Orchids, dandelions and self-care

An orchid in my house that isn't dead yet!

Some people are more like orchids, the metaphor goes. They’re fussy and high maintenance and need conditions to be just right for them to survive. Others are like dandelions: resilient and good at thriving even in the harshest conditions.

I’ve seen people on social media using this metaphor to explain why we should all endeavour to “become more dandelion”, or how we can  B3 R3sili3nt(TM) (by sigining up for this new training course and subscribing to our youtube channel and mailing list…).

This doesn’t really make any sense, though. Dandelions don’t choose to be dandelions, any more than orchids choose to be orchids. If you demand that an orchid “be more resilient” by not pandering to it’s overly fussy needs, you don’t get a dandelion – you just get a dead orchid. I’ve owned enough orchids to know this.

In the real world, resilience comes not from simply demanding that people ignore their needs in order to act more like dandelions but from understanding what those needs are and how to get them met.

As an example, I’ve learned that when I don’t get any exercise for a week or two I’ll start feeling miserable and stir crazy. Any longer than that and I’ll start getting symptoms of IBS and brain fog. Similarly, I do very badly if I get less than 7 hours sleep a night, or not enough daylight during the winter months, or too much sugar in my diet. Even one bad night’s sleep can make me feel rubbish for a week or more. I really envy people who don’t have to think so hard about all this stuff and who can get by whatever the conditions; but wanting to be more like them won’t make it so.

While we all have the same basic needs (air, food, water, sleep, warmth, connection….), we have different degrees of sensitivity to how well we can tolerate variation in how these are met. We may be able to tweak this sensitivity a little – we can become a bit more tolerant to some things by gradual exposure – but there are limits to how far and how fast that can change, and it often comes at a cost elsewhere.

Self-care sometimes gets portrayed as self-indulgence, with the focus being on things like bubble baths and scented candles. For the orchids amongst us, it may be more helpful to think about it as basic gardening. It’s the often dull and uninteresting routines and life admin that create the conditions in which we can thrive. Mine includes exercise, regular sleep, sufficient daylight, long walks and spending enough time away from people to unwind. Sometimes it might even be dangling off cliffs, trying to armlock my friends, or going out for walks in the cold.

I spent a long time in denial about this, because I wanted to think of myself as “low maintenance”. All it meant, though, was that I ended up ignoring what I needed and trying to do too many things I didn’t, and periodically making myself quite ill.

Over the last few years I’ve finally started figuring out how to get better at it and make it all a bit more sustainable. This has had really positive effects on my mental and physical health (and helped me break out of the crisis / recovery cycle) but it’s also made me very aware of what I can’t get away with if I want to be at my best. A week out of my normal routine over Christmas, and it takes several more weeks to get all the plates spinning again. Which I suppose is why I’m procrastinating from what I’m supposed to be doing by writing this blog!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back To Top