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As someone with an extensive history of both childhood and adult trauma, it can often be a struggle to find meaning in life when the anxiety kicks in and the self-worth is low.
I liken my life to an aquaponics system a lot, as it represents me in so many ways, and has helped me through those hard times.
If you don’t know what aquaponics is, it is my honour to bring it into your awareness.
Aquaponics is a harmonious ecosystem that grows both fish and veggies together. A sustainable, man-made system where the fish provide fertiliser for the veggies, and the veggies filter the water for the fish.
It uses less water than any other form of gardening, and can be built to any size, in any space, and adapted to any climate. (That part doesn’t represent me—I hate humidity and I hate the cold—but aquaponics can work well in these environments with a little planning.)
Here’s the thing, it’s not just an incredible way of gardening, but when we look deeper we see an amazing view on life that can help us grow, just like the plants.
When my anxiety and PTSD get triggered, I think of myself as a seedling. I’ve recreated myself and am pushing through into a new life, leaving the old stuff behind.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned from my aquaponics system that have helped me flourish in life. Maybe they can help you too:
1. Cooperation is the key to success.
Everything within an aquaponics works together. Without one part, the rest doesn’t work. Fish produce waste, which is converted by beneficial bacteria into a form of fertiliser for plants. The plants then use that fertiliser, which filters the water for the fish.
Each element within the aquaponics system works together, for the benefit of all. Without the fish, there is no fertiliser. Without the beneficial bacteria, the waste isn’t converted into fertiliser, and without the plants, there is too much fertiliser within the aquaponics system.
Cooperation is what makes this form of gardening work.
As someone with autism, PTSD, and anxiety I often feel burdened by limitations. Especially when I see what others can do and I cannot. I love my independence and I struggle to ask for help, yet as I watch my aquaponics system work together with all aspects—the fish, bacteria, and veggies—I see that I too can compliment my limitations by letting those who excel in those areas into my life so we support each other, as I have strengths that they can find helpful.
Life lesson: Life is filled with challenges, and the best way to get through them is to be connected and surrounded by those who support us in being the best we can be. Working together, supporting each other, and stepping up when needed is how we survive. We all have strengths and limitations, but when we partner up and complement each other, life is easier and we can achieve more. It is through working together that we have the biggest growth.
2. Balance is essential.
Every aspect of aquaponics is about balance and ratios, and when the balance is off, it doesn’t work. If we have too many fish, there is too much fertiliser within the system that can harm the fish, while having not enough fish can mean there isn’t enough fertiliser for the plants to grow. Balance.
If there isn’t enough beneficial bacteria or plants, then the fertiliser in the water is too high. Too many plants means there is not enough fertiliser. These balanced ratios then affect the water quality, which is kind of like our blood tests, letting us know how healthy we are. If our tests are out of balance, then our body is out of balance. And without balance, the entire aquaponics system is in jeopardy.
I know that when I am out of balance in any aspect of my life, it isn’t long before I fall into complete overwhelm. Watching my aquaponics system maintain its balance reminds me that I need to do the same.
Life lesson: Like an aquaponics system, we need to maintain our balance in life. Whether it’s work-life balance, a balanced diet, or managing our emotions. If we lose balance, our mental health suffers and we can even create chronic stress and fatigue within our body, mind, and spirit. Staying balanced in all that we do keeps us in a state of well-being.
3. Waste not, want not.
One of the best parts of aquaponics gardening is that it’s as closed a loop as you can get. It is a sustainable ecosystem where all aspects are used—there is no “waste” that cannot be utilised. All water stays within the aquaponics system, constantly cycling through the fish tank, the filter, and the plant growing area. It doesn’t need to be cleaned, exchanged, or removed, and it doesn’t run off the bed. This is why the plants are so happy all the time: constant water and fertiliser.
The liquid fish waste that is removed from normal aquariums are what powers this growing system, and the solid fish waste can be added to a worm farm to be naturally processed, and the worm juice is put back into the aquaponics system to add any micronutrients that the plants might need. Everything is used within the system in some way.
