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How Gardening Helped Me Quit My Antidepressant

Plants growing in pots
Image CreditJWalsh/Flickr / CC BY 2.0

I started a garden to increase my food security. I didn’t know it would help heal my anxiety and depression.

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When grocery store shelves began emptying sporadically in 2021, I started to worry in earnest about food security. I had enough land for a large garden, and I figured that 2022 was the perfect time to start producing some of my own food.

So last March, I pulled up hundreds of rocks, put down hundreds of square feet of cardboard to suppress weeds, and spread 7 cubic yards of compost. Over-ambitious and eager to produce a lot of food, I prepared more than 1,000 square feet of growing space.

When I resolved to start growing food, I didn’t know that taking on gardening would take me off my antidepressant. I had been on it since I was 18 years old. It saved me much suffering when I was younger, and maybe even my life (Lord knows how bad my depression could have gotten without intervention).

Last winter, however, I felt stable despite some more recently developed anxiety. I began to suspect maybe my antidepressant was no longer necessary. After all, the psychiatrist who initially prescribed it hadn’t said it was a lifelong sentence. Some people come off Bupropion and do well even five or 10 years later.

Since starting the garden, I had something to look forward to, a grand project to design and tinker with, and a whole new realm of knowledge to dig into. I was excited. Doubtless, I would get into all sorts of mischief, like when I was a kid building unstable forts in the backyard forest. Only this time, it would be safer. What’s the worst that can happen — I kill some plants?

Likewise, what’s the worst that could happen if I stopped my medication? I know my depression well, and I would go back on the drug if my doctor thought it necessary.

Sometime during my early garden research and too-early planting of seedlings, I began decreasing my dosage of the antidepressant until I was off it completely. I felt no worse — if anything, the facial pain I believe stemmed from the anxiety was a bit less intense.

Gardening eventually brought a whole host of benefits I had only just begun to unlock in late winter. It gives me something to look forward to and prepare for when nothing’s really growing outside. The first year before spring finally came, I constructed rock walls, dug drainage trenches, and built rabbit fencing in addition to starting my seeds indoors and preparing the soil.

Gardening helps limit my use of social media and keeps me from overconsuming news and analysis. It also gets me outside in the sunshine (and sometimes the wind and sleet). When I’m outside doing manual labor, also known as exercise, I’m not inside snacking or baking treats.

Working in my garden has taught me discipline and perseverance. Hundreds of seedlings faced demise in my care, and many more seeds never sprouted. But I kept trying until I got some sort of success. Nurturing the soil and the plants connects me to nature in a way I can’t experience by tossing a football or taking walks with my kids. The garden welcomes my children, teaching them how plants grow, where their food comes from, and valuable skills to grow their own. This year, my eldest will have her own patch of soil to grow seeds in.

Growing my own produce has lessened my dependence on increasingly pricey and understocked grocery stores. And it gives me “gold star moments” that are rare in “adulting” activities. A stack of folded laundry has nothing on picking a ripe tomato or that first summer squash.

It connects me to a new community of people who want to help each other. I have something to chat with my neighbor about over the fence and exchange harvests with. I didn’t know how much I would enjoy that.

Tending the plants also connects me to my Creator in a new way. When God created man, He put him in a garden. We were designed to be in a close relationship with God and with nature, to have dominion over His creation and steward it.

Last year, I grew more than 30 different crops, including a failed patch of corn, very meager potato harvests, sweet and abundant tumbler tomatoes, snap peas that became prize snacks for the children, and spaghetti squash that was so productive I ended up composting eight fruits that we couldn’t eat before they spoiled.

I planted two pear trees and several berry bushes, including raspberry canes that didn’t grow at all. I will fail plenty this year too, but last year’s mistakes are this year’s wisdom.

I’m not saying gardening is for everyone, but if you haven’t tried growing something — a radish, a tomato plant, a pepper plant — don’t write it off. If you’ve failed at it in the past, you may just need a bit more knowledge and inspiration to make it enjoyable.

If you like other design fields such as cooking, interior design, architecture, makeup artistry, or anything else that employs both creativity and problem-solving, you may find a new passion in tending a garden. Any kind of setup will do, whether it’s in-ground, raised beds, an allotment, or just a few containers on your patio.

My generation is riddled with anxiety and disconnected from nature. We’re addicted to screens, addicted to junk food, and deficient in both nutrients and the connection to stabilizing community that feeds our souls. I started gardening to increase food security, but the most valuable thing I got from it wasn’t the harvest I put on our plates.

As a mother living in uncertain times with a long history of depression, tending the garden heals and rejuvenates my mind. It is building my character and deepening my relationship with the One who created the complex and amazing biological processes that I’m partnering with to feed my family.

I think I will garden until I’m too frail in my old age to do it anymore. When that happens, I hope the neighbors or my children bring me some of their harvest so I can partake in the joy of gardening until the Lord calls me home. In that eternal dwelling place, I do believe a garden is waiting.


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