Tag Archives: mental health

Gardening, Larry McMurtry and Henry David Thoreau

One of my all-time favorite novels is “Duane’s Depressed” by Larry McMurtry. I’ve re-read it enough times to have it practically memorized. At the beginning of the book,
the title character is in his early 60’s and is the owner of a small oil company in Texas. One day he comes to the realization that he can no longer tolerate his current lifestyle. He decides that he has spent way too many decades of his life driving around in pickup trucks trying to accomplish things that haven’t meant anything to him in a long time. His house is too large, too crammed with stuff and too full of family members who drive him crazy. The town is too full of people who expect him to serve on committees, solve problems and listen to complaints. He doesn’t want to deal with the oil company anymore and eventually turns it over to his son. He abruptly parks his pickup truck, walks out to a simple cabin he owns outside of town, and abdicates nearly all of his responsibilities, despite protests from practically everyone in his life.

Duane has decided for reasons not known to him yet that he is fed up with motorized transportation. The new life he has begun has been simplified into figuring out how to meet his basic needs while walking everywhere he needs to go. His cabin has almost nothing in it so when he decides to clear some brush and stockpile some firewood, he walks to a convenience store with a small hardware department to get tools since he can’t stand the thought of having to deal with the people in the town and in his house to get the tools he already owns. The store owner tells him he is acting like Thoreau so he later seeks out a copy of “Walden” and reads it to see what the store owner is talking about. This is part of his process of seeking an explanation for his behavior that he can’t give to all the people who are bugging him about it because he doesn’t yet know himself.

A lot of the book deals with Duane’s thoughts as he’s working on his new activities. Later in the book he does engage in actual gardening but while he is still just working on firewood he considers walking to the store to purchase a wheelbarrow so he can work faster. Then he asks himself why he needs to work faster and decides that acquiring stuff so he can work faster is a slippery slope back to the old life he doesn’t want any more.

I think a lot about the decision of this character not to purchase a wheelbarrow while I’m out gardening. I own a few power tools, but I usually prefer to use hand tools when I can. I do not have a philosophical or moral objection to using power tools. I will use them when I think they will help me out. One of the reasons I use a lot of hand tools is that sometimes it takes more time to deal with batteries and rechargers and extension cords and power outlets than it does to just grab a hand tool and do it. I like the exercise that comes with hand work. Probably the biggest reason is that when I’m working on my own garden, I’m working for different reasons than for a client garden. Timing IS important when working on gardening and landscaping projects even if you don’t have a deadline or have to work in the most cost-effective way possible when working on a project. Sometimes you have to whip out the power tools to get things done during the right season or in the right order before something else can be done.

An invasive hedge we are removing bit by bit with hand tools.
An invasive hedge we are removing bit by bit with hand tools.

I’ve been periodically working on removing these invasive honeysuckle bushes and vines in our backyard for some time. I’ve been making a big push the last few weeks and last night my husband Tom joined in. So far all of this work has been done with hands, a bypass hand pruner, a small pruning saw and a pair of loppers. Yes we could get this done more quickly if we borrowed, purchased or rented a power chain saw. But if we did that we could not converse while we work or enjoy the bird sounds. The task would become just another chore instead of a restorative activity that makes us feel good physically and mentally. Another factor to consider is the apartment complex that is adjacent to our backyard. I hate it when weather nice enough to open your house windows finally comes along and you have to abruptly close them because all you can hear are leaf blowers, saws and lawn mowers. This is less of a problem if your property is large but as you can see ours is not and we have extremely close neighbors that I would rather not disturb if it’s not absolutely necessary.

Like the title character in “Duane’s Depressed”, I appreciate taking time when possible to do things the slow way and the simpler way. When I first read “Duane’s Depressed” 20 years ago I had not heard of mindfulness. I don’t think the word mindfulness is even in the book but that is part of what Duane needed without knowing it. Gardening is one of the things I do to help achieve it – when I’m gardening all I’m thinking about are the sights, sounds, smells, textures and sometimes even tastes I’m experiencing. The effect on my well being is almost like magic!

No, I haven’t yet read “Walden”. The character who mentions┬áThoreau to Duane refers to him as a “Yankee a**hole” and Duane’s therapist calls him “that gloomy man”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement is it! Have you read “Walden”? If so, what did you think? In this novel Duane also reads “Remembrance of Things Past” by Proust which he hates 90% of, so I haven’t picked that one up yet either!

My New Planner Layout

Awhile ago I wrote about making a planner out of a sketchbook. This helps me keep track of my work because I can take notes and make sketches in the same book that is my planner. I try not to go anywhere without it! I have designed and purchased some rubber stamps to help me incorporate planner pages into my sketchbook.

Over the last several months I have been battling severe depression as the result of an abusive relationship. An ex-boyfriend gradually used emotional abuse techniques to persuade me to think there was something wrong with almost every part of what made me myself – my work, my hobbies, my goals in life, my family, my friends, my financial acuity, my physical appearance, my lifestyle, even how I packed for camping trips. Over time I internalized these criticisms and came to believe I wasn’t worth anything.

I’ve been fighting hard and using lots different tools to combat the depression. One reliable mood-lifter for me has been the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. Here is what each letter stands for.

  • Being Gentle with yourself
  • Relaxation
  • Achievement
  • Pleasure
  • Exercise
  • Social

I read on a depression support web site that you should try to incorporate at least one activity each day that fits into each of the six letters in G.R.A.P.E.S. I’ve come a long way since I counted making it through a day of work in the Achievement category, but that’s how it was for quite awhile.

I’m doing much better now and surrounding myself with people who support me and seem to think I’m ok the way I am. I want to keep maintaining my progress so I have redesigned my planner page to remind me to schedule activities covered by G.R.A.P.E.S. I also included a line to check them off to track my progress.

Planner page with rubber stamps and letter stickers

On the page shown, the left column is for items that should be done some time during the week. The right column is for appointments and scheduling. I used letter stickers to spell “G.R.A.P.E.S.” at the top. The number stamps and ruled line stamp are by 7gypsies and the month of the year and day of the week stamps are by my own Carolyn’s Stamp Store.