How a Garden Room Helped Recovery from Chronic Illness.

Tuesday’s BBC Radio2 Jeremy Vine show had a focus on ME also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Here’s my story about CFS and how one patient successfully returned to work by working from home in a garden room.  She was diagnosed very late into her illness in 2006.

More current studies have exposed the severity of this neurological illness, if not the absolute causes, and GPs may use The Nottingham Health Profile questions to ascertain the severity of symptoms and effects on quality of life and physical functionality. The six self-report areas: energy, pain perception, sleep patterns, sense of social isolation, emotional reactions, and physical mobility.  Graded exercise and diary keeping were initial steps which helped my friend be fully aware of the patterns of her illness. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) was unsuccessful as her attitude was already one of determined resilience towards the illness.

At this point her husband invested in a garden room for her. This created a peaceful space where she could relax in the privacy of her garden. She was unable to continue teaching, due to the severity of the illness but enjoyed the grounding therapy of gardening itself. Having this window on her favourite pastime was related to me as a definite benefit which motivated her and provided the space to carry out her graded exercise regime and to deeply relax.

Two years after diagnosis her GP recommended she find part-time, stress-free work, to enable her to re-enter the workplace.  As a teacher she found herself unemployable, due to her condition. Even substitute work through agents was unavailable. She completed many lengthy job applications for various positions before realising that if she was going to find work, she had to become self-employed and work from home.

Her garden room became an office two afternoons a week, where she tutored GCSE and A level students. Over the first few months, her self-esteem improved. The impact had a knock-on positive effect on her sleep patterns.

After a full year she has gradually increased her income by using her garden office to write in. As a freelance author she has enjoyed regular publication in newspapers, magazines and specialist teaching websites.

Today, she describes her current state as, “in recovery but in control'”, and maintains it by being fully conscious of how she feels and of what is draining her energy.  Managing CFS must incorporate many elements, as the illness affects each patient in a variety of ways. After 5 years, she has successfully returned to the world of part-time work but claims she had to radically change her mind-set to enable this.

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