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December 8, 2020

Nurture Yourself Through Nature

Nurture Yourself Through Nature

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

Lisa Whalen’s book, Stable Weight: A Memoir of Hunger, Horses, and Hope, will be available from Hopewell Publications on March 2, 2021. Her writing has also appeared in  An Introvert in an Extrovert World; The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield; Introvert, Dear; and Adanna, among other publications. Whalen has a PhD in postsecondary and adult education and an MA in creative and critical writing. She teaches composition, creative writing, literature, and journalism at North Hennepin Community College, where she was selected Minnesota College Faculty Association Educator of the Year in 2019. In her spare time, she is an equestrian and volunteer for the Animal Humane Society. Learn more at her website and follow her on social media @LisaIrishWhalen.  

I have always disliked yardwork—or any outdoor work, for that matter. I hated that it was dirty, sweaty, and left me with sore muscles despite regular exercise. Worst of all, it turned me into Sisyphus, a character from Greek mythology who was sentenced to an eternity of pushing a boulder uphill, watching it roll down, and then pushing it up again. It seemed I would just finish mowing, weeding, or raking, only to find that the grass had grown, new weeds had sprouted, and more leaves had fallen.

But COVID-19 changed my attitude.

Like many people, I saw my life turned upside-down last March. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk to the neighborhood coffee shop and write. I couldn’t sit in a patch of sunlight at the library and edit my book about eating disorder recovery. I couldn’t participate in group fitness classes on the YMCA’s roof and savor spring’s increasingly blue skies. I couldn’t attend weekend horseback riding lessons, which were the only outdoor activity I enjoyed. Overnight, my work and social life had been reduced to sitting in front of my laptop. I couldn’t escape staring at a screen. I needed an outlet—a way to shake off stiffness in my body and mind.

I wandered outdoors with an audiobook, which I considered a necessity for completing tedious household tasks. I began pulling weeds in the backyard, and before long, yardwork seemed like a breeze. Mowing and raking became excuses to discover what happened next: Would the main character find her long-lost sister? Accept the job in Australia? Save her marriage? Heal from heartbreak?

I pulled weeds so enthusiastically that bare spots appeared in the yard. An excuse to start a new book! I thought. I bought topsoil, scattered grass seed, watered daily, and became a doting lawn parent.

Spindly green blades peeping through the soil seemed so fragile. They had to overcome squirrels who dug in the soft new dirt, birds who nibbled every visible seed, sun that baked the soil until it crumbled, and downpours that threatened to wash it all away. The blades’ determination to grow in spite of everything inspired me. Caring for them made me protective. I checked on them through the kitchen window when I refilled my coffee cup and from the alley when I took out the trash. Each millimeter of growth felt like a victory.

Nurturing grass seed became a model for nurturing myself—a part of recovery I often struggled with. Assessing each patch’s state, identifying its needs, and promoting its health felt like oiling self-care mechanisms my eating disorder had stilled and COVID had allowed to rust. Checking on the grass each evening led to checking on myself: noticing whether I needed food, water, sun, sleep, conversation, or quiet. I forgot all about the audiobooks because yardwork became a form of meditation: repetitive, yes, but also calming and restorative.

Nature has a way of renewing itself. We witness that every spring—something I can look forward to until May 2021. In the meantime, I’ll continue my nightly meditation by caring for indoor plants.

If COVID has disrupted your recovery, find an excuse to nurture something small or delicate. That habit might lead to nurturing yourself, too.

Get help. Find hope.