The African Violet Queen felt tired all the time. She just couldn’t seem to get the energy or interest to do the things she once enjoyed.
“I used to like to get up and go to church,” she said, “but now I can’t seem to drag myself out of bed in the morning. Since I’ve been confined to a wheelchair, I find myself wondering, what’s the point? Why am I here? I don’t see that my life makes much of a difference.”
This story is about a woman who met with Dr. Milton Erickson, a famous psychiatrist. She was very depressed, even suicidal at times. Her nephew asked Dr. Erickson to see her when he visited their city. He did and the results were surprising. Rather than comment on the disarray in the woman’s home, obvious signs of neglect and depression, Dr. Erickson instead noticed indicators of her religious belief and the woman’s African violets.
“Depression isn’t your problem,” he said. “Your problem is that you aren’t being a very good Christian.”
He then told the woman she needed to grow as many plants as she could from the cuttings and whenever there was a birthday, engagement, wedding, christening, anniversary, sickness or death in her parish, she needed to contribute one of her plants in a gift pot. About ten years later an article appeared in the city’s newspaper proclaiming, “African Violet Queen Dies—Mourned By Thousands!”
Because life is stressful, and may be particularly so when we’re feeling depressed, finding positive ways to relax are also important. This might include soaking in the tub, using a meditative or devotional activity, listening to music or even growing African violets.
Altruism and spirituality are also important. Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) consider it as a key component of recovery. Social support and giving back are both associated with a more positive outlook and better health. Studies suggest it also helps with depression, especially if the giving is connected with an expression of faith, e.g., through a church. In a study of members of Presbyterian churches across the U.S., giving help was significantly associated with lower depression and anxiety than was receiving help, just as long as the volunteer did not feel overwhelmed by the demands of others.
Depression is disabling and debilitating. For serious depression, consultation with a professional is best. In mild or moderate cases of depression, relief may be found by talking with someone (perhaps a friend or family member and a trusted therapist) and including some of the activities identified above. Finding purpose in meaningful activities connected with altruism can be very good medicine indeed.
This post originally appeared in the Springfield News-Leader on April 14, 2015.