“I believe that the garden helped me continue to live my life”
When Nyla Abraham was struck down by a debilitating autoimmune disease she felt she had lost everything; dreams of her honeymoon and starting a family disappeared. But access to an outdoor space and plants to nurture helped aid her recovery and this year she is opening her garden at 70 Entry Hill to share the positive effects with others.
I became interested in gardening when my husband Paul and I bought our first home together in 2014. I had always loved being with the plants, flowers and nature, but I never realised how much it all meant to me until I fell ill.
I used to be very sporty and hardworking, and my hobbies as well as gardening, used to include road cycling, hillwalking and Pilates. I always felt happier when I was outdoors, whether it was in my garden or in nature. Before falling ill, I was working four days a week as a dentist and I loved my job.
In January 2017, shortly after my honeymoon vaccinations, I fell ill with a debilitating autoimmune disease. It was very rare and took an extremely long time to stabilise the condition. I suffered constant debilitating headaches, chest pain and my arms and legs would ache and were extremely weak. I was reduced to a shell of myself. It continued for over a year, with good and bad spells depending on how high the doctors would allow me to put my steroids.
I stopped working instantly and my dreams of our honeymoon and starting a family disappeared. I was trapped in my house and I felt incredibly alone. I felt like I had lost everything, but I still had a garden and I could still go outdoors.
As the year went on, and summer started, I was still incredibly ill but I could see the garden growing and it lifted my spirits enormously. It brought me so much joy and happiness to see the labour of my previous years’ work, as I could see the plant combinations that I had planned coming together. Even the simple pleasures such as watching a bee going about its business collecting nectar were enough to make me happy inside. There is no doubt that I was extremely depressed. However, I sincerely believe the garden stopped me from becoming clinically depressed, and it helped me continue to live my life.
I am a determined person and I would push my body to do things even if it was a struggle, as I knew I would feel better mentally for interacting even the tiniest amount with the garden. I would push myself to do something as simple as standing aiming the hose at a new yew hedge that my husband had planted, or carefully tying up climbing plants, or deadheading flowers. I can remember one day, watering the yew hedge with the hose, feeling incredibly unwell. I knew I would be happier watering the yew than lying on the couch, so I forced myself to stand there, and I felt more positive for it. It was little things like that, that kept my mental health stable as the rest of my life was out of my control.
If the weather was dry, I would spend all day sitting in the garden. My husband had made a shelter at the back of our garden, where we kept an old wicker chair with a foam seat pad. I would fall asleep on the seat most days to the sounds of the insects and the birds. I would feel the sun on my skin. My husband would come back from work and we would “do the rounds”. I would slowly walk around the garden on his arm, and we would watch how the plants grew day by day. I would touch the petals on the Michaelmas daises and smell the roses. I would stare at the fiery red Virginia creeper in Autumn. Doing these things made me just happy enough to keep me afloat and stop me sinking into depression.
I fell asleep most nights worrying about my disease and my future, but also dreaming about the garden and what we could do. The dreams about the plants and the possibilities the garden were an escape from my reality.
I am back to work only part time now as I still suffer from the disease, but it is better managed by the steroids and the disease itself has become less aggressive. I still have ill days but I still dream about the garden and focus on nurturing every plant within it. Access to an outdoor space, and plants to admire, nurture and care for were what kept me going throughout my illness.
I wish to raise awareness of the importance of outdoor spaces when suffering from physical or mental health issues, as I feel more people could benefit from the positive effects of gardening.
We chose to open our garden for the National Garden Scheme this year as we wanted to help others by sharing our garden. We visited gardens while I was unwell, on the days I was able to walk. I feel that if we can bring the happiness to people that those gardens brought to me when I was unwell, that we will have done something positive for the community.
Nyla and Paul’s Garden at 70 Entry Hill, Bath, Somerset, BA2 5NA opens for the National Garden Scheme on June 30 and September 08, 10:00 – 17:00
Refreshments: Home-made teas. Selection of cakes available, including gluten and dairy free. Tea/coffee. Admission: Adult: £3.00 Child: Free
For more information click here