Roots of Depression, part 2

In an earlier post, I talked about some of my gardening experience and how it relates to recovery from depression. I think some of the lessons can be applied to recovery in general. I thought I was done with that topic for a while, but I see some more possible application. Before I continue, I’d like to tell you a little background for how I ended up being the caretaker for this yard.

My grandparents passed away last year. I moved into their house, where they lived for over 30 years. The last three to four years of their lives, they were not in good health. They needed round the clock care. So of course, they weren’t able to take care of the yard the way they wanted to. Now that it’s my home, I feel a responsibility to take care of this land where I live now. And I hope this doesn’t sound new age-y or “Woo-oo-oo-oo-oo,” but I feel like by reclaiming their yard, I am in some way keeping their presence alive here.

Ok, so there’s a little bit of my sentimentality. Now here are my gardening/recovery tips.

Get your tools.

Across the yard I don’t do much work to remove weeds. Just spread some type of Weed-and-Feed. Grass and weeds sometimes pop up in the sidewalk or driveway. A shot of Roundup is good enough for that. I’m not going to use it on the whole yard, which I think is way too destructive. Just a few weeds here or there away from the yard or other plants.

But when you get around the trees or into the flower beds, you don’t want any kind of chemicals there. They might kill or damage the flowers and trees you want. Weeds in those areas require a more hands on approach, which means you need the right tools: Gloves, hand spade, Garden Weasel(R) Cultivator and Weed Popper, hedge clippers, and pruner.

I wear gloves for all yard work because some of these weeds growing up have thorns. I need some protection to get a good grip and pull them out. Also, even though I’ve remembered the “Leaves of three, Leave it be” rule, sometimes I still get these welts like insect bites or poison ivy, so I’m wearing long sleeves to work anywhere in the yard.

image of hand spadeThis little hand spade gets me into the root networks deeper than I can with just my hands.

Some weeds are too entrenched to just pull out. You can get the weed, but too much of the root is left behind. This Weed Popper comes in handy.

image of Garden Weasel Weed Popper
Garden Weasel(R) Weed Popper, push button on top to remove weed from the blades
image of Garden Weasel Weed Popper, blades
Garden Weasel(R) Weed Popper, insert blades and twist

You place it so the little blades go into the ground on both sides of the weed, twist it around a full 360 degrees, and it pulls up the weed and root with it. It can even get ordinary dandelions pretty well. But I’ve seen these bigger weeds that are like dandelions crossbred with thistle. My friend called them dandelions on steroids.

image of dandelion-type weed
A friend called these “dandelions on steroids”

For this, I need another standing weed remover but bigger. This Cultivator I’ve found works well on them. You can get the whole plant out, and it pulls up the root as well.

It’s made for cultivating ground, but it’s okay to repurpose your tools. It works similar to the Weed Popper. You get these spikes into the ground, twist, and pull up the weed.

image of large weed trapped in Garden Weasel
Dandelion-on-steroids removed

When you pull up a big weed like this, it leaves a hole, and that brings me to my next lesson.

Do not leave a hole unfilled, because an empty space will be filled one way or another.

Since weeds grow faster than anything else, they will fill any emptiness if left unattended. Not to mention this Garden Weasel leaves a hole big enough for someone’s foot to slip in and twist and sprain and sue you. I try to leave as much of the original dirt as I can, not just after these big weeds but even the smaller ones, while leaving as little of the root behind as I can.

Soil is neutral.

It will grow almost anything you plant if it has the right nutrient content and is in the right climate. You can’t blame the soil for your weeds, so it’s up to you to keep the soil cleared of undesirables and plant and tend the right seeds.

Sometimes they’re not weeds. They’re just in the wrong place.

I want nice healthy green grass in the yard, but not in the flower beds. I’ve probably pulled up more grass than weeds in the flower beds. And the type of grass in my yard has a very extensive, intricate, intertwining root system, which is good for crowding out weeds in the yard, but you don’t want it getting mixed with the flower’s roots.

image of grass
grass in lawn, good; grass in flower bed, bad.
image of grass showing roots
You can see part of the roots here

It requires some pulling, digging, and breaking up grassroots along with the weeds and their roots. It’s a lot more involved than I expected, but I think flowers and trees need a clearly delineated space.

