by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
Summer is officially here! In the Pacific Northwest, this means many things to many people: naked bicyclists (AKA: The Solstice Parade), Farmer’s Markets, child care challenges, camping and hiking, family vacations, throngs of tourists, and backyard barbecues. For me it means lots and lots of gardening.
Last year I decided that summertime kind of sucked because my yard is a serious part time job. Mowing, edging, planting, weeding, watering, spreading compost, pressure washing, relocating unhappy plants, etc (mostly you can substitute the word “weeding” over and over again for etc.). The thing is I LOVE my back yard. It’s my favorite place in the world. There are shady reading spots for every time of day, fountains in front and back, decorative lanterns, and flowers all over. So it’s worth all the hassle making lovely, but holy cow does it take work.
This year I thought I was being smart by hiring a gardener to help me. Then, my ambition kicked in. If I worked alongside my gardener, we could get twice as much done and I could learn from a professional! Then, my ambition went into overdrive. If I put in extra time between gardening with my gardener, I could make the yard even better!
What resulted was a several week period where I lost my mind, was gardening two hours a day during the week and three to four—per day–on the weekends. My kids were telling me they were hungry and I was saying, “Just fifteen more minutes” while stalking dandelions.
There should be a special category in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) for “Seasonal Disorders.” While everyone has heard of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) the winter depression which comes from lack of sunlight, I’d like to introduce OGD (Obsessive Gardening Disorder) a summer mania which comes from the abundance of it.
All of this gardening was supposedly in preparation for my children’s graduation party, but the truth is my kids and their friends care exactly as much about the appearance of the yard as I care about Minecraft; which is to say not in the microscopic slightest bit. No, the party was my justification but the yard itself was really the reward.
Now that the party is over and the other parents heartily enjoyed the garden in the ways I intended (okay I’ll just say it: gave me lots of compliments) I can slack for a bit and just water the darn thing and call it good.
I’ve learned that even a supposedly time-saving measure like hiring a gardener can turn into a trigger for my workaholic nature to assert itself. The problem is that when I’m in a workaholic state I truly believe it’s what I need to do. It’s only after that phase passes that I can look objectively at my behavior and see myself as having been out of balance with my core values, which include balance, relaxation and focusing on my family.
For the rest of the summer, I’m going limiting my gardening to maintenance and small projects. Anything that takes more than an hour or two I’ll hire out. Like me, you too may have areas where you struggle to live in balance.
If so, I recommend setting time-boundaries with yourself around the specific areas that you tend to overdo it (or conversely, committing to spend specific amounts of time in the areas you under-do it), so that you can protect time and energy to show up in all the different areas of your life and for all the people who are important to you.