Late Summer Blues: Reviving your Garden and Yourself

Already it is August and my garden, like my own constitution, is flagging in the heat and the time of the season. It is at this time—past the middle of summer—that I gaze at my burnt hostas and leggy, washed out petunias and think about how I can rejuvenate both fauna and flora.

Flowers are easier to perk up than my nerve-damaged, middle-aged carcass. I cannot help but compare my garden plants’ faded blooms with my own washed out plumage and find much more vitality and color in extremely exhausted garden perennials and annuals. Even the most ornamental perennial gets stout and woody and takes on a different kind of majesty than it had in its younger days as a scrawny little sapling, yet in the mature stages, unlike my own ravaged frame, retains a lovely sturdiness that is still much admired by onlookers. They grow wilder and woolier with age, and in their grizzled hardiness become vital backdrops to younger more freshly piquant bloomers. Like hens are to chicks, parents to their issue, and most dramatically, grandparents to grandchildren, daisies and marigolds take on a deeper, more beautiful, more meaningful context when flanked by an ancient viburnum. By contrast, in recent photographs of me standing amid all this lushness, I could easily be mistaken for a sagging sambucus elderberry that badly needs staking—or, if overtaken by fungus, tossed onto the compost pile.

A shot of the right kind of fertilizer has quickly brought my petunias and Gerbera daisies back into bloom. The formula is well-known: flowers need high phosphorus and potassium but very low amounts of nitrogen. If only there could be a simple formula for bringing myself back into bloom!

Through the murk of my cog fog a memory appeared, words etched in white against a watery indigo background, much like the answer that floats to the top of an inverted Magic 8-Ball®: There is a simple formula. Start taking walks again every day and stretch those stiff leg muscles right after the morning dose of baclofen. Do a few reps with 3-lb hand weights, overhead and behind for triceps, curls for biceps and a variety of others to strengthen the core. I did all of these things in the spring after starting Ampyra, and with dramatic results. My back pain, arthritis pain, leg pain, flank pain, sciatica pain, and cervical pain all but disappeared. I had energy again. My spastic legs relaxed, and because Ampyra strengthened my legs and improved my balance, I felt I could walk more normally than I had in years. And then what did I do?

Stopped walking, stretching, and weight-training. Why? Because I was feeling better. After that, we had such heavy and frequent rain all through May and June that I easily talked myself out of walking outside. When temps hit 80 and above with high humidity, I felt even weaker and took more frequent naps during the day. But these are all excuses. A strider sits in the middle of my living room gathering dust. I could easily crank up the air-conditioning and do ten minutes on the strider. Same with stretching and weight-training. The hand weights are nestled next to the loveseat in the living room and I glance at them several times a day. I could easily hit the floor in front of the television and stretch with my back up against the La-Z-Boy, then reach over, grab the hand weights, and do a few reps. Instead, I sit in the La-Z-Boy, raise the foot rest and fall asleep. And I eat. I want to feel full all the time, so when my stomach starts feeling just a little empty, I panic and shovel in more food to get that full feeling back again. I’ve gained ten pounds since January. Any sensation of emptiness haunts me these days, both physically and emotionally.

Knowing what to do to feel better and doing it are two entirely different dilemmas. I know better than to wait for inspiration. In the early days of my writing career I was visited by the Muse regularly. But she cleared out a long time ago. Now it’s just hard work and self-discipline. So too exercise. Just gotta do it and not think too much about it.

It’s a mixed blessing to discover that something as simple as exercise can make such a big improvement in my overall comfort and health. It’s free and the side effects are all good. But I’m a victim of my own persona, temperament and history. Even as a young, slim, able-bodied person I never was one for exercise. If I did start a program, I quickly abandoned it. I hate to exercise.

But I can change. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we can develop new habits. And that’s how I must rejuvenate and restore myself. The MS isn’t going to go away or get better, nor is my lumbar arthritis going to stop pressing on a nerve root. I’m going to go at it like I did when I quit smoking: Keep trying and failing until I make some progress. It will take a lifetime to beat, just like staying away from cigarettes.

I can do this. I have all the time in the world.

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