I really like sunflowers. Compared to most plants, I like to think sunflowers are pretty ambitious. They come out about once a year and are capable of growing up to 300cm – that’s nearly double my height. Aside from the thrill of cultivating some wild cress heads with my class mates in primary school, I can’t think of another plant that is naturally so fiercely competitive. Sunflowers can keep even the most hyperactive of 5 year olds occupied over the summer months with annual ‘sunflower growing competitions.’ They’re also pretty cheery to look at.
My love of sunflowers can be traced all the way back to the ’90s. It was so satisfying watching something tangible sprout up from a single seed poked in to a bit of compost, placed in a sunny spot and watered fairly hapharzadly. Always a fan of science, I measured my sunflower all the time and recorded its growth on a table, plotting graphs to find trends and recording how sunny my sunflower growing spot was. It taught me the basics of what plants need to survive and that when things are given the room to grow, they thrive.
Like a sunflower, my health improves during the summer months. Granted, I don’t grow any taller and burn pretty easily in the sun but I feel that real sense of sunflower ambition as things temporarily and gradually improve. The boost isn’t quite as quick for me as a successful germination but I find myself seeking out the ‘sun’ and growing (metaphorically) all the same.
When summer comes, I get a little bit of respite from some of my symptoms. They don’t all disappear but generally speaking, I have longer periods of time where I feel more ‘well.’ I really love feeling well and each year, I appreciate it even more. So many changes take place in my mind, I start to feel more like ‘me’ and I probably get a little carried away (much like a 3 metre tall sunflower).
My brain fizzes with ideas, it goes in to overdrive. Lethargy fades away and my insatiable enthusiasm for life comes back to the fore. I want to squeeze everything in, I have a sense of inpatience because I never quite know when I’ll feel poorly again. It feels so good! I want to take on new projects and challenges – I start setting myself wacky fitness goals – quick to do it all before it gets taken away from me again. My concentration becomes more powerful, my mind feels sharper and makes me want to read all the books and listen to all the podcasts and watch all the films. I become thirsty to develop myself and broaden my mind while I feel able to do so. I think of new activities to put my mind to, skills to learn. I start to feel close to invincible. I make it my priority to connect with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while. I cram my spare time full of plans all because I can. After months of not being as active as I’d like to be, I feel the constant need to be more productive. I push and push to soak up my surroundings and seek out the sun.
Obviously, all of this comes at a cost. My body can’t quite keep up with ambition. I’m trying to grow a prize-winning sunflower without giving it enough food, water, sunlight – instead I’m squeezing all I can from the compost around me while it’s there because I am so afraid it’ll be taken away from me. It feels so brilliant to be well, it’s the best kind of high! Naturally, it brings with it so many lows. When my health takes a hit during the summer months, I feel bitter. It’s not fair – I had so many plans! When I’m forced to retreat in to my seasonal cocoon and take stock, I miss how it feels to be growing and thriving. If I’m honest, I think I feel even more annoyed that water and sunlight alone are not anywhere near enough to keep me well. I still don’t have my magic ingredient to be a prize-winning sunflower but for now, I’ll definitely continue to enjoy the sun.