“Stay in the moment. The practice of staying present will heal you. Obsessing about how the future will turn out creates anxiety. Replaying broken scenarios from the past causes anger and sadness. Stay here, in this moment.” ~Sylvester McNutt
Like many people, I have an anxiety disorder that twists my thoughts and feelings. I call it my “anxiety octopus,” as it feels like there are tentacles in my brain triggering fear-based reactions for no reason. In everything, even things that I am confident in, I suddenly feel insecure and unsure.
It takes time to realize that the “anxiety octopus” has woken and is stretching, almost testing my powers of resilience that day.
Today was one of those days where my resilience was low, and it took time to notice that the octopus had woken.
There was nothing that triggered it, nothing special about today. Just a cold morning with the sun popping its head out, a morning that I normally love the briskness of, yet today, it was hard to get started. My feline alarm clocks kept meowing, even when I gave a morning pat.
They wanted me up. The “anxiety octopus” didn’t.
Sometimes when your heart races so hard, you fear that you are going to have a heart attack. That’s how it was this morning. Heart racing, inability to think, sweating profusely, your breathing becomes shallow, and you feel this intense fear, for no reason.
This is the point where my doctors say, “Take medication.” This is where I think to myself, “Connect with my Zen.”
You’ve probably heard of the power of garden therapy, which is incredible. But I’m an Aries woman, a fire sign that loves to flare; the Earth doesn’t actually calm me down or help with my anxiety. It does for many, but not for me. I need water to balance me out.
My Zen Zone is my aquaponics systems. Yes, I have more than one. Truth be told, I have five and two more planned. Aquaponics is a form of gardening that you can do in any space; however, unlike soil gardening, it is growing food with water constantly cycling through it in a sustainable way.
Not to be confused with hydroponics, which also grows food with water and synthetic nutrients in an artificial system, aquaponics in a man-made (or woman-made, in my case) ecosystem. We have freshwater fish (mine are friends, not food) that provide fertilizer for the veggies, and the veggies filter the water for the fish. They both have their own space within an aquaponics system, and being closed-looped, the water is fully recycled.
With constant fertilizer from the fish and water continuously flowing through the system, the veggies are in plant heaven. They grow faster in this system that is replicating nature. This is not a new fad; in fact, it’s a concept dating back 4000 years BC.
Other than being a food growing system, which is totally awesome and in a changing world, necessary, it is also my Zen Zone.
It helps to balance my fire energy and calm me down. Sitting outside by my little courtyard aquaponics system, powered by goldfish, this morning, I sat watching the fish swim and the veggies that are thriving, and I could finally breathe again.
It’s as if hearing that water flowing gently through the aquaponics system was a signal for the “anxiety octopus” to go back to sleep. As if it connected with the water and found its peace.
Obviously, there is no octopus in my mind, and this is how I manage my anxiety with these thoughts, but it is what works for me.
I find peace in hearing the water, seeing the fish swimming, and smelling the herbs that are right there. I have a lot growing in this small system; you can get so much produce in a small space because the water filled with fertilizer passes through it all, whereas soil gardens are more limited.
It makes me smile, as I know I have food security in my small space, no matter what happens.
I think the best part is this little system costs me $10 per year to run based on the watts of the water pump. That is the cost to help control the “anxiety octopus” in my mind.
It’s always fascinating to watch people’s reaction when they come to my home. I’m very private, and at times people visit for various reasons. Not one to be normal, my home is not just filled with animals (both living and artwork), but my unique aquatic family.
As people move down the hallway, talking about what is going on in their life, I watch as they enter the dining room, where I have four very special aquariums. My first aquatic family. I see the excitement in their eyes, and I realize that my aquatic family are being better hosts than I am. I have a passion for the Murray-Darling Basin, so all my fish are native to the region. My Murray Cod, Eel-tailed catfish, Bass, and even my turtles are natives and mostly extroverts.
However, the excitement changes as I take them out back to my main aquaponics system and courtyard aquaponics system. I watch them take a deep breath and, in that moment, I see something they are often unaware of.
As they breathe deeply watching the fish and veggies moving slowly in the breeze, I see their “anxiety octopus” go to sleep too. Everything about them changes. It’s like they come home to a place within themselves that they had forgotten.
In that moment, I feel I have done something I have been put here on this Earth to do. To help another person breathe again. Just by showing them my aquaponics systems and how they work. I reconnect them with nature too, as well as help them to find their flow.
Sometimes no words are needed; just listening to the water and seeing something else being in balance, which is what aquaponics is all about, helps them to balance themselves out too.
It’s not your conventional form of garden therapy. In fact, this only takes me ten minutes a day to maintain, so I have a lot of time to spend relaxing by the flowing water.
There is something incredibly special about aquaponics, something that is often known but forgotten: Everything is interconnected, just as all things in life are.
The fish cannot live without being in an ecosystem where the bacteria convert their waste into useable fertilizer, and the plants need to filter the water using the fertilizer. In that system, everything is interconnected.
The lesson here is that when my “anxiety octopus” awakens, this interconnectedness ceases to happen. At this point, I need to trigger my awareness of this, and reconnect with everything. For me, as I sit by my aquaponics systems, feeling myself breathe a bit deeper, feeling my heart rate slow a little, I start to reconnect to the interconnectedness of myself—how my body works, how my mind works, and how I am an amazing soul put on this earth for a reason.
You need to find what works for you to be able to do this. But no matter what you find to bring peace and balance into your life, remember this: We are all here for a reason. It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, and as life hits us in the gut it can feel like we can never get up. Feel like “What’s the point?” I’ve been there.
For me, it was seeing aquaponics in a different way that got me up. Seeing that I didn’t have to hold onto others’ beliefs, that I could let go of everyone’s crap that I was conditioned to believe. That I could reconnect to the deepest part of myself and my purpose—to share the beauty and power of my Zen Zone and inspire people like yourself to find their own zen and purpose.
About Candy Alexander
Navigating the challenges of PTSD, autism, and anxiety, Candy Alexander has found solace and strength in an unexpected ally: her aquaponics garden. This therapeutic haven not only nourishes her body with fresh produce but also soothes her soul, offering a tranquil respite from the storms of life. Through her experiences, she aspires to inspire and uplift others while sharing the boundless potential of aquaponics as a therapeutic tool. You can find her free online mini aquaponics course here.