There is a fairly complex, multi-faceted reason I grow plants. What it boils down to is: depression.
Living things offer a balm to my particular brand of depression. When I’m feeling down, greenery and colorful blossoms remind me of simple pleasures, present simple joys that I don’t have to think about and search for. Studying my plants’ leaves for spider mites or molds gives me a tangible task to use as an interruption for the cycle of destructive, obsessive, intrusive thoughts that have so much inherent darkness. Breaking that cycle is difficult and I discovered years ago that simple physical tasks or chores were not as effective for me as working on something that would benefit another living thing.
I’ve never had an apartment that allowed pets, so my craving for companionship had to be diverted to green things. Pets are widely known to be beneficial to sufferers of depression. They offer physical contact, affection, a sense of responsibility and purpose, lower blood pressure, increase emotional resilience…a brief glance through the scientific literature reveals a list that goes on and on. Where pets are not allowed, renters with depression face a challenge in the form of isolation and loneliness.
At this point, years into my battle with depression, I tend to find solace in solitude more than loneliness. In addition, I worked very hard at pushing my social fears and boundaries a few years back and I have developed a couple of distinct groups of truly magnificent friends that I can turn to in times of low emotional confidence. They are incredible and I value their love and support more than I could ever say. However, while they are all wonderful, warm, caring, and intelligent people, they are not pets to play with and exercise my caretaker tendencies toward.
So, several apartments ago, I turned to plants.
I’ve always enjoyed gardening. Something about digging in the dirt and helping make my environment beautiful had always appealed to me. I have memories of being very young and patting rather ineffectually at the soil around plants my mother had already planted, “helping” her. One of my Mothers’ Day presents to her while I was in high school was a garden plot along the back of the house, which remains to this day one my favorite gifts that I’ve given to anyone, ever. It was fun to plan and plant and take her to buy more flowers (although I suspect she took me in this particular instance) and I am still proud of it even though groundhogs devoured most of the plants and we eventually gave up and stopped planting it (and now it’s mostly gravel around a mini deck).
Plants can’t make noises at you or cuddle with you on the couch to express affection but they do need care and attention. Some of my very best gardening has been done in the throes of deep depression, when the plants were the only things I could bring myself to talk to and thought of stepping out of the front door seemed insurmountable. Some of my very worst gardening has been done when I am healthier and happier, as I leave the house more and get interested in other things and more or less forget that plants can’t mewl or bark to remind me that they need food and water.
What calls all of this to mind is the fact that I made a rather large mistake in the care of my zinnias yesterday. I was concerned about overwatering them so I opted to skip the daily morning watering and decided I would check on them before I went to bed in the evening and water them then, if they were dry.
The problem with this plan was two-fold: (1) I needed to remember that I changed the routine and (2) I needed to not get distracted by other pursuits when I went to close the shades and check over the plants.
Unfortunately for every living thing in my apartment, I spent last night vacuuming shards of metal out of my carpets and picking more shards of metal out of the fabric of my footstool. Thanks, tremendously terrible extermination company that the outrageously obnoxious management company keeps hiring to apparently only treat my apartment instead of the entire building. Picking splinters of steel wool out of my feet has been a truly engaging pastime.
I completely forgot that I even had plants in my apartment last night.
As of this morning, the seedlings in the plastic containers are still going strong and I may have managed to save a few of the stems in one of the the egg cartons but at least two dozen of my seedlings were shriveled and collapsed and thread-thin and will never more grace my windowsill.
One of the many contributing factors of my depression is a fear of failure. A nearly debilitating fear of failure that keeps me from singing along with recorded renditions of “The Best Is Yet To Come” because I once screwed it up during a concert and have yet to recover my ability to enjoy that song (which is one of my favorites) through the heaps of embarrassment and disappointment in myself. One of the many ironies of my climb out of depression is that when I feel good my gardening suffers and when my gardening suffers I feel bad.
Thank you, Joseph Heller.
So: I have now failed at least two dozen seedlings. Killed them dead. And yet…I am absolutely getting so much better because my reaction this morning was essentially, “aw, plants” instead of “I AM A HORRIBLE, TERRIBLE MURDERER” and some tears. These days, that emotion seems to be reserved for emptying mousetraps.
When I called my father this morning to say “I am sad” and “I’m a terrible plant parent” I wasn’t busy feeling like a failure. Instead, I was thinking about what other plants would go well in a windowsill with some zinnias and whether it would be better to start those from seed or to buy some sturdy plants from a nursery.
I do desperately wish I could have a cat. If I had one already, I could have worked to get it registered as an emotional support animal. Unfortunately, starting from scratch and obtaining a pet in the hopes that I could get away with it long enough to go through the process of registering is untenable and would not be fair to the cat. As this mouse situation goes on, though, I’m more and more inclined to demand a foster situation be approved by the management so that I can house a mouser. The extermination company is clearly not doing it.
We can all agree that this shouldn’t happen, right?
That’s the magnetic edge of an iPad cover after I hovered it a quarter of an inch over my footstool and moved it across the width of one end, once.
Anywho, the State of the Meg is this: gardening helps, I’m not awesome at changing routines, I owe some flowers an apology, and I’m still going to have bright, beautiful blooms in my windowsill (just not quite as many as originally anticipated), and I have tangible emotional proof that failures have become merely momentary setbacks. Overall, I consider this morning a big win.
Still want a cat, though.