One Plant At A Time

Caring for houseplants while clouded by depression

Photo by Singkham from Pexels

Houseplants bring life to the home. It’s a basic fact. As long as they receive proper care, they continue to live and breathe. And they do so despite whatever human nonsense happens around them. 

I developed a keen awareness of this fact when I was mired in a fog of depression. Because although I was a miserable, hopeless mess of a human, my house plants were resilient. 

Each winter, I endured months of seasonal unemployment and depression. I was broke and barely taking care of myself. I was listless and lost, not feeling comfortable in my own home. I had largely given up on myself and struggled even to self-advocate. I became desperate to at least feel useful.

One of the ways I challenged these feelings was with simple lists. With the encouragement of my therapist, I started my days by listing the things I wanted to accomplish. To start, I kept it VERY simple:

  1. Brush teeth
  2. Cook lunch
  3. Eat lunch
  4. Wash pan, plate, fork
  5. Put dishes away

It may seem trivial, but I really did need this encouragement. (If you’re depressed, try it. It helped a bit.)

And when I did something that wasn’t on the list (like, say, respond to an email, or open a bill that came by post), I’d not only write it down — I would then cross it off

Every piece counted. Every bit that indicated I had done something served as proof that I was not useless and that I was actively working to help myself get better. 

And sometimes, that really was enough for the day.

Keeping plants in the house proved a little more challenging. Not only did I need to water them, but I needed to do so regularly and at the right intervals.

Over time — slowly — I garnered a beautiful collection of diverse species. 

Each time I purchased a green-little-something on impulse, I was unwittingly investing in self-care. Adopting all those little houseplants from the grocery store grew into a small enterprise — a cottage industry of personal wellness on a minute, almost imperceptible scale.

I didn’t mean to, but I ended up tasking myself with nurturing a band of plants that required varying forms of attention. I had to become their advocate. Even on the cloudy days of depression.

And so my To-Do lists became peppered with ways of caring for my house plants: water, trim, reposition, repot…

As they grew, I felt things I had been missing out on — like a sense of accomplishment, respect, and wonder. These feelings are rare treasures for any depressive. Gradually, my plants began to brighten my days.

It happened to fall on the Wednesday of each week that most of my plants needed my attention. And so, from those meager little To-Do lists sprouted the highlight of my weeks: #WaterWednesday. 

It may not have cured my depression or gotten me out of bed every morning with a smile and go-get-em attitude, but those nuggets of positivity made some days a little better, a little easier to endure.

Even in the thick clouds of depression, my plants reminded me to seek light. They gave me some sense of direction and purpose when I was otherwise feeling in the dark. By caring for them, I accomplished something greater than crossing something off my little list. 

I nurtured life.

Now, I can carry with me the certainty that it was because of my care they were able to thrive. Because even though they lived in the same environment in which I was floundering, my plants persisted.

I still feel immense gratitude and pride.

In retrospect, my home was brighter because of them. I can see now that although not on a conscious level, their survival and growth signaled to me — every cloudy day — that with my attention and care, it is possible to flourish.

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