Late fall of 2017, I had brain aneurysm surgery. It seems redundant to say it, but it was a challenging time in my life. I got through it with the support of my loving parents, a select group of friends (I’m not the rah-rah running marathons for causes type), one supremely invested general practitioner and my wonderful manager at work. Surrounded by love and after a three month-long stint on a horrible blood thinner called Warfarin, I approached 2018 with ridiculously high expectations for the new year. (Truth be told, I spent New Year’s celebrating in a gorgeous floor-length gold gown that many women incorrectly inquired as Versace at Artis Naples in Naples, Florida with tears streaming from my eyes as I danced all night to Cole Porter standards.)
Life, however, could give two shits about what you want. Which is why I think people tend to soften that harsh truism by saying instead, ‘Life is funny that way’. Into the third week of 2018, on an average morning getting ready for work, I blacked out. I lost consciousness and dropped face forward onto a mirrored tray that cracked into a gazillion pokey shards and pieces, and promptly gave myself the mother of concussions. I was told by one ER physician and three specialists that I was SUPREMELY lucky. If I had still been taking blood thinners when this happened, my brain would have developed a hematoma and then shit would have become really real. Or shit would have been, more likely, totally over.
This is an intense thing to hear when half of your face is bruised and bleeding, while your left eye is swollen shut . However, after you have had your bell rung (as NFL Players refer to concussions) you will just sit in a haze and watch lips move while processing nothing because your brain is not functioning as it should. Lights and sounds induce piercing migraines. You are unable to filter out things in your periphery from things in your axis so you’re unable to focus and then you become overwhelmed, your head begins to pound and then the exhaustion hits. You sleep for days on end. Your balance and equilibrium are fucked. You start to cradle dark thoughts that are harder and harder to keep at bay. You have zero control over your emotions. And what shivs you deepest, is that you’re put on medical leave from work and are given strict instructions not to read, not to surf the net, not to watch television and not to listen to music as you heal. No concerts, no museums, no restaurants, no sporting events, no shopping, no nothing. You are instructed to let your brain rest and that equates to avoiding and blocking out any and all stimuli.
As a designer, this is a death sentence. Digesting media and soaking up stimuli are the foodstuff for creativity and generating ideas. But concussions are a siege on life because you have to guard yourself from it. A great wave of depression hung over me. Luckily, for the majority of the month, I slept for days on end. And when I was awake I felt abandoned, isolated and desperate. One day, apropos to nothing in my prior history (I liked shoes, not plants) and sick of the grey darkness of February in Minneapolis, I just drove to a garden center. I have no idea why. Maybe that reptilian drive for survival decided to kick in. The warmth and humidity and the color green in that nursery felt so good. And then I came across a beautiful and strange plant that may have prevented me from more desperate measures and enriched my life for the better: a Pilea Peperomioides or a Chinese Money Plant.
Unbeknownst to me, this was the IT plant of 2016-2018 on Instagram and was highlighted in those super slick design blogs where everything is white and clean and mid-century. As is my luck, I stumbled onto THE thing by happenstance and was just completely dumbfounded by how odd the plant looked. I had never seen anything like it before. Flat pancake-like leaves attached to long slender stems that grew horizontally from a short stalk (at the time) and cost $50. I balked from the plant because of the price. But I kept circling back around and staring at it. Observing it. Touching it. Other than my sweet Persian kitty, Sibi, it was the best purchase I have ever made.
Fast forward a year later. It’s January 2019 and my little Pilea has grown about a foot and a half in height and has produced 5 new pups or baby plants. I learned so much in a year just from raising that plant. And now I can categorically call myself a crazy plant lady which is the new crazy cat lady which is another trend that I fell into by happenstance and that is just how my life seems to operate now. And that is ok.
My lovely apartment has transformed into a mini-jungle of sorts since that first Pilea purchase. I have 50+ plants and growing (haha); an industrial sized humidifier that can increase the humidity of the entire first floor of my apartment; a smaller warm mist humidifier used specifically for extra finicky tropical plants; countless empty distilled water jugs repurposed to hold tap water to fill said humidifiers; grow lights of all sorts and sizes; antique plant stands from India, Morocco and the 70s; a finished basement equipped with a second hand work/potting bench that I bought for a steal from craigslist; a portable 6’ mini-greenhouse that I use for a plant triage unit and for sprouting seeds; and an amazing Sonos system that my very considerate boyfriend installed throughout my house so that I could listen to classical music while I pot new plants on my workbench or as I putter around my private jungle in my pajamas, admiring my plants. I couldn’t be happier. And my brain is healing too.
In a time of such bleakness and desperation, a funny little plant gave me a reason to rise out of my depressed state and to find another way to be creative. It was a self-imposed challenge to keep something that unique and beautiful alive and thriving. I mean, what else was there to do? And that challenge shadowed my own journey back to health. As my Pilea matured, I realized that I could still be productive and was good at things other than my job. Plants have pushed me to problem solve in new ways, learn more about nature and it’s processes, and have nudged me to be more nurturing, observant and patient. It brought a meditative quiet to my day-to-day that had been missing for too long. It became a way to keep stressors at bay while seeing results: both in the plant and in my overall wellbeing. Buying clothes and shoes and purses could never do that. And now I barely buy any of those things anymore, because what those specific material items symbolize is an endless pursuit. Instead, I spend hours in the quiet of my home, inspecting and marveling over each and every leaf of each and every plant when my brain starts to shut down from the blue light emanating from the phone/tv/tablet/computer screen and then a calm comes over me and the headaches start to subside. Nurturing and cultivating my little jungle has taught me how to exist in a stillness that was once enforced, but is now something that I seek. That stillness has become a non-negotiable in my life. As the adage goes, life is funny that way. And so are Pileas.