We’re only in the second month of the year and so far it’s been a series of challenges, some small, some large. Since I become consumed with all things garden this time of year, my thoughts automatically turned to the parallels between all these challenges and the compost piles we gardeners love so much.
Sometimes when things are difficult, it’s easy to feel as if everything is going wrong, that things are just piling up, and that they’re never going to get better. Frankly, sometimes I feel as if I’m sitting in a compost pile. Now, if you’re a gardener, you probably understand immediately what I’m talking about, but if not, let me tell you a little bit about how compost is made.
Compost is made up of all the cast-offs that you don’t want anymore: coffee grounds, food scraps (not meat or dairy), dried leaves, straw, yard clippings….you get the idea. These are piled up or put in a special composting bin where they decompose, and what you have at the end of the process is considered “black gold” by gardeners for its ability to improve the health of your garden soil and therefore produce strong healthy plants.
The first step is to gather your items for the compost and pile it up. Of course, the more you put in, the higher your heap goes. When we live with fibromyalgia, the cast-offs that start to pile up might be a flare, extreme fatigue, or any of the myriad of accompanying symptoms we experience daily.
Next, other things are added: other illnesses, the death of a friend or family member, financial issues, conflicts at work — the “garbage” just keeps piling up, and as with an actual compost pile, this can really turn up the heat. In the compost heap, this heat serves a vital purpose: it accelerates the process and kills any mold spores or weed seeds that may have found their way into your soon-to-be compost. In other words, it burns off any unwanted organisms. For us, those unwanted organisms may be the things that no longer serve us well, such as old ideas about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do, the inability to say no, pushing ourselves beyond our limits, etc. When we live with fibromyalgia or other chronic illnesses, getting rid of things that impede our progress is vital.
An interesting thing about the composting process is that you can speed it up by turning the pile periodically. This basically gives the organisms that are down in there chomping away an injection of oxygen and enables them to finish the decomposition process more quickly. When you use that method, you get beautiful compost that is great for providing structure for the soil, but it doesn’t contain as many nutrients as it would if you just let it go through the process without disturbing it. That doesn’t mean this compost is bad — if your main use for the compost is to improve the structure of the soil so that it has better drainage or maintains moisture, it will be perfect. If, however, your main goal is to provide nutrients for your plants, you may want to go the slower route. Both types are important to the garden and add benefits that may not become apparent until the garden has time to grow and mature.
The same can be said of our “compost pile” experiences. Sometimes we can figure out ways of doing things that help us move through the difficult times more quickly and actually help us build up the “structure” of our lives with chronic illness. Perhaps it’s learning new ways to do things, setting boundaries for ourselves and others, guarding our schedules, or finding the methods or treatments that help lessen our pain.
Sometimes, though, we just have to endure the heat. Sometimes the pain is more prolonged, or the loss more devastating, or we just can’t seem to find any way to move forward. During these times it’s difficult to see the work that’s going on, and it may feel as if nothing’s happening, but one day, we wake up and realize that what we thought was just a pile of garbage is producing something that enriches our lives.
Maybe it’s a different way of looking at things; for example, realizing that strength isn’t always about being self-sufficient and being able to physically do everything everyone else can do. Sometimes strength is about being able to get out of bed and into the shower when you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck. Sometimes it’s about putting one foot in front of the other, even though you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and sometimes, it’s asking for help when you know you need it.
It could be that you find a new purpose or passion in your life. I don’t know of many people who would say, “yes, please give me a chronic illness; it’s what I’ve always wanted” but I do know a lot of them who have now made it their life’s mission to raise awareness and help others. They found a new purpose not in spite of, but because of their illness.
Or maybe, just maybe, you could realize that you’ve become a better person because of your illness. If illness does one thing for us, it definitely slows us down and affords us the opportunity to look within, see if the person we are inside is who we want to be, and if not, make the changes necessary to become that person.
The things that we think might break us are the very things that make us stronger, and we often discover that what started out as garbage in our lives has now turned into gold.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you realized that your “compost pile” experience actually enriched your life in some way? Please share!