Wednesday 11 May 2016

Garden visiting with ME

An ME Awareness Week blogpost

As this is primarily a gardening blog, I wanted to contribute a post to ME Awareness Week within this context. After some recent experiences visiting some large gardens in Scotland, I wanted to write about how you can enjoy visiting gardens with ME. It means giving yourself permission to be bolshy and not worry about what people think!

If you have mild or moderate ME (I have moderate*), with careful planning you can still go out occasionally. Like many gardeners, I enjoy visiting other peoples gardens, whether small NGS Gardens or large botanic or estate gardens. However, when you have a chronic illness, visiting large gardens can be difficult as you don't have the energy to walk very far, particularly if it is hilly and even if there are plenty of seats to rest on in the gardens.

This was what I was faced with recently, when I wanted to visit Logan Botanic Garden, Threave Garden and Estate and Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh. I had limited energy, only a few spoons available to allow me to get out, but not many. Enough for maybe a couple of short gentle walks as long as it was broken up with regular resting. But each of these gardens were large and there was no way I could see each of them in much depth. This is where the bolshy part comes in.

Logan Botanic Garden

One of the big problems people with a chronic illness or disability, is perceptions/stereotypes. One perception is that if you are out and about, doing a bit of shopping, spending a small amount of time gardening, that you 'must be well after all'. So in other words, you have been 'faking' your illness. But chronic illnesses fluctuate, you have many bad days and occasional good ones. And on the good days, why shouldn't you choose to take part in the world like healthy people do?

The other perception is that if you use a wheelchair (or mobility scooter), you are 'wheelchair bound'. Whilst this might be true for some people, in most cases, wheelchairs and other mobility aids are there to help you get about. If a wheelchair user gets out of their chair in a supermarket to pick out some grocery items, some people will think they they aren't really disabled, that they are faking it. But the wheelchair is there to enable the user to be able to take part in the world, from picking up so groceries to being able have a job. This includes enabling you to enjoy getting outside to visit a garden.

The good thing about large gardens like Edinburgh and Logan, and National Trust properties like Threave, is that they tend to have a couple of mobility scooters and wheelchairs on site that visitors can use.**

However. Yes, there is a but. Many people, including those with chronic illnesses, often don't like to take advantage of these opportunities. They probably think things like what I used to think, 'I'm not ill enough', 'really ill people need these more than I', or the 'but if I get out of the scooter/chair, people will think I'm faking it'. Trying to define 'ill enough' and 'really ill people' is like how long is a piece of string. And would you judge other people so harshly? Of course not. But it's the latter, the 'faking it' worry, that often is the strongest reason that stops us from using the on-site scooters.

Do you know what? WHO CARES what others think! You know what you can or cannot do. It's not up to others to decide this for you. In fact, it's none of their goddamn business. Don't let worries about their perceptions impact on you being able to take part in the world. You know if you only have enough energy to see a small part of a large garden by walking, and if using a scooter would enable you see and enjoy much more of the garden. It's time to get bolshy and not let worries about what other people might think stop you from enjoying yourself.

And this is what I did recently at these three gardens. I confess, it wasn't easy. I did worry about other people thinking I was faking it. But I made the decision to challenge these worries and to tell them to bugger off. I hired the scooters, got in and out of them, and bloody damn well enjoyed myself at all three gardens. I've even blogged about Logan and Edinburgh gardens, so you can see what I got up to.

What this comes down to, is that the three gardens I wished to see appeared inaccessible to me, became accessible. Don't let worrying use up your limited spoons, use those spoons to have a bit of fun instead. Beam up the bolshiness Scotty, and go garden visiting with ME.

The Rock Garden at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

*On the ME Associations Disability Rating Scale, 2016, I'm around 50%.

**Often for free, though a donation to help with the upkeep is always welcome. You can call up and book in advance, which I did for the Edinburgh garden, or just rock up and hope one is free The latter more likely during weekdays or if you get there earlier in the day, hence booking for busy sites like Edinburgh is a good idea.

About ME Awareness Week
9th to 15th May is ME Awareness Week, with 12th May being ME Awareness Day. The idea is to raise awareness of the impact of ME (and other chronic illnesses) has on people's lives, in the hope that friends, colleagues and family can better understand how this illness impacts on everyday experiences.

I'm joining in with the #May12BlogBomb, organised by Sally Burch, linking up with bloggers and others on social media to connect and share our experiences. If you would like to know more about ME, both the ME Association and Action for ME provide good introductory information.

ME Awareness week hashtags: #May12BlogBomb#MEawarenessweek, #dontignoreME

Recent Gardening with ME posts...
  Gardening with ME: May garden update
  Gardening with ME: an introduction to Spoonie Veg