Recovery from mental illness is hard. Really freaking hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either extremely naive or trying to sell you something.
One of the hardest aspects of recovering from depression is staying motivated to keep trying. Keep going to therapy, keep exercising, keep taking medication and vitamins, keep using therapy skills. It’s exhausting. I’ll be honest, at times it feels like recovery isn’t worth it. I often ask myself, “Is the life I will someday have really worth all this effort?” People assure me that it is.
Even though I’ve experienced remission and recovery in the past, I can still very easily become discouraged about getting better. The process of recovery is filled with steps forward and steps backward. It takes a lot of time. I often think I’m swimming upstream and just getting nowhere.
Recently I shared these frustrations with my mom. I told her I didn’t feel any different and that I didn’t think I was gaining ground in recovery. Of course, like any good mom, she immediately encouraged me that I am getting better and said she sees improvement.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said. “But you’re my mom. You’re supposed to say that.”
“I really mean it,” she countered. “It’s like a garden. If you walk past every day it won’t look like anything’s growing. But if you check in on it every couple of weeks you’ll see a huge difference. You see yourself day to day, but I only see you every couple of weeks. So to me, you’ve made huge progress.”
There are moments when all you can say is, “Wow, you’re right.” This was one of them.
What a beautiful picture of growth and development over time! We can’t see the exact moment that a seed opens up or the exact moment that a fruit begins to develop. Sometimes it just feels like a lot of work; gardening is a lot of weeding and hoeing, putting in compost, and waiting. And more waiting. But eventually the plants develop, we see growth, and begin to enjoy the harvest.
My garden looks very different in April, filled with dirt, compost, and a few seeds, than it does in June, filled with green leafy plants, than it does in August, filled with vegetables and fruits waiting to be picked. I don’t expect my garden to grow overnight and neither should I expect recovery to be quick either.
In fact, just like gardening, it often seems as though no improvement is being made day to day. It feels very discouraging. But when we look at the garden and ourselves over time, we can then see the growth.
How fitting that my mom chose that imagery to encourage me! I learned to garden by my mom’s side and now that I’m grown, we both keep vegetable gardens every year. From the end of February until almost November we frequently bond over our gardening successes and failures.
Thanks to my mom, for the first time I’ve tied my garden to my mental health. From now on, as I plant and watch my garden develop each year, I will be reminded that its growth mirrors recovery.
The day to day battle of recovery is hard, but there is beauty in it. We are improving, even when we can’t see it or appreciate it. Growth is happening for me and it’s happening for you too. If you’re in the battl e with mental illness, you can’t see yourself recovering in the day to day. I’m sure you’re just as discouraged as me sometimes. But on a week to week or month to month basis, the growth becomes unmistakable.
There is hope. When I tend my garden I am now reminded of the recovery I can’t see. Even if you don’t have your own garden, you can still see the hope embodied by plants and flowers. Look around, watch the flowers bloom and recognize the growth you can’t see today.
Apparently I’ve never taken pictures of my garden, so the featured image is courtesy of Srl at Wikimedia Commons.