UTSoC, 2018

Eliza Spencer recounts her encounters with sunflowers and recovery in a personal reflection on her path through depression and anxiety.

Sunflowers follow the trajectory of the sun, moving their heads to soak up the optimum amount of light and converting to energy before the day ends. The scientific term is phototropism, a reminder to seek out the light in each day, and rest when the sun has set.  They represent happiness, longevity and loyalty, all traits essential for people working through their mental health journeys. Sunflowers are my totem on days when my anxiety peaks, or when it seems too hard to get out of bed, a reminder to soak up the light.


There’s a store on King Street, a health food store that sells small bouquets of sunflowers by their stoop. One particularly terrible day spent heartbroken and wandering the streets of Newtown, I stumbled right past the beaming blooms. I backtracked and bought a handful to soothe my aching heart and carried them around the city while they wilted in the summer heat. The flowers only lasted a few days sitting on the windowsill, but it began a habit of picking up a sunflower when it felt like the world was overwhelming me, and I started noticing the presences of the flowers just when I needed them most.

Source: Eliza Spencer

One bouquet from the supermarket after the death of a family member, a sunflower garden whizzing by on the bus into uni for an exam, a character presenting the protagonist with sunflower seeds in a film I watched at 2am after my friends brought me down from a panic attack. I gave in and tattooed a bouquet of wildflowers and seeds surrounding a sunflower next to my heart.

The world got brighter, and I convinced myself I was better, sunflowers wilted, I bought house plants and roses and acted like everything was okay. It had been weeks of denying the building mental tension when I walked right into a field of sunflowers. I cried, allowing myself to feel just how deeply I’d been ignoring the warning signs. Low energy, sour moods, lack of sleep, that sounds a lot like depression rearing its head again. I filled my camera with a roll of sunflowers, went back to my doctor, started seeing a psychologist again. I started moving my face back towards the sun, just like the flowers I’ve adored.

I’m realising that mental wellness isn’t just a switch you can flip, it’s a process of consistent care, and grace in the days that nothing can quite fill the ache within. On those days, I buy sunflowers. I touch the tattoo on my side and remember that this life is a gift, where I can find fields of flowers and cry with people who care deeply. I can face the sun and feel the warmth, I can feel again.

Eliza Spencer is a second-year Journalism student chasing stories and living off coffee. Catch her filling a roll of film in the backstreets of Sydney or sipping a soy cap on campus, always trying to find the next great story and live a little more in the present.

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