In truth, I often look at my past, like so many others, and ask: Why did it happen? Why was I conditioned to have the beliefs that I now have, which I now realise are because everyone was doing the best they could with the wounding they had. I look at that trauma and I look at myself now, and I see how it forged me to be a compassionate woman with a strong sense of integrity and loyalty. Determined not to be like them, not to be a victim, I used that waste—that trauma—and changed who I wanted to be because of it. I didn’t let it define me. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t have the compassion and practical sides of me that I have.
Life lesson: Sometimes, what appears to be a setback or waste can be turned into an opportunity. It’s all about perspective and resourcefulness. Use the crap you’ve been given, instead of just sitting in it, and forge a new you based on who you want to be.
4. Change allows us to evolve.
If there is one thing I hate, it’s change. But the reality is, the only constant in this world is that everything is constantly changing.
With my aquaponics system, it is a living ecosystem that is impacted by what happens in nature. I cannot control nature, and the ecosystem simply goes with the flow. Whether it’s changing weather that impacts it, or different pests (including humans) that come and have a bite, or the change of seasons as they occur.
All of these changes occur around an aquaponics system and impact it in some way. However, as an aquaponics system is an evolving ecosystem, it adapts to those changes and evolves when needed. When the cold weather hits, my fish reduce their feeding which means there is less fertiliser for the plants, so they slow down in production too.
Evolution, when we truly stop to look at it, leads to implementing solutions to ensure sustainability.
This is something I struggle with. Due to my autism, I like numbers, I like things being black and white, and I love things being consistent, and it is a struggle to cope with changes.
As I watch the change of seasons happen now, from winter to spring in my area, in encourages me to change something within my comfort zone. I was so scared of change that I stayed within my comfort zone and it became my prison. I built up walls around me, and was too scared to step out of that comfort zone, but the reality was, the change still happened. I was holding on to an illusion.
Life lesson: Life is unpredictable. Instead of resisting change or challenges, embrace adaptability. Take one step out of your comfort zone so you don’t build a prison for yourself. Those who are flexible and willing to pivot when necessary are more likely to succeed in the face of adversity. Even if it is as simple as parking in a different carpark every day.
5. Patience yields results.
In today’s world, instant gratification seems to run the show. However, that too is an illusion.
An aquaponics system takes time to produce results. You are creating an ecosystem, and once created, you are tending to an ecosystem—you are part of it. Everything happens in its own flow, and it takes time to be able to produce as you want it to.
Every part of the aquaponics system has its own time, yet always working in harmony with every other part. The beneficial bacteria takes time to fully colonise the aquaponics system, the fish take time to grow and grow in their own time, and the veggies all take different amounts of time to reach maturity and readiness for harvest.
It teaches us patience, and that a balanced life takes time to create and constantly generate.
The water of the aquaponics system balances my fire sign. I get impatient and I want to move faster sometimes, but I have found that when I push myself I don’t learn as well. I miss something or I get out of balance. By slowing down and working with my aquaponics system, I find myself more at peace and in the flow, understanding that patience will get me where I need to be, every time. I cannot force a seed to germinate quicker, nor a seedling to grow faster, so how can I expect to push myself harder without consequences?
Life lesson: In a world of instant gratification, it can be tempting to embrace this as the new norm, but true and lasting achievements often require time and patience. Slowly enjoying the journey, trusting the process, and knowing that with perseverance results will come gives us longer and greater satisfaction.
Aquaponics is so much more than a sustainable food source for us; it shows us a deeper way of connecting with life. It shows us about balance, growth, and our own personal evolution.
By accepting that we do not need to be alone, that we can connect with others and together balance each other and everything around us, we can and evolve and grow. We can see that the greatest journey is when we accept the need to adapt to situations and step out of our comfort zones, allowing us to deeply experience a depth to life that instant gratification doesn’t give us.
Only then can we truly grow and evolve on a personal and collective level, and in a sustainable and healthy way—just like the aquaponics system.