I’m Depressed. Don’t Give Me Houseplants.

Louisa Ballhaus
·3 min read

When I want to distill my existential dread into a household object, I’ll turn anywhere but houseplants. Globally, I’m in the minority — amid the pandemic, plant sales are up and the backgrounds of Zoom calls have become progressively greener. So, here’s my unpopular opinion: I hate houseplants, and I don’t intend to change.

I think they’re pretty, sure, but a piece of decor that comes with a to-do list is a no for me, full stop. I have major depressive disorder, and my own to-do list is no joke — by which I mean, I need to write down basic, basic needs to make sure they get done. Give me a 1000-piece puzzle or a Rubik’s Cube, but please: Do not give me more to maintain.

When I was 22, I lay on my mother’s bed beside her at 11 o’clock at night, at the start of a months-long panic disorder neither of us quite knew what to do with. I hadn’t showered for at least three days and had work in the morning. I needed to shower but couldn’t bring myself to do it, I told her.

“Do you know how hard it is to hear you say that?” she replied. And then of course I did.

This was the first time I learned that expressing my difficulty with basic maintenance tasks made people uncomfortable, though I’d probably made many people uncomfortable by then without realizing. Some things are very easy for me, like reading long books or reciting the French alphabet backwards. But others are arduous, and loom large in my mind, make me question the whole ritual of getting up and going back to bed — like showering, like brushing my teeth. Like watering a houseplant and waiting to see if it will die.

Some days, I like to read my to-do lists out loud for the next day. My boyfriend always laughs at the minutiae.

“Do you want to add breathing to that list?” he asks. Some days, I think I should.

Please don’t think I’m dismissing the value of learning how to nourish plant life, or that I’m speaking on behalf of all depressed people. I’m not; I’m simply someone who is not lacking for something to nourish. I have taken years to view myself and my relationships as living things in need of care, and now I feed them with purpose and intention, in hopes of seeing them grow.

I have taken years to view myself and my relationships as living things in need of care, and now I feed them with purpose and intention, in hopes of seeing them grow.

In other words: I don’t need to see a houseplant grow new leaves, or put down roots. I watch my bruises fade. I feel my heart rate steady. I forgive myself when I fail, and I’m not faced with rotting leaves as witness.

You may look at your newly purchased houseplants and see a sign of life, but I see one more thing that will die if I don’t tend to it. When I’m looking to add a touch of life to my living room, personally, I light my candles. I watch them burn.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, text “START” to 741-741 to speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line and/or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Looking for some extra mental health support? Here are a few of the best (and most affordable) mental health apps:


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