Cupped hands holding finished compost with text overlay: Lessons From the Compost Pile: Turning Fibromyalgia "Garbage" Into Gold

Lessons From The Compost Pile: Turning Fibromyalgia “Garbage” Into Gold

Sometimes life can be full of challenges. When we live with Fibromyalgia or another chronic illness, those ‘regular’ life challenges can pile up on top of what we already deal with on a daily basis. I’m a gardener, and as I thought about this my thoughts automatically turned to the parallels between our lives and the compost piles we gardeners love so much.

Sometimes when things are difficult, it’s easy to feel as if everything is going wrong, that things are just piling up, and that they’re never going to get better. Frankly, sometimes I feel as if I’m sitting in a compost pile. Now, if you’re a gardener, you probably understand immediately what I’m talking about, but if not, let me tell you a little bit about how compost is made.

Compost is made up of all the cast-offs that you don’t want anymore: coffee grounds, food scraps (not meat or dairy), dried leaves, straw, yard clippings….you get the idea. These are piled up or put in a special composting bin where they decompose, and what you have at the end of the process is considered “black gold” by gardeners for its ability to improve the health of your garden soil and therefore produce strong healthy plants.

The first step is to gather your items for the compost and pile it up. Of course, the more you put in, the higher your heap goes. When we live with fibromyalgia, the cast-offs that start to pile up might be a flare, extreme fatigue, or any of the myriad of accompanying symptoms we experience daily.

Next, other things are added: other illnesses, the death of a friend or family member, financial issues, conflicts at work — the “garbage” just keeps piling up, and as with an actual compost pile, this can really turn up the heat. In the compost heap, this heat serves a vital purpose: it accelerates the process and kills any mold spores or weed seeds that may have found their way into your soon-to-be compost. In other words, it burns off any unwanted organisms. For us, those unwanted organisms may be the things that no longer serve us well, such as old ideas about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do, the inability to say no, pushing ourselves beyond our limits, etc. When we live with fibromyalgia or other chronic illnesses, getting rid of things that impede our progress is vital.

An interesting thing about the composting process is that you can speed it up by turning the pile periodically. This basically gives the organisms that are down in there chomping away an injection of oxygen and enables them to finish the decomposition process more quickly. When you use that method, you get beautiful compost that is great for providing structure for the soil, but it doesn’t contain as many nutrients as it would if you just let it go through the process without disturbing it. That doesn’t mean this compost is bad — if your main use for the compost is to improve the structure of the soil so that it has better drainage or maintains moisture, it will be perfect. If, however, your main goal is to provide nutrients for your plants, you may want to go the slower route. Both types are important to the garden and add benefits that may not become apparent until the garden has time to grow and mature.

The same can be said of our “compost pile” experiences. Sometimes we can figure out ways of doing things that help us move through the difficult times more quickly and actually help us build up the “structure” of our lives with chronic illness. Perhaps it’s learning new ways to do things, setting boundaries for ourselves and others, guarding our schedules, or finding the methods or treatments that help lessen our pain.

Sometimes, though, we just have to endure the heat. Sometimes the pain is more prolonged, or the loss more devastating, or we just can’t seem to find any way to move forward. During these times it’s difficult to see the work that’s going on, and it may feel as if nothing’s happening, but one day, we wake up and realize that what we thought was just a pile of garbage is producing something that enriches our lives.

Maybe it’s a different way of looking at things; for example, realizing that strength isn’t always about being self-sufficient and being able to physically do everything everyone else can do. Sometimes strength is about being able to get out of bed and into the shower when you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck. Sometimes it’s about putting one foot in front of the other, even though you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and sometimes, it’s asking for help when you know you need it.

It could be that you find a new purpose or passion in your life. I don’t know of many people who would say, “yes, please give me a chronic illness; it’s what I’ve always wanted” but I do know a lot of them who have now made it their life’s mission to raise awareness and help others. They found a new purpose not in spite of, but because of their illness.

Or maybe, just maybe, you could realize that you’ve become a better person because of your illness. If illness does one thing for us, it definitely slows us down and affords us the opportunity to look within, see if the person we are inside is who we want to be, and if not, make the changes necessary to become that person.

The things that we think might break us are the very things that make us stronger, and we often discover that what started out as garbage in our lives has now turned into gold.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realized that your “compost pile” experience actually enriched your life in some way? Please share!




  1. Such an encouraging post! Thank you so much for sharing! I like this line: “They found a new purpose not in spite of, but because of their illness.”
    I feel like that’s me! I used to get so down in the dumps about all my health problems. Then I turned it over to the Lord and I’ve grown closer and closer to Him throughout all of my problems!

    1. Thank you so much Leigh! I’m glad you could relate to this. Like you, I’ve grown spiritually through this process. There were times, at least before I knew what was going on, that I wondered if I was going to make it through the day. All I could do was lean on The Lord for strength. My experience with this illness really has given me a whole new purpose, that of helping others navigate through the ups and downs those of us with chronic illnesses experience. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much Brigid! I’m afraid people may have learned more about compost than they ever wanted to know.😄 I’m looking so forward to getting our garden started, but we have at least another month or so before I can plant anything. Happy gardening to you as well!

  2. This is such a wonderful metaphor and way of seeing our collection of experiences! I think I need to give my compost pile a little forking and turning around. I’ll post this on my InvisiblyMe Facebook page as I think this is a fantastic post, if that’s okay with you?
    Caz x

  3. I have had some ‘bad’ experiences in life, chronic illness definitely being one of them. I have posted about some other traumas as well. If I hadn’t gone through them, I don’t think I would’ve mastered empathy. And I know I would truly not understand that being kind to others should never be a choice. Be kind because everyone has a story they’ve never told. ~Kim

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this Kim. Isn’t it amazing how even the worst things we go through can add value to our lives. I love what you said about being kind because everyone has a story they’ve never told — so true! Blessings to you!