It’s not just about removing weeds. It’s about clearing space for what you want in your yard.

The bushes around the front are mostly azaleas. And there’s a big rose bush on the east end of the yard. They had looked a little sickly the last few years. My grandparents were living here, and they weren’t in any shape to take care of the yard or flowers. As I examined the bushes, it was easy to see why. Some vines grew up and wrapped around the branches and twigs, choking the life out of them. And there were other plants, like budding acorns, growing right underneath, sometimes they to the point that they looked like something had been grafted in to the azaleas and roses. I cleared them out a few months ago and removed most of the dead branches. This spring, those bushes produced more flowers than they had in years.

image of azaleas
Azaleas are coming back

Some bushes had grown so much, though, that they were crowding out their neighbors. For example, I had pink azaleas growing into and blending in with white azaleas. The pink was threatening to take over the white. So I decided it was time to trim the hedges. I pulled out the hedge clippers and pruners and went to work. It sounds a little backwards. I had done all this work to remove weeds and thorns so the azaleas and roses could thrive, and they thrived so much I’m actually cutting back on their growth. But gardening isn’t about letting the desirable plants grow indiscriminately. It’s about setting parameters so all the desirable plants are free to grow and thrive and contribute to the variety of the garden as a whole.

Know when to say, That’s enough for today.

I worked in the flowerbeds most of the morning and had lunch. I knew I had made progress, but there was more to be done. My body was telling me not to go back out, but I didn’t listen. I was just going to work on this one patch of weeds, but I continued to work through most of the afternoon. Two days later, I’m still sore.

When my grandfather was still strong enough to work in the yard, we used to joke about how he was “addicted to weed,” because once he got started pulling weeds, he could be out all day if someone didn’t call him in. Let me tell you, that condition is hereditary. You may intend to work on one very specific patch of ground this time, but then there are a few more weeds here, a few more there. Now the flowerbed looks unbalanced. If you just take care of that patch, it will look better. Ok, another patch and I’ll almost be through. Just one more patch… You get the idea.

Like reclaiming a yard, garden, or flowerbed after years of neglect, recovery is not going to happen all in one day. If you’ve made progress and are encouraged to continue, but it was draining – physically or emotionally – or you have other responsibilities to attend to, you have a life, leave the yard for now. It will still be there tomorrow. Give yourself permission to say, “That’s enough for today,” and then for the rest of the day, take care of anything else that needs your attention.

Final words

I was hoping these two posts could present gardening as a metaphor for recovery. I may not have made those parallels clear all the way through, and I apologize for that. Maybe you will see some application to your life that I don’t. That’s the nature of parables: They leave room for you to interpret them out of your own experience.

In general, I see the work of recovery as three things: 1) planting the seeds of your best self and best life, 2) promoting the growth of those seeds in healthy ways, and 3) removing the weeds and roots that crowd out and even choke to death the good seeds in the garden of your life – metaphorically speaking, of course.

So like gardening, I have found the following true in recovery:

  1. Getting it right takes time and work.
  2. There is a natural tendency for weeds to overtake and choke out the beautiful parts of your garden.
  3. All plants have roots. To really get the weeds out, you have to pull and dig up the roots. That can get messy.
  4. With the right tools and a little consistent effort, the weeds are no match for you.
  5. No one tool can do every job, so keep trying until you find what works.
  6. As you remove the wrong plants, fill in the empty places left with good soil and the right kind of seeds.
  7. Under the right conditions, the seeds of recovery – love, joy, peace, faith, hope, vision, purpose, camaraderie, and confidence – will grow and bloom. The conditions are as simple as simple as soil, water, and sunlight.

If you have any ideas of how gardening and recovery might be related, I would love for you to leave a comment below.

Grace and Peace to you.

If you want to read Part 3, click here.

