Resilience on the Back Porch: Surprising Lessons from Catnip

Catnip recently got me thinking about resilience–that all-important quality that allows us to handle life’s challenges and eventually regain our footing.  So yes, you read the title right.  I am indeed writing a post inspired by the herb pots on my back porch.  Here’s why.  We grow a variety of herbs on our back porch, so we can easily access them for cooking.  But because they’re in pots, they need a bit more attention and TLC than the plants that can tap into the groundwater out in the garden.  Since the herbs are just outside the door, I see them all day long.  And since we weren’t perfect herb curators ( i.e. maybe the pots went without water for a day or three), I got the chance to observe some interesting things about catnip.

It Can be Good to Have an Early Warning System

If you haven’t grown catnip, you won’t know (as I didn’t know), that catnip responds early to a lack of water.  Its leaves droop dramatically, and it gives a very good impression of a plant that is at death’s door.  This is actually pretty helpful, since the plants around it still look healthy and well nourished–it’s a great reminder that they all need a drink.  So, to judge what the deck plants need, we just keep an eye on the catnip.  With that guide, they’re all getting plenty of water and flourishing nicely (I see fabulous pesto in my future).

You’ve been very patient so far, since we’re two paragraphs in, and there’s been no real mention of how this post is about people instead of plants.  And now I’ll reward your patience.  Much of the time, when people are in pain, or in need of emotional nourishment, we hide that.  There are lots of reasons we hide our pain:  fear of seeming “needy,” fear that others won’t respond in nurturing ways, bad previous experiences, lack of communication tools, etc.  Some of those reasons may be based on our past history, and they all feel valid.  The problem is, when we don’t express our need for support, connection, or affection, the likelihood is those needs will not get met.

By providing a clear early warning sign that it needs water, the catnip may actually have something to teach us.  If we can learn the tools that allow us to access help and support when we first need it–listening to our own early warning systems–we may be able to prevent our needs from reaching a crisis level.  Another benefit of becoming familiar with your own early warning signs is that you may also be able to provide an example for others.  All the other herbs on the deck benefit from the catnip’s rapid drooping.  When you are emotionally tuned in to your own needs, you show others that it is okay to notice their own.  You may even be able to help them identify their early warning signs.

We Have the Potential for Recovery

When catnip is watered, it can revive from a limp, dead-looking thing to a glossy, perky, green plant in a matter of hours.  The first time I witnessed this revival, I was amazed at how tough this plant is.  It reminded me of how strong and resilient we humans have the capacity to  be.

Unfortunately, the solution for our emotional droughts is not a simple and straightforward as a drink of water.  One healing experience is often only the starting point for those of us who have been through significant trauma or loss.  While the catnip is not a perfect analogy, it does present a vivid illustration that, even when we feel broken and lost, there is a path back to mental health.  We can give ourselves permission to seek healing, to ask for support, to provide our own emotional “water” with acts of self-care and choices motivated by self-love.

It is this potential for recovery that makes therapy such an inspiring, powerful, humbling process.  I see, in each of my clients, the possibility of emotional health.  Even when they aren’t aware of their own potential yet, I am able to hold that awareness for them.  When someone contacts me, I am thrilled that they’re seeking the nourishment they need, taking that first step to realizing their potential for recovery.

What do you think?  When have you been resilient?  How familiar are you with your early warning systems?  What parts of your emotional life need a good “watering?”

One thought on “Resilience on the Back Porch: Surprising Lessons from Catnip

  1. This post is like “taking time to stop and smell the roses.” Reminds us to pay attention to what are usually considered the “small stuff,” but really has a great impact on our lives. Very well written comparison.

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