  4. Wonderful post and great insights, Terri. I love the compost example because I am also a gardener. I started gardening after being diagnosed with ME/CFS. Within the decade+ I have had with this disease, I have been ignored, belittled and patronized. These experiences, especially since they came from other healthcare providers, give me a compulsion to use my own insights and story to help educate other people with chronic illness–especially the invisible ones.

    1. Thank you so much Ellie! Are you looking forward to getting your hands in the dirt again as much as I am? Thank you for sharing your experience of finding purpose through your experiences. With so many people with invisible illnesses experiencing the same things you did, having people like you from the medical community advocating for them is so important!

  5. A wow post Terri!! I love your use of metaphor. Empath, self care, appreciation of the simple things in life, living in the moment, all part of the learning I’ve been thankful to have gathered thanks to my journey towards acceptance of and embracing life with fibro/fatigue.

    1. Thank you so much Marie – you’re too kind! Thank you for sharing the lessons you’ve learned along your journey. Isn’t it amazing that something so difficult could impact us in such positive ways? Blessings to you!

  6. What a great analogy, Terri! You are so right, when faced with the unwanted, the abhorrent, do the only thing you can – change your attitude, turn the muck to growth, grow a voice. Bravo!

  7. As with the other responders, I love your analogy. I am not a gardener however. The only thing I can grow are silk plants. I had a friend from church at Bible study on Tuesday tell me that it takes strength to have patience. That was a new concept for me. As we have patience with ourselves as we go through daily challenges, we have to have patience with ourselves as we look to turn our weaknesses into strengths and others who don’t understand.

    1. Thank you so much Jo Ann! I hadn’t thought about it before, but your friend makes a good point. I wasn’t blessed with a lot of patience, so I can see how it would take strength to be patient.😊 Blessings to you!

  8. This is such a beautiful analogy! I definitely agree with it. My Chronic illnesses have definitely been compost. Hard, painful, but, like you said, they have really taught me to slow down, and I think they truly make me a better person.

    1. Thank you so much Kat, and thanks for stopping by! It’s amazing to me when I stop and really take stock of how much I’ve learned through living with fibromyalgia. It’s not something I would choose, but it’s definitely something God has used.

  9. Hi Terri, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I really wish I had green fingers but at the moment I am doing my best to raise a Hyacinth in our flat. It is unfortunate that the garden is two flights of stairs down and I am not always in a position to get out there. One day I hope to have a ground floor flat or a bungalow and be able to appreciate a garden outside a lot more. Thankfully as a paper crafter, I am surrounded by lots of beautiful floral artwork though 🙂 I really appreciate the analogy you have made here and I have certainly found that I have become a better person since I’ve had Fibo as I talked about in one of my posts. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts 🦋

    1. Thank you so much Susan, and thanks for stopping by! I hope your Hyacinth will cooperate with you. I just checked out your blog, and your cards are beautiful! I loved that you gave the step by step process for making them. I have some card-making materials but wasn’t creative enough to figure out what I should do with them. Now you’ve given me some ideas! I’m glad you’ve seen the good from your fibro also. I think a lot of us find out in the long run that whatever trials we go through make us better in the end.

    1. Thank you so much Melissa! Sometimes it’s hard to see the good right when we’re in the middle of the hard stuff, but I think it’s important to remember that there IS good in there somewhere….😊

  10. I retold this “compost” analogy to my daughter who struggles with young toddlers, and also to others. I re-blogged it, because it is so good and I want to share. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much! I hope it was helpful for your daughter. I’m sure dealing with toddlers can become overwhelming. They’re fun at that age, but they’re also such a handful! Thanks so much for the reblog – I really appreciate it!

  11. The compost metaphor is a powerful one, Terri. It’s so true that things (“garbage”) pile up and then can feel overwhelming.. taking just a few minutes a day for me to tackle some of that crappy stuff is what seems to help me… that way I can keep it from getting to be too much.. Hugs

    1. Thank you so much Christy! I love what you said about taking a few minutes each day to tackle the crappy stuff. It really can make a huge difference in keeping it from becoming overwhelming, can’t it? Hugs to you too sweet friend!

  12. The title of this post intrigued me. Right now I am suffering through treatment trial and error complications. In the past two months, I have been had withdrawals for 4 medications under doctor supervision, two I had been on for a long time, and two that were new that I had SEVERE side effects from and has been hell. But it has made me stop and be grateful for the simple things in life. I am spending quality time with my silky terriers who love me unconditionally and don’t know what I would do without them!!!

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your story. I’m so sorry this has been such a tough season for you. I’m glad you’re able to see that you’ve learned from your experiences, even when they weren’t ideal, and I’m glad you have your fur babies to love on and keep you company. I hope your medical team is able to figure out your best treatment protocol soon.

  13. This post spoke to me, and I agree with all of it. I have been going through a rough season the past two months. I have been taken off of 4 different medications under strict doctor supervision which means horrible withdrawals. Two of the medications I had been on for years so that made the withdrawals worse. Two medications I just started and had to be taken off due to severe side effects. So 2 prescriptions worth of severe side effects plus 4 prescriptions worth of withdrawals during a two month period was hell. I definitely learned to enjoy the simple things in life.

  14. Thank you for this. Thank you for reminding us that some days, just getting out of bed is an accomplishment; that it’s okay to ask for help and slow down our lives. Thank you for all of this. May I share it on my social media?

    1. Thank you so much for reading, and I’d love for you to share! I think we’re way too hard on ourselves sometimes, and we just need to learn to give ourselves a little grace. Thanks also for the follow – I look forward to getting to know you!

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