I am fascinated by orchids. Their colors are beautiful; when they bloom, their flowers last for weeks; and I’m intrigued by the way they take their nutrients from the air and rain, growing above the soil instead of in it.
When I moved into my first psychotherapy office, there was much light. One window faced south, the other east.
I brought in several different plants, including three orchids. In all honesty, I didn’t have a clue how to care for the orchids besides the two sentences of advice written on the tag. I had heard people say the flowers were difficult to grow. I didn’t expect they would grow. I mean, if I can kill a spider plant, I don’t have a chance with these beautiful, delicate blooms.
Surprisingly, the orchids thrived. New flowers were constantly growing, and they became huge. I did nothing more than water them on occasion. I wondered why people had a difficult time growing these things. I was quite proud.
Two years later, I moved offices. My new space had floor-to-ceiling windows that faced a courtyard. There was plenty of sunlight.
When I brought my orchids to my new office, they took a turn for the worse. Their flowers began to fall off, and their leaves turned brown.
I decided to act. I bought orchid food to help them grow. Nothing happened. I watered them more, then I watered them less. The plants didn’t change. I could not make my poor plants bloom or grow. They didn’t die, but they were barely surviving.
When I wised up and looked up orchid care, I saw that the best lighting for them comes from windows facing (you guessed it) south and east. My old office just happened to have the perfect lighting for orchids. My new office had great, big windows, but they faced west.
Although my plants were getting light, it wasn’t the right type of light. My orchids weren’t dying because of my neglect. They were dying because one small thing was wrong in their lives. When my plants thrived in my old office, it wasn’t because I was doing a great job. My plants thrived because the windows just happened to face the right direction.
It can be frustrating if you’re in a place in your life where you think everything should be great. On the outside, you may look just fine. Perhaps you have a great job, a loving partner and/or amazing kids, financial security, or any other indicator of what might be viewed as success.
But your struggles, whether related to depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, don’t magically disappear when your outside life seems perfect. You may not even know what needs to change.
Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I am not a philosopher, but I think he’s encouraging us to look deeply, to examine, who we are inside and outside.
I can’t change the lighting in my office (unless I make a window where there isn’t one, which my landlord would not appreciate), but I can move my orchids to another place where they can grow and bloom to their potential.
You can’t change some of who you are. You can’t make yourself taller or shorter, you can’t change the color of your eyes, and you can’t choose your parents. What you can change are the deeper parts of yourself.
Likewise, you can’t change some of who you are. You can’t make yourself taller or shorter, you can’t change the color of your eyes, and you can’t choose your parents.
What you can change are the deeper parts of yourself. You can begin by being compassionate toward yourself and others. You can change by learning new things, by taking risks, by learning to love and to be loved.
The Serenity Prayer says it beautifully: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The orchids I cared for didn’t need a change in their water or food or anything else I tried. It was only when I read about the lighting that I understood how critical it was to have light coming in from a particular direction. This appeared so insignificant, but it was vital to the plant’s existence. I simply did not have the correct window placement to allow them to grow into their fullest.
Maybe you’re really struggling, and unsure why or even where to turn to. Perhaps you have been told to “just get over it already” or to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” or even to “just do it.” When you’re in a dark place, these sayings or admonishments are not helpful. They lead to frustration, guilt, and anger. If your depression, anxiety, or other issue was so easy to fix, you’d have done it ages ago.
When you begin to identify the things that hold you back from being healthy and whole, you have some choices to make. Toxic or hurtful relationships may need to change. Maybe you need to get a different job or find friends who bring out the best in you. In some instances, you may need to move away from family members. Take the time to recognize what you can and can’t change. Be willing to confront what you fear, and to live in a different, better way.
It is my hope you find the areas of life that bring you joy and love. My wish for you is that you move forward with the courage to continue on when things become difficult.
Most of all, my hope is that rather than simply survive, you flourish.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio
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