David Anderson

Roots of Depression, Part 1

I was working in the yard, which always seems to involve more than I think it will at the beginning. There have been these vines interweaving in the links of the chain link fence. I decided to un-interweave them. Of course it’s not enough to free the vines from the fence. I had to pull the vines up out of the ground so they couldn’t wrap around the fence again. As I did, some roots came up. I had a chance to pull the roots out so they wouldn’t grow back, so of course I took it.

Pulling up those roots revealed more roots, and then more roots and more roots. There were long roots, short roots, thin roots, thicker roots. The long thicker roots did not go down vertically but rather horizontally, so I could grab one in the middle and start pulling up, and it was like pulling up a cable wire. It would come out of the ground, and you could follow it to the right and the left. The ground above it gave way easily, and other roots snapped and broke as I disrupted the interweaving, intertwining network of roots beneath that foot of ground between the driveway and the chain link fence. I show some of the results in this video.

Why am I telling you this? I have an affiliate page now. One of the products I’m promoting is called Destroy Depression™. I chose it because I have struggled with depression my entire life, and this looked like a product that could help others with the same issue. It’s part of how I’m hoping to do well by doing good.

As I was working on these roots, I realized getting rid of these weeds and vines and the roots beneath them is similar to recovery. You start off with something easily visible: sadness, moodiness, a quick temper, or whatever. You pull on that, but those visible weeds are connected to roots underground. You go after those roots, and you find there is a whole lot more going on beneath the surface than you ever imagined. So as I pondered this, here’s what I noticed:

You think each weed or vine has only one root, but there are way more roots than weeds.

It took maybe twenty minutes to remove the vines, at most – Although some of them had deeper roots than I expected. I found few weeds and pulled them up in a few minutes. But I was probably three or four hours pulling up roots. Just when I thought I was close to finishing with them, I’d pull one little root and it would reveal a whole new network.

Whatever the roots of your depression, once you start digging them up, you will find they are far deeper and more extensive than you expected.

The roots are interconnected.

Small roots lead to big roots, and big roots are joined with a lot of small roots. Along the branches of the roots are these tiny tendrils that make it stick to the ground and other nearby roots. When you pull up one, it’s bound to break up some of the ties to another. So each one you remove makes it easier to remove another, especially with those big ones. You remove one of those long cable-like roots, and you have disrupted many smaller ones. With their connections snapped, they come out easier.

As you make progress in your recovery, you will find that improvement in one area spills over into other areas.

Image of root with tendrils
One of my “cable-roots.” Difficult to see, but there are little sticky tendrils on the little hairy branches.


There are entire communities living around those roots.

Every root I pulled made earthworms, tiny centipedes, termites, and scores of other tiny bugs scramble for safety. I imagine if somehow they knew this was coming and could communicate with me, they’d try to convince me or trick me into letting those roots stay where they are. They were just minding their own business, doing what worms and bugs do, and here I come uprooting their entire neighborhood – literally.

This is how depression takes on a life of its own. You may have noticed that in your recovery, you are often your own worst enemy. You want to be well. You want to be happy. You want to do something with your life that feels worthwhile. But something inside you keeps wanting to sabotage that. That’s the bugs and worms that have made their homes around the roots and don’t want you disturbing them. You will hear voices saying those roots are fine where they are. Don’t bother working on your recovery. You’ll only make things worse. It won’t do any good anyway. Tell those voices this is your recovery. The roots are coming up, and they can either adjust to it or move to someone else’s yard.

You’re not going to get them all first time around, so you’ll need to keep watching.

Some roots I could see I had removed completely. Some broke off before I could get it all out. There are still roots under there, most of them shorter and damaged, but they tend to grow back if they’re not removed completely.

If you’ve been working on recovery and made progress, remember not to get complacent. That yard may look clear now, and even beneath the surface you may find it clear of roots. But new weeds can always come in. Some of them may lie dormant, waiting for the right time to reappear. Some of those roots that broke off will grow back. Life won’t completely let you off the hook. But you have developed skills and strategies to stop them from taking over your yard. Be ready for them. Be ready to remove those same roots again, or maybe new roots that have found their way into that clearing you created. Recovery is a lifelong process, and your mental health and pursuit of happiness are worth it.

Grace and Peace to you.

If you would like to read Part 2, click here.

David Anderson