I started this series called “Roots of Depression” to track some of my experiences working in the yard and seeing some of the work as a metaphor for recovery, particularly removing weeds and other undesirable plants so that the good plants can recover and thrive. Gardening, it turns out, is a great metaphor for recovery, happy living, and the human condition in general. No wonder the Bible uses it so much.
In a more recent post, I spoke more directly about my experience of depression and recovery up to this point. It looks like those two series are going to intertwine like vines around an azalea bush but in a healthy way. See? Another metaphor! So as a writer in search of metaphors (really more interesting than it sounds), I want to try to connect the dots between gardening and recovery.
This week’s gardening
This was a tough root, so I pulled out the hand spade to remove it.
You’ll notice there’s a bulb at the end. I didn’t think vines had bulbs at their roots, but as I was removing it, I felt a resistance, as if the bulb were attached to something bigger. I used the spade to continue digging around it and encountered something harder than the soil, bulb-like but much bigger.
Soon the thing was revealed to me. It was much bigger than a bulb. In fact, it almost looked like an alien pod. I used a toothbrush to remove more dirt from the top and took a picture to show the scale.
If this is a bulb, I have never seen any other bulb like it. What is this thing? What is it doing in my flowerbed? Is it connected to the Azaleas or the vines that keep popping up underneath them like Kudzu? What will it do to the flowers if I remove it? So I’m leaving it for now. But if anyone can tell me what kind of bulb this is, please tell me in the comments below.
In relation to recovery, as you dig up and remove the weeds and their roots beneath, you may find things that you have no idea what they are or where they came from. That’s okay. If you’re not sure what it is or what will happen to the other plants in your garden if you remove it, leave it for now (Mat. 13:24-30). Learn more about it. See what tools are available for you, then put together a plan of action. The video below shows what’s involved when you start removing a root or vine. I looked at the pile of roots that were connected directly or indirectly to one vine and thought, “Wow! This is a mess. And it’s what recovery looks like.”
Tools for Depression
Now I want to list some of the tools you can use to remove the “weeds of depression” from the garden of your soul. Each of these requires more in-depth discussion than I can give right now. Like any list, this is about breadth, not depth. I want to name as many tools as I can for you, because like weeds in a garden, you will need many tools to remove them all. Real life gardening and yardwork has been good not only in living out metaphors for recovery. It gives me two forms of therapy at once: Exercise and sunlight.
Medication – If you have some form of Clinical Depression, your brain needs help producing “happy chemicals.” Medication is the most direct way to do that, but using it raises issues for some people, and particularly for people of faith. This will be the subject of a future post.
Counseling – It was very disorienting when I had a neuropsychologist tell me I tested high for depression in every possible way. If you’ve been diagnosed, you will most likely need professional counseling to help get re-oriented. If incorporating faith in your recovery is important to you, there are counselors who specialize in that.
Tell that voice in your head to shut up! – You know the one I’m talking about. We all have a voice in our head. If you’re depressed, that voice is the opposite of a motivational speaker. It tells you you’re a loser and gives you all the reasons why. It is quick-tempered and brings back old anger, even for things you and the other person have already made up for. What I finally realize is that voice is not real. It is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain. So drown it out with something positive and uplifting, like…Music.
Music – Does it have to be happy music? Not necessarily. Any music that makes you feel better will help.
Diet & Exercise – I don’t want to be like a certain actor who suggested that all you need to cure Depression (Post-Partum in that case) is diet and exercise. However, you should pay attention to it. Certain nutritional deficiencies can exacerbate depression. And you’ve heard of the “runner’s high”? That’s your brain producing happy chemicals in response to exercise.
Laughter – You’ve heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” It’s hard to be sad or angry while you’re laughing. So watching a funny movie is more than entertainment. It’s therapy.
Sunlight – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression specifically linked to lack of exposure to sunlight. Even if you don’t have SAD, a little more sunshine (with sunscreen) might help lift your mood.
Meditation – Many studies have shown meditation affects the brain in very healthy ways. It promotes calmness, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases your sense of well-being.
Prayer – This doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it has been absolutely crucial for coping with stress and with life in general. People of faith, however, tend to think prayer should be the only thing you need to cure depression. I’ve learned the hard way prayer is a great tool – but not the only tool – for recovery.
Favorite activities – This might be the best advice I ever got for coping with Depression: Find something you love to do, and do it (from Kevin Gates, rapper).
Forgiveness – You cannot recover if you are weighed down with anger, grudges, and resentment. If the wounds are fresh, it may take time. But make the choice to forgive, even if it doesn’t look possible right now.
Gratitude – The Law of Attraction says whatever you feel, the Universe will give you more of. If you walk around feeling angry and bitter all the time, the Universe will give you more to feel angry and bitter about. If you walk around feeling happy and grateful, the Universe will give you more to feel happy and grateful about. I don’t hold it as an absolute. I do think there is something to it, though. It’s not the full equation, but it is part of it. Maybe this is why Paul said to the Philippians,
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philip. 4:6-7).
Set the timer – This is a trick I read in an interview with Christopher Reeve. If you remember, he had a horse riding accident that left him quadriplegic. In public, though, it looked like he never let it get him down. One of his tricks was each morning, he would set the timer for twenty minutes. During that time he could cry, rant and rave about how unfair this is, how much it sucks, and when the timer went off, stop right there! Time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to living.
Posture – Will changing your posture really change your mood? There is a mind-body connection. If you are hunched over, arms crossed, looking down, you look depressed and most likely feel depressed too. Straighten your back. Lift your head. Look forward. Open your arms. You’ll not only look confident but most likely feel more confident as well.
Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – I’m not an alcoholic, but I have found the AA model of recovery very helpful in a number of ways. Its compassionate approach is conducive to healing. It teaches you to take responsibility without beating yourself up. You never say you are “recovered,” but you are recovering. It teaches you to recognize the triggers of addiction, so you can avoid them. It gives you tools to choose happiness over addiction. It invokes the help of a higher power, but what that means is left open to you. And it incorporates the power of a supportive community, which is my next tool.
Community – I believe we were made to live in loving community, at home, at work, in public life. The more places you have it, the better. I remember hearing of a news article with the title, “Loneliness: The Number One Disease in America.” I didn’t read the article, but the title alone is enough to get the point. Depression, especially, is exacerbated by loneliness.
The cure for loneliness is loving, supportive community. I experience that in my family – including oodles of extended family – and in my church. I have said before, even if I did not believe the tenets of the church, I would still go because of the relationships I have there. Whatever a loving community means to you, seek it out. It is the one place where I have always found this scripture to be true:
“Give, and it will be given unto you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
Human touch – Studies have proven what I think most of us know in our hearts. Affectionate touching, from holding hands, to an arm around the shoulder, to snuggling, to hugging, to sex (when it is a genuine expression of love) reduces stress and anxiety and increases feelings of connection and well-being, all of which go a long way to alleviating depression.
But keep in mind, this is only true if the touching is desired by both people. Some people don’t like to be touched (so they say). And not all forms of touching are appropriate in all situations. If you want to incorporate touching to help your recovery, be appropriate and make sure the person on the receiving end welcomes it.
These are some of my tools for weeding out depression. If you don’t mind, tell me in the comments below if any of these have worked for you, or if you use any “tools” that aren’t listed here.