Finding sunshine in a cloudy life - Mental Health

Tending your own garden

This is the thirteenth Spring I have lived in this particular northern state of the U.S. and I have not yet come to grips with the fact that the last frost date in our area is mid-May. The vernal equinox comes and goes and I stand at my window, impatiently, thinking thoughts such as: “Snow again?!” or “Why is it still so cold outside? It’s SPRING!”

It’s possible we have had our last snow (it’s also possible we have not — I’m not ruling anything out), but it’s still too cold to be planting without a cold frame, which we don’t have. Be that as it may, I have the gardening itch, and I have it bad. You see, I had a conversation with my husband that set something wild and wondrous free inside me and it’s ready to come out!

Starting this year, we are losing the lawn in the front yard. Maybe not all of it this year, but as much of it as we have time to deal with. Going lawn-free is kind of a radical notion, but it’s an idea that’s gaining momentum. As excited as I am about the importance of biodiversity, providing for pollinators, and restoring native plants, none of those things are the Wild and Wondrous Something.

Pink haired woman wearing cat-eye glasses, purple lipstick, and a pink and purple wrap confidently smiles

If you were to take a look at my currently pink hair, colorful wardrobe, eclectic playlist on Spotify, and unabashed dancing in public when great music comes on the overhead speakers, you probably would not immediately think of the word, “conformist.”

Dude, I don’t even think of myself as a conformist; yet, surprisingly, there was a tiny little conformist in my mind that was not allowing me to have the yard I want. This is what it said to me: “No one wants to buy a house that has no grass in the front yard.”

Whoa, there cowboy. Yes, we are approaching the thirteenth anniversary of owning this house. No, we have no immediate plans to move. No, we don’t even have plans to move within a few years. When I told my husband I hated our lawn and wished we could get rid of it, he was baffled by the reason I hadn’t started working on that. The words he spoke next opened a door that had been firmly closed in my heart. “It doesn’t matter if no one wants to buy it. We’re the ones who live here.”

*Cue light from above and uplifting organ music*

The sun breaks free of heavy cloud cover on a snowy day.

We live here. This is my life. This is where I live. Right now. It doesn’t matter if it pleases some future home buyer. What matters in my yard, as in my life, is if I am happy with it.

We plan so much of our lives around doing things (mowing the lawn, for example) for the sole reason of pleasing other people or conforming to societal standards, that we lose the opportunity to be happy ourselves. I understand that biodiversity, butterflies, and bumblebees may not thrill and excite you. Not only do they thrill and excite me, make me happy to see, and participate in, but they actually are part of who I am fundamentally. They are, in my opinion, critically important to the entire freaking world.

bee crawls on a purple cone-flower

Being a conformist in this regard was not only stopping me from having a yard that was aesthetically pleasing to me, it was keeping me from making changes that I believe could make an actual difference. In one of the most easily changed ways I could possibly impact the world, I have been conforming. We don’t even have a HOA. That was one of the reasons we chose to live where we live, and still, the idea of suburban turf was haunting me.

How many of you are letting societal standards keep you from being who you really are? Maybe you spent your school years doodling cartoons in the margins of your notes. Maybe you dreamed of being a syndicated cartoonist. But how many people succeed at that, you think, as you choose to study pre-med. Maybe you have always been fascinated with law and politics, but you had such a knack for math that you followed the path everyone expected and you’ve spent 10 years making good money as a CPA. You’ve got a nice house, but you know you could have been a better lawyer than that district attorney.

As a side note, I would like to mention that my yard, due to many life events in the past years, has suffered more than its share of neglect. The grass (that I don’t even want) often goes without mowing longer than it should. It’s also full of plants that are not grass. If you are an average American in this regard, you would not hesitate to call them weeds. I’m not judging you for this because even I call them weeds when they’re smack in the middle of what is supposed to be a smooth green expanse of lawn.

My un-mowed lawn, filled with dandelions and such forth, has brought me shame and embarrassment to such a great degree that I avoid my next-door neighbors who have an absolutely beautiful yard. As such I have spoken very little to them since they moved in, but in my mind, I am quite certain that they hate living next door to me.

This is madness, my friend. Absolute madness. These are perfectly nice people just living their lives, raising their kid, tending their own garden the way they like their garden. Not one single word has ever been shared between us about our respective yards except when we once agreed over the fence that there was always some task in the yard to do. That’s it. No hate mail, no evil eye symbols on their house directed at ours, not even any nasty looks cast in the vague direction of our yard while they are out taking care of their own. Where did I get the idea they hated me? I got it from my own shame and fear.

Living your life based on what you think other people think, feel, or believe is not only cheating you out of living the life you want to be living, it is cheating those other people of their own identities and opinions. You have created a persona for them that has little to do with who they are and what they think. They probably aren’t sitting in their living rooms, or break rooms, or driving by in their cars thinking about what a terrible mess you’re making of your life. In fact, they are far more likely to be thinking about how other people believe they are making a terrible mess of their own lives. It’s time to step out of the ideas we have of what we SHOULD BE and become who we are.

You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!

Olin Miller

This year, when it finally warms up enough for me to clear away the overwintering places of tiny critters, I am going to extend my non-conformity to my yard. Maybe I’ll even get to know my neighbors.

Brightest blessings to you, your neighbors, and the butterflies! ~Sunny

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