Dandelions and bad hair days

Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of monthly mental health guest posts. This time we hear from writer Vivienne Tuffnell. Vivienne is the author of  the book Strangers & Pilgrims, blogs regularly at Zen and the art of tightrope walking and has her own website at www.viviennetuffnell.co.uk. Honest and open about her struggles with depressive illness, Viv has shared her experiences here in an original and wonderfully creative way.

A man who took great pride in his lawn found himself with a large crop of dandelions. He tried every method he knew to get rid of them. Still they plagued him.

Finally he wrote to the Department of Agriculture. He enumerated all the things he had tried and closed his letter with the question: “What shall I do now?”

In due course the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”

(from Anthony de Mello’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_de_Mello The Song of the Bird ) http://www.demello.org/

I’ve always loved this little story from a great master, but it’s taken me years to finally figure out the real meaning.

For a long time, it made me think of my hair. I’ve got dandelion hair. There are photos of me as a baby with white-blonde hair sticking up like I’ve had an electric shock, for all the world like a dandelion clock ripe for blowing away. As an adult I have vicious hair, rough like a horse’s mane or tail. I’ve broken many brushes, finding the handle snapping off mid way through disciplining my mane, or even having a brush disintegrate completely. It’s curly enough not to be straight but doesn’t wave enough to form proper curls. I have it long because that seemed the simplest way of leaving it; I can do a dozen or more things with it and it’s a kind of trademark. But I still envy women with hair that is straight and shiny and that behaves. Mine might go on a psychopathic rampage and throttle people. It’s not quite the thing, my hair. About once in twenty or so years pre-Raphaelite hair becomes fashionable and mine suddenly seems the ideal. The rest of the time, it’s at best a talking point.

But the dandelions story has become more poignant for me lately as my long-standing depression came roaring back and I’ve become acutely aware of the years of trying everything to ease it and finding I am without remedy. Over the years I have tried pretty much every medication that was offered, with initial success in terms of alleviating symptoms, which tapered off and then ceased to help. Usually this resulted in taking higher doses, which resulted in increased side effects. I also explored a good number of alternative methods, including exercise, herbal medicine and homoeopathy and even some counselling. I tried energy medicines, flower essences, crystals and pretty much everything wacky and wonderful. Most things worked for a while and then stopped. It’s analogous to different ways of dealing with a lawn full of dandelions. You can mow the lawn and cut off the flowers, but three days later they’ll be back. You can use a weed-killer that kills off both flowers and leaves, but only the most toxic of weed-killers reach the roots and will leave your soil sterile for years, before the new seeds blow into the garden and start the process again. You can even dig up the entire lawn and try to remove each root by hand (I’ve actually done this with a new vegetable garden, taking away barrow-loads of roots) but leave even a fraction of root and the whole plant will regenerate. Whatever method you use, the dandelions will eventually grow back.

In terms of my psyche, those dandelions are the symptoms of my depression and they are growing from the very ground of my being. Do I really want to poison my system with mental weed-killers, wipe out and sterilise my psyche by radical treatment like ECT or some of the powerful psychoactive medications? Or spend years digging over and eradicating every root I can find with major psychotherapy (not that this is an economically viable option) only to have new shoots spring up to start the whole cycle again as new seeds settle into the fertile and well tilled soil?

No. It may be time for a new approach, one that is based on acceptance. Those depression-dandelions are growing out of my soul and they’re growing to tell me something I surely need to know and I’ve been unable to face my whole life though.

I’ll leave the conclusion to the words of De Mello

“I too had a lawn I prided myself on and I too was plagued with dandelions that I fought with every means in my power. So learning to love them was no easy matter. I began talking to them each day. Cordial. Friendly. They maintained a sullen silence. They were smarting from the war I had waged against them and were suspicious of my motives.

But it wasn’t long before they smiled back. And relaxed. Soon we were good friends.

My lawn, of course, was ruined. But how attractive my garden became!”

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13 Responses to Dandelions and bad hair days

  1. Rin says:

    Awesome, what a great post, thanks Vivienne. Personally I wouldn’t entirely give up on trying to eradicate depression, but learning to accept it for what it is can actually make the whole experience easier to handle, so I think you’ve definitely got a really good point. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Liz says:

    What a wonderful post. x

  3. Yes, great post Viv. Made me smile since my neighbours keep tut-tutting about the dandelions in my front garden. I think learning to accept depression doesn’t really ever go away, indeed it takes delight in turning round to bite when you least expect it, does, as Rin says, makes the experience easier to handle. I can’t say I’ll ever love it, but you cast an interesting light xx

  4. Viv says:

    Thanks all.
    I’ve only just gotten home from work so sorry for my lateness.
    I have to confess, I really don’t think I will ever be free of it. I really have tried everything.
    I just hope that my words, wherever I sprinkle them, can give comfort to others. If I can go to bed on my worst nights and think, there is 1 person alive who has benefited from my words, then there is a better chance of me NOT taking the logical next step of despair.
    And I do love dandelions….

  5. Rudolf says:

    A very honest portrayal of your struggle with this illness. I too came to realise that having a depressive illness was part of my being, and like you after years of struggle and pain, I found a quiet calm in that acceptance. It has made dealing with it so much more natural to me now. I’m lucky in many ways – I don’t have to hold down a job for one thing, and I have a wife that indulges me and my illness. These things help, and not taking medication of any kind turned out to be a smart move for me. Now my way is just my way, and it may not work for anyone else. But Vivienne is right, the biggest step is to accept who we are, ALL we are. Without the lows the highs would not be so high. And we, those that feel these things inside us, have a window into the mind that most could never imagine… it makes us special, able to tap into a well deep and full of mysteries.

  6. souldipper says:

    I love dandelions, too…apparently the wine is good??? I also love following Viv’s blog. Thanks, Suzie, for inviting her to put together this highly informative and deeply touching piece. My departed mother had chronic depression her whole life and, as intelligent as she was, could never describe it in a way I could understand. Other brilliant friends of mine also cannot put into words what they experience. Probably every one of them would throw rotten tomatoes at this article. The medical world can be so non-experiential in their opinions: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/is-depression-actually-good-for-you-2274662.html

    May all who know this condition too well be blessed with an intelligent and loving doctor.

    • Viv says:

      Pass me those rotten tomatoes…
      However, I can see the logic and the thought behind it; but like many things, one size does not fit all. Your answer is not my answer and vice versa.

  7. It is a wonderful analogy.
    what of the poor neighbors who get pelted with a wind full of furry depression seeds?
    Thanks Viv

  8. keatsbabe says:

    Thanks to everyone for commenting. I love this post and the discussion it prompted and am really grateful to Viv for taking the time to write it for nowriggling.

  9. Pingback: Dandelion Hair

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