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3 Ways Rescuing Plants Helps Me Fight Depression

Updated on January 13, 2019
Willow Shire profile image

Willow Shire is an author who struggles with depression. His non-fiction focuses on depression and the writing life.


This week has been a struggle. I’ve slept for almost 13 hours each day, not counting naps. It’s a daily struggle, one caused by my depression. Most days, I can get myself out of bed, heat the tea kettle, and wake up.

Most days.

I don’t know what’s different this week. Five days, five rough days. I wake up thinking, “It’s time to get up.” My body has other plans, rolling my eyes back, and forcing me into the world of dreams.

When I finally get out of bed, it takes all of my energy to keep moving. My task lists are there, but my mind isn’t. The world dims as I stare at the wall with the tv playing a show.

Walking into the kitchen to do the dishes, hoping to distract myself, I realize I haven’t watered my plants.

The plants reflect what I’m feeling. They feel it, too.

I fill up the orange juice bottle I reuse as a water container. The water bubbles, hypnotizing my mind for a few seconds, taking me into a world of waterfalls, springs, and geysers. It distracts the power draining my soul.

The bottle overflows and I return to the sunken feeling dragging my energy to the ground. I don’t want to feel this way.

But I do.

I walk over to the plants, reaching out with my mind. My intuition feels them reaching back. They feel happy when I sing foolishly, but I don’t sing today.

The water flows out of the container, filling the pots, and soaking into the soil. Several pots have self drinking bottoms. I pour the water in and watch it disappear, sucked through holes in the pot’s bottom.

I smile a little with each pot I fill. The plants talk; not literally, they don’t have mouths, but they talk.

The hibiscus I’m wintering is regrowing its leaves after dropping them from the shock of moving inside. It amazes me every time a plant goes through this shedding process.

The plants shed their leaves, the stems going almost completely bare, like an animal came along and stripped them clean. A few days go by and leafy blooms push themselves out of the joints, vigorously growing towards the window and purple artificial lights.

They go through a period of despair, but they shed becoming stronger, more vibrant beings.

It forces me to smile. My plants are rescues, left to die on a shelf. Now, they grow big, bright, and beautiful. I can hear their songs as I tend their pots, removing dead leaves, watering, and moving the vines out of harms way so the cat doesn’t eat them.

They sing, and I smile.

A succulent that was dying when I bought it. Now it's five times as large, branching, and thriving.
A succulent that was dying when I bought it. Now it's five times as large, branching, and thriving.

Plants keep us aware of our own condition

Sometimes, I forget to care for the jungle on my shelves, hidden away in the kitchen’s corner. It’s not in plain view. We can’t leave the plants around the house because a certain kitty, named Vala, likes to chew on their leaves, spit up the remains, and pull the pots from the shelves.

I take great pride in the plants I’ve saved over the years. Pride in the relationship we have.

They sing; I smile.

I sing; they smile.

When one of us fails to sing, the other falls.

If I haven’t watered them, it’s almost always because of depression. There have been times I watch them, see they need water, and feel sunken, unable to fill the jar.

My skin bristles with little goosebumps as I run my hands over their leaves. The energy lifts my spirits, breaks the barrier, and I fill the water jar.

The act of caring for them, and tending them, keeps me aware of my condition. It’s this awareness that helps me break out of the sinking ship, swim to the surface, and breathe in some fresh air.

Plants give us fresh air

Depression typically locks me indoors. My plants, the jungle of vines growing along the walls, filters the air, giving me a dose of the natural world, even when I can’t get myself to leave the house.

It’s a small, seemingly insignificant thing. Plants process the poisonous carbon dioxide we exhale, returning it as breathable oxygen.

This basic function does more for me. It brings me back to the smells of the woods, keeps my mind focused on “I need to go outside today,” whether that is a simple walk or a hike down a mountain.

Keeping them watered, breathing, and alive, keeps me aware of my condition and helps motivate me to do more, breaking the cycle.

The same succulent as above, only this shows its beautiful flowers.
The same succulent as above, only this shows its beautiful flowers.

Rescuing plants fills me with happiness

Every spring, people buy plants for their gardens in mass quantities. Big box stores fill their greenhouses, trying to appeal to everyone’s gardening needs.

There’s a sickness of perfection in our culture. Fruits and vegetables are disposed if they have the smallest flaw. Dented cans receive large discounts. Plants without perfect, budding flowers find themselves left to whither and die on clearance shelves.

As you can guess, I have an affinity for the plant world. Since everyone is buying the perfect plants, I head to the clearance racks anytime I hit a garden center. The majority of the plants I own are rescues. Some are from garden center death racks, while others are from people who didn’t want them.

People rescue animals, why not plants?

I take these malnourished, under-watered, empty branches home and care for them. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, before I see them turn around. Other times they are too far gone, exiting the world shortly after they reach my home, killed by a culture of perfection.

Usually, I can save them. The ability to save them, to turn a neglected living being around, fills me with happiness. It helps fight the depression, filling me with joy, pride, and satisfaction.

I continue caring for these broken plants, growing them into great beautiful bushes you would never realize were left behind, ignored, or discarded.

Every time I see them, feel their leaves, and hear them sing, depression loses another battle allowing me to gain the upper ground.

Final thoughts

If you suffer from depression, rescuing plants is a wonderful weapon to add to your arsenal. They require less work than rescuing animals. You don’t need a green thumb. The instructions are printed on the side. Just be patient, willing to learn, and willing to help them grow.

Help them, and they will help you.

Just writing this article has helped lift my spirits, thinking of all those leafy souls I’ve saved throughout the years.

Thank you for reading! I hope this helps you or someone you know with depression!

- Will

A type of philodendron that I found dried and withered on a shelf. It's now branching, growing vines all over the place.
A type of philodendron that I found dried and withered on a shelf. It's now branching, growing vines all over the place.

© 2019 Willow Shire


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