My trips to the allotment have really gone by the way side recently. Through a combination of spending more time working on the Stoneham Bakehouse, trying to spend more time with the family, and the rubbish weather we’ve had this summer, the allotment has taken a back seat.
The allotment, for the last couple of years particularly, has been really important to me. Really important for my recovery from depression and anxiety, really important for my family to get some space, and really important in providing us with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit.
As Autumn shows its true colours, with beautiful ruddy leaves appearing on the trees, I’m inspired to get back to the allotment with some regularity. Being outside is always beneficial to my wellbeing, and I sometimes need to be reminded of how it can help me. I think with weather set to be fine for the weekend, a trip to the plot is needed.
Regular readers may have noticed that posts have appeared a little less regularly over the last few months. The main reason for this is the growing realisation that I’m becoming caught up in the world of community baking, and I’ve less and less time for the allotment and writing the blog. Talking about my mental health issues, through Spade Fork Spoon, and recently when explaining the concept behind Stoneham Bakehouse as a bakery for the community, has been of real help to me. Hopefully I’ve helped others by showing that it is possible to get yourself on the journey towards an even keel, and having an allotment, and cooking, is a way which can help some.
As a man, I do feel that it’s somehow harder to admit failings, and talk about our wellbeing. With Men’s Health Week ending today, I wrote a post for the Bakehouse site, I’d like to share with my Spade Fork Spoon readership. Click on the image below to have a read. I intend to continue to write Spade Fork Spoon, so will be back posting about the recipes and stories in my changed life soon (well, soonish).
One of the brilliant things about the allotment is the way it brings people together. Unlike in some places (and probably some in our city) people of all backgrounds are drawn to each other to talk, to share and to help. There is a real sense of community when you venture onto the allotment site.
When I walk through that gate, Peter or Mo will usually be at the site office an give me a wave, or offer a weather forecast. As I venture down the track to our plot, I’ll get a nod or a hello from one or other of the plot holders. Some people I just know to say hello to; but others, like my direct allotment neighbours are friends. When I was at my lowest and the allotment was the only place other than the house I could feel safe, talking to them about the plot and life was of real help. They know more about me than some of my real neighbours. Non-judgemental listening has been their gift to me; listening as I explained how I felt. In returrn I would listen to their problems, would offer my thoughts on this and that. All this quite literally over the garden fence.
The community spirit goes beyond words though. When my strimmer didn’t work recently a guy arranged for someone else to strim the path and areas on the plot perimeter. Just before leaving the plot yesterday my fabulous neighbour, Jean, brought me some rhubarb; “I know the kids don’t like it love, but you can treat yourself”. She knows me too well. I don’t treat myself enough, and as the kids really don’t like rhubarb I don’t bother with it too much. But I really like it. So this morning I had roasted rhubarb on my porridge, and loved it. Thank you Jean.
The last few years have been a rollercoaster for myself and the family. We’ve had a lot to deal with and have had some hard things to deal with. Without each other, our families and friends, I’m not sure we’d have kept it together. Throughout most of this time the allotment has been a place of escape, a place where the usual concerns in my life evaporated, and where gradually some brightness and confidence have emerged from the quagmire that is depression. The blog was always a way of sharing these steps into a changed life. A log of the recipes (both literal and metaphorical) which have helped me on my journey. It still continues to be that, and writing things down offers me a therapeutic outlet. However, as the fog of depression and anxiety begins to thin, and the new life as a community baker emerges out of the gloom, the allotment has taken a back seat. Where once I found solice in getting to the plot and getting my hands filthy as I weeded, sowed and harvested; now the draw is to kneadinf, shaping and baking. Spare time once focussed on planting plans, seed thinning or recipe writing is being spent trialling breads, planning bakes and ordering flour. This change of focus is not unwanted. I like the new challenges; learning new skills is afterall one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and has helped me to build confidence and happiness. It is however all too easy to forget the good the allotment has done me. Afteer all, the ‘me time’ at the allotment has been instrumental in dragging me back.
One of the recipes for change the blog has charted is an improved balance in my life; and it is a new balance I seek now. Something which allows time for myself, family and friends; for home, the bakery and the allotment.
The allotment has become a place of calm and happiness for me over the last few years. It’s separation from life at home and work, offers the chance to look at things differently with a new pair of eyes. The people at Action for Happiness have ten keys to happier living and I reckon the allotment fulfills them all in some way.
