Shrubs and Home: How Nature and a GAP Year Suppressed my Depression

Shrubs and Home: How Nature and a GAP Year Suppressed my Depression

“I would wake up every morning with no desire to get out of bed, no energy to even contemplate doing anything otherwise...”

Yesterday – I was working in the garden, sifting through ivy, dead plants, and weeds, desperately putting off having to uproot five shrubs. When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I grabbed my shovel and began digging with no plan of action other than to try tilling under the roots and remove the shrubs and interwoven anchors of the small bushes embedded in the soil.

Nature is the ultimate teacher; any lesson can be learned by spending time with the great professor. There are many reasons that there are entire cultures and literary periods that put nature at the center of existence, like the Transcendentalists and Romantics, namely because to them, nature had all the answers. The Transcendentalists and Romantics would often hole up in the wilderness and use nature as a means of inspiration for their works, but also observe the way it works and how to incorporate that into humanity. Plants would battle adversity and sprout between the cracks of a solid rock, teaching humans that in the direst of situations, good can come. The glistening on the surface of bodies of water shown differently with the sun and the moon, making humans acknowledge that there is always a different perspective.

I am not currently enrolled in school, not by choice, but merely because of forces outside of my control. I don’t resent that fact, as I believe that everything happens for a reason, and as I was in the garden with my hands caked with soil, I found that reason.

I had never lived outside of Arkansas until I left for Birmingham, Alabama to attend Samford University. I left my hometown of Little Rock longing and pining for something new, as I was tired of the familiar landscapes and the tirelessly traveled routes home that were all memorized and took little effort to follow anymore. That was home for the better part of nineteen years, making my comfort zone become stagnant. I would wake up every morning with no desire to get out of bed, no energy to even contemplate doing anything otherwise, overwhelming sadness taking over my very being, and no reason for any of the listed symptoms. My mind was a minefield, with every wandering thought putting me in danger of falling farther into my own internal pit of despair. Depression was overtaking me.  

So I was immersed in a completely new environment for a full academic year. I liked Birmingham, but I wasn’t given enough time to fall in love with the city. I learned about its main tourist attractions, favorite local concert venues, where the best restaurants were, and everything else pertaining to making a new city a home, but I always related everything back to Little Rock. Different stretches of road or random grassy hills would possess me with instant-nostalgia and a picture of an identical location located in my former home. My mental health never made any noticeable improvement, either.

Back in the garden, as I dug up the first shrub I noticed that it would be impossible simply to just dig under the roots so deeply embedded in the earth. I would have to dig, pull from the thick stem protruding from the ground, and trace the path of it with my hand until I could locate where I could pull to extract even more. I always knew that roots would branch out to an unknown and unseen world under the soil, but I had no idea the extent of their reach.

After my freshman year, I arrived back in Little Rock with a newfound appreciation for the city and the state just the year prior I was so desperate to leave. I found myself not wanting to leave anymore, but also wanting to go back to where my new home was.

No matter how far the roots spread under the surface, there was always a path back home. There were innumerable branches going off in all different directions, but the fixed foot was directly under the shrub. That was home. No matter how far off the roots ventured, there was always a system of channels to return back.

Birmingham is a root branching out from the fixed foot of my existence. It was my temporary home, but is embedded in my soul permanently. Gaining an appreciation for the city that raised me has put me at peace with my current situation and allowed me to be in a better place mentally.

I don’t have the “woe is me” mentality anymore, but rather I am grateful for the situation that I am in currently. My academic pursuits are only temporarily on hold, which is merely a minor setback. But being able to observe everything that went unnoticed out of being accustomed to my home is what I take most pride in now. There are so many new areas and new adventures in my old home that I was arrogant enough to think I knew everything about it.

I have no responsibilities anymore outside of working on myself and on my own interests. I have no class, I have no studying, I have no exams, and I have no homework.

I still go to class every day, though, and listen to the lecture of the ultimate teacher. I listen to the wind rustling in the leaves that are beginning to change color. I listen to the rush of the water in the Arkansas River, where standing on top of the dam perpendicular to the river, one ear absorbs the calmness of the water while the other can feel its power. I listen to the fleeting numbers of birds chirping as they all begin to fly South for the winter, with the few brave souls sticking around as long as possible where their roots lay.

My roots are in Little Rock, along with my newfound strength in mental health and the ultimate teacher guiding me in life’s lessons along the way. 

Featured Image via Unsplash


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