By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I was driving through a tony part of town this morning, the kind of neighborhood that at this time of year looks like a movie set designer’s rendition of suburbia: lush green lawns, a profusion of blooming purple azaleas, fuchsia rhododendrons, statuesque pink magnolias, white cherry trees, with red and yellow tulips adding puffs of color underneath. It was gorgeous and inspiring. For a moment I thought, “ah, the wonders of nature” instead of “ah, the wonders of hard work.”
I came home and faced a reality check: The true effect of unfettered nature is expressed perfectly in a certain neighbor’s yard, a scrubby, weedy plot in which the most expansive field of green comes from moss on the roof.
Gorgeous yards do not come easy: the owners either invest years of long hours to create something that looks effortlessly beautiful or else they pay a landscape designer and yard maintenance crew to do it for them.
Often when we see the fruits of labor we forget how much work and effort went into it.
Mental health is like that. When folks experience mental health problems, they may look at healthy people with jealousy and resentment: Why is so easy for everyone else? Why does my life have to be so hard?
While there may be the rare bird out there born to emotionally available parents who provide consistent support, supervision, safety and encouragement, with loving siblings and whose social-political environment is both validating and filled with growth opportunities (Leprechaun alert! I haven’t met any of these people), most of us have to put some serious effort into healing from childhood wounds and creating and maintaining a healthy adult self.
Gertrude Jekyll, the wildly prolific English garden designer and author once pointed out, “It is a curious thing and that many people, even among those who profess to know something about gardening, when I show them something fairly successful—the crowning reward of much care and labour—refuse to believe that any pains have been taken about it. The will ascribe it to chance, to the goodness of my soil, and even more commonly to some supposed occult influence of my own—to anything rather than the plain fact that I love it well enough to give it plenty of care and labour.”
Okay, so we cannot ignore the existence of luck: some people are born rich or smart, or pretty, or charming (or—doggone it! All of the above,) and any one of these gifts make life easier.
But regardless of one’s starting point in life, our emotional wellbeing is worth the effort of conscious cultivation and constant loving care.
There is no greater garden to tend, and like the stunningly beautiful gardens I drove by and savored, individual mental health is a gift to all.