What I Learned About Depression From Watching My Grass 'Die'
We planted new grass at our home. We had the entire yard reseeded. It was quite the process. We cared for it. Watered it, multiple times a day. Checked on it often to see what we could do to make it thrive. To ensure it would grow. Winter passed and spring came and the grass was glorious. Perfectly soft, lush and green. We skipped the recommended spring fertilizer because it seemed OK. When things seem OK you let them be, right? It appeared healthy and strong on the outside. I played chase with my daughter and dog in the evenings, barefoot. My heart so full it could burst.
Then summer came, the heat came and the beautiful green grass was replaced with a patchy brown mess. I assumed it was dead. All the work and time and money and now we had a yard full of dead grass. We should have fertilized it, we should not have assumed it was OK. It was just grass, but still, I was distraught. The gardener who did the work informed us the grass actually wasn’t dead. He explained it simply shut down in the heat to protect itself. To survive. So, it looked dead, but really it was alive beneath the surface. What an interesting concept. Survival. In a way, I guess we’re not so different from grass.
I think about the weight of depression and the indescribable pain that comes from emotional turmoil. These battles we so often face alone. I think about the hard exteriors I have worn and continue to wear in my walk through my own emotional battlefield. So often carrying the weight of numbness, dead to the world outside. But still somewhere, beneath the surface, there is life. It’s just hard to see. Even harder to feel some days. I think about how easy it is to pass someone over because they seem OK. They look OK. They say they’re OK. Then I remember the grass.
Fall arrived and the temperatures began to cool. The grass slowly came back to life, proving the gardeners point. It wasn’t dead, just in protection mode. Doing what it had to do to take care of itself so it could grow and thrive when the heat passed. I think often we shut down — at least I know I do. We get stuck in survival mode. We end up just surviving, one day at a time. We aren’t healing, we aren’t thriving. We push ourselves to the max, until we are on the verge of mental collapse and run away screaming because we can’t deal anymore.
It’s funny and sort of sad to think about how much care goes into keeping grass alive. Watering, feeding, grooming. The time. The attention. Yet, when it comes to ourselves and others, we don’t offer the same care. We don’t stop when it gets hard, we push through. We don’t rest when we need it, we just add more and more to our ever-growing to-do list. We don’t know what to say to a hurting friend, so we don’t say anything. Or we get annoyed with their constant shift in moods so we avoid them or complain behind their back. Why can’t they just shake it off, get over it?
But, the more time we let pass, failing to nurture our hearts, our bodies, our spirits, the more challenging it can become to survive the storms of life. I have found it has become harder and harder to push through my life. I haven’t quite learned the proper way to venture into protection mode and back out again. How to be cared for and how to care for myself. I can put up walls, but walls don’t offer real protection. The thing with the grass is, it can stop and shut down, but it still needs to be fed to bring it back to life. Otherwise it would just stay as is. It’s the same for us. It takes both us stopping and admitting we can’t go on anymore and the love and support of people around us to help keep us fed and watered and loved.
Being vulnerable enough to let people in, that’s the hard part. And sometimes despite our vulnerability, we still find ourselves invisible to the outside world. Stuck in some cycle of pushing ourselves so close to the edge we find ourselves teetering on the edge of the cliff.
I suppose at the end of the day it’s time to stop worrying about the grass, about all the stuff around us that drives our focus and attention away from our healing. Instead we need to start worrying about our self-care. Find our boundaries and give ourselves permission for rest and retreat and be open to the light of others when they reach out and attempt to bring us back to life.
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Image via Anthony Scarlati