One of the great things about allotment sites is the way people support each other. Fellow allotment holders talked to me when I was feeling down, and relating to these people helped me to not feel isolated in my depression. From receiving gifts of seedlings from my neighbour, to returning the favour by giving her some spare cucumbers, contact with other members of the community was really helpful in helping me to accept how I was feeling and manage my emotions. Visiting the allotment, with out doing anything other than being there, offers therapy in itself. Just looking, appreciating, taking notice of the minute beauty of the plants growing (whether weeds or crops) allows one to find meaning in life; enables you to dispel thoughts of uselessness and pointlessness. When I had left work and my mood meant my confidence was low, the allotment also gave me direction. I needed to be there to weed, to tend the seedlings, to pick the strawberries; and so I had to go. As my confidence grew I could try new things, unlock my creative side which had been supressed. My reslience was also improved as I saw that a slug attack was not the end of the world; that I could sow more seeds; that the greenhouse could be rebuilt after the storm. Now that I’m more on an even keel, with more of a positive mindset, the allotment still offers me a place to go for peace and solitude. It also gives me a chance for physical work. An afternoon digging and weeding is as good a excercise as any gym. The Allotment Gym if you like. A gym for your body and your mind.
Today is Time To Talk day, and I although its only a few days since I last posted, I feel compelled to post something about the power of talking about our wellbeing.
Although this blog is about my allotment, my kitchen, and the food we eat, it was born out of a desire to document my mental health and the journey I am on to recover from depression and anxiety. As a teacher I was stressed, over worked and reached burn out; suffering from low mood, anxiety and weight loss. The turning point for me was when I opened up to a colleague, and rather than shying away from it, they listened, gave me a hug and told me to visit my doctor. Just talking was the first step to getting it under control, and talking about my feelings has become something which has consistently helped me; whether to my super supportive wife, to a counsellor, to friends and family, even to people who ask me why I’m now a baker. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but in my experience the vast majority of people are supportive and often talk about their own mental health difficulties.
Talking about mental health issues, and doing something which helps my wellbeing, has led me to completely change my career. From a teacher in a primary school, to the project lead of a social enterprise, Stoneham Bakehouse, which is using breadmaking to support the community’s wellbeing. One of the projects we have started is a baking for wellbeing project with the local junior school. Based on the NEF’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing, it focusses on using working with dough to facilitate mindfulness and talking about feelings.
So, on Time To Talk Day, I encourage you to talk to friends, family, people at the allotment. Just talk to them. Check in with them. See how they are. Talking can really help.
As the new year starts, people all over the place will be coming up with resolutions. We always look to start the new year afresh, trying to have a new sense of optimism.
Over the last year my life has changed quite a bit. At this time in 2013 I was floundering; I’d left teaching, after suffering from stress and depression, and I was trying (sometimes pretty unsuccessfully) to get myself feeling better. Many things have helped me on my journey. Without my family’s love and support I’d still be stumbling about; their continuing encouragement helps me to keep on the level, their enthusiasm for the new ventures in my life keeps me focused on making it a success for the whole family.
I’ve blogged previously about finding time to myself, time to think, to just be. The allotment has been a physical location where I can get that headspace, and remains a place to go for calm and a bit of solitude. As my life becomes busier it’s been increasingly trickier to find the time and space for this kind of break. I’ve begun to use an app recommended by a friend, Headspace, which enables me to take a few minutes out of the day to refresh my mind and focus on me. The app itself allows you to have a free 10 day sequence of 10 minute meditations, which you can revisit over and over again if you want. Alternatively, there is a subscription service, which I believe (I’ve yet to sign up, but are seriously considering doing so) takes you on a longer journey, allowing you to find headspace whenever you require it. The company behind this say that the subscription should be thought of as a “gym membership for the mind”; and when you think of it the mind is our most important body part, our mental fitness is key to a healthy life full stop.
Still, a subscription for something is not for everyone and the ten minute programme has been really helpful to me, allowing me to take time out to concentrate on my breathing, body, and free my mind of clutter. In this season of cold, wet and dark days, being able to find time to have some meditation time without the need to have that locked in to being at the allotment (or any specific place) is of great benefit to me. I always finish my ten minutes with a rested mind, a little less cluttered, and with headspace for the challenges ahead.