to grow through arthritis rather than push against it.
As I was walking through the garden with my triplet grandchildren recently (three 3-year-olds!), I was so grateful I persevered in my quest. Gardening is a pursuit that benefits us physically and emotionally, but it’s also my legacy to my kids and grandkids. They will always know me through my plants, not my arthritis.
I welcome you to join me in this conversation and help us all continue to do what brings us joy for many years to come — gardening!