How Gardening Helped Pull Me Out of a Deep Depression

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you feel like you’ve been buried. Perhaps you’ve been planted. Bloom.” -Christine Caine

A quick google search will produce tons of research and studies proving that spending time in nature is good for your mental health. As a Clinical Social Worker I would never disagree with this, of course, but it’s very different when you’re the subject and you see and feel the effects for yourself first hand. So today I want to share part of my experience with you.

This past April my coworker gave me a pack of cucumber seeds. “Aww cool! This will be fun!” I thought. I had planted a little garden a few years ago so I didn’t put much thought into it at the time. A few weeks later, with social distancing and quarantine in full swing, I decided to plant the cucumber seeds along with some sunflower seeds. A week later when the tiny seedlings emerged something shifted in me and I started planting all types of seeds! Tomato seeds, green beans, more sunflower seeds, lavender, watermelon, squash, cantaloupe, basil, beets, all kinds of seeds. There were SO many seeds. Now, as I said above, I had planted a garden before —but never from seed, never like this. Before, I had purchased the plants from the store and transplanted them into my garden bed. So this time was different. The magic (for me) was in watching the seeds emerge from the soil. I was officially obsessed and very quickly turning into “the crazy plant lady”.

There was something very symbolic to me about placing a tiny seed in the ground and covering it with dirt. The darkness. The ickiness. The solitude. The amount of energy that I knew it was going to take for that tiny seed to somehow emerge and undergo a magical transformation in order to reach its full potential. I could identify all to well with every single seed that I planted because I too was in a dark place, alone and completely overwhelmed by the amount of energy I would need to somehow emerge from that dark place.

Depression and anxiety have been an issue for me for some quite time now. Seasonal depression just makes it that much worse. I hate the cold, rainy weather. Every winter I eagerly look forward to spring. But this spring would be different. It wasn’t just warmer weather that I would be looking forward to. It was the emergence of new life and new beginnings all around me and within me that I was in control of making possible. I was here to nurture this new life and help it to grow and transform along the way. I was here to ensure that this new life was healthy and thriving because that’s what all living things need, including me. Including you.

As the seeds started to quickly grow and take up space unapologetically, I started to grow and change and take up space with them. I begin to nurture myself more and give myself more of what I needed to grow and thrive. This was something that I was already trying to do with therapy and other forms of support. It was something really special about my garden though. There’s so much nature can teach us about the importance of every phase in our life, including the struggles and the dark times that we all face. Those struggles are crucial in helping us to grow and reach our full potential. My little garden was meant to be a simple hobby to take up during quarantine and it turned into so much more. It has taught me so much about myself and about this journey that we are all on. It has proven to be nourishment to my soul, as well as my physical body.

While writing this post, I am reminded of a quote by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He says “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. […] No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is speaking about nurturing our relationships with other people, but even more importantly this same concept applies to our relationship with ourselves. To me this means practicing patience and understanding with ourselves, being gentle and kind to ourselves, giving ourselves what we need to grow and thrive while allowing room for error and space to learn from our mistakes. It also includes acknowledging our feelings and emotions, exploring them, understanding the root cause of them, and holding space for them. This is necessary all the time, but particularly now with everything going on around us —from a worldwide pandemic, to the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything in between. There is an incredible amount of stress, trauma, and suffering that comes with the time that we are living in. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and our ancestors to dig deep and do the work to heal ourselves. This is a powerful form of self-love and resistance.

I never knew gardening would be so therapeutic and such a powerful form of resistance for me. I hope that this post planted a seed in you (pun intended) to find something that speaks to you and helps you in your journey. It may not be gardening. It could be art, cooking, music, sports, or working out. Whatever it is, approach it with curiosity and with a willingness to allow it to change you.

Be blessed.