The Recovering Farmer

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Cry for Help

As I prepare for some presentations and workshops this fall/winter, I have spent some time thinking about people who are dealing with mental health issues but don’t seem to have the ability to seek help. For years there has been increased chatter about talking. Bell puts on a “let’s talk” campaign every February. I have written countless blogs on talking, listening, and seeking help. There have been discussions around breaking down the stigma. And just about when you think it is helping another acquaintance dies by suicide.

I am also being reminded how service providers, whether that is salesmen, lenders, grain buyers, and countless others, are often on the front lines and bear the brunt of a customer or client’s stress, manifested in frustrations and anger. In my conversations with them they have shared how they feel lost when these situations arise and are never sure how best to address them.

And there are those who live and are in business with those dealing with mental health issues. So often they are caught in the middle. They understand that there may be problems but don’t know to what extent nor the seriousness of what maybe going on. Perhaps it is something that they have become accustomed to or something new that will pass. And even when the realization hits that this may be more serious there is uncertainty with how to react.

Then there is the perspective of the one living in that crisis. It may be an ongoing problem or something new that has developed and uncertainty prevails. Perhaps it is the stigma attached to mental health, maybe it’s the feeling that it will pass, and maybe it is frustration at knowing that one is slipping, again, into a darkness that we recognize and would like to avoid.

Earlier this summer I read an article about the inability to see when a person may be drowning. To a degree we visualize what we have seen on TV, a person crying for help, waving their arms in desperation, or various other signs of struggling. The article explained that when a person is drowning they are physiologically unable to cry for help as they are too busy trying to breath. As for flagging down help, the victim is utilizing their arms to try to stay afloat and so flagging for help goes beyond instinct and seldom happens. In essence a drowning person cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements to attract attention.

As I read that I could not help but draw a parallel to people living with mental health issues. There are those who are in so deep they are totally incapable of crying for help. For them it is a struggle just to “stay above water”. Those that are crying for help are often perceived to be ones in waist deep water, continuously talk about their state of mind, and their feelings are often diminished. They are not taken seriously.

In keeping with the drowning analogy, the question for many is how can we help a drowning person when we are not a lifeguard. Perhaps in our own minds we struggle with swimming and so rescuing a drowning person is out of the question.

Perhaps we don’t have the expertise to help someone who is overwhelmed with stress, someone in crisis, or someone that is living with depression or anxiety. Perhaps we struggle ourselves to cope, to deal with mental health challenges. At times like this we can be a support. We can validate and normalize what the other is telling us. And most of all we can point that person in the right direction. Help them find the life guard. There is hope and there is relief. Make it a good one.

“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.” Unknown

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Comparing Stories

The story is told of a doctor that met with a group of his peers that met regularly to discuss challenges they faced with their patients. On this particular evening the doctor presented a story of one of his patients that had died due to a strange illness that he had not been able to diagnose and all methods of trying to find solutions had failed. His peers were quite helpful in discussing various ideas that could have worked to save the patient. Suddenly the doctor got up to leave. When asked where he was going he informed them that the patient was still alive and due to the discussion he now knew what was needed.

As you all know by now I am an avid golfer and as such tend to read lots of articles pertaining to this sport. I am often intrigued when a player is interviewed and they talk about some of their struggles and the way they have the ability to fix those little idiosyncrasies that tend to mess with their game. They spend a lot of time practicing and will often share tips with their fellow golfers. Always found that rather ironic because helping a fellow competitor means they will improve and lessen your own chances of winning. But clearly that is a way to learn.

In the past, when I have written about talking and listening, I have done it in the context of mental health. I know how valuable that has been for me and for others. This go around I am approaching this from a different angle. I am affiliated with a company that promotes the concept of peer groups, similar to the group that the doctor attended. Groups where participants can compare stories, talk about what went right, what went wrong, what works and what doesn’t work. This becomes an important learning tool as farmers need all things available to survive and succeed.

This is just a small example of how “talking about it” can be helpful. We have a tendency to withdraw and isolate ourselves when we face challenges in life. That in itself is quite counterproductive. The more we open up to others the more we find small nuggets of helpful information. From innovative ideas on farming to helpful tips on managing conflict or stress, talking and sharing will improve your outlook on your business, your relationships, and your life. It is rather interesting how we learn from each other. So take the time to share with others. What you take home from that conversation could be a life changer.

This year brought another round of challenges. Last fall had been dry, not much snow in the winter, record breaking heat and drought this summer, and then an early thrust into what should be fall but feels more like early winter. The best made plans did not work out. So as this year draws to a close we wonder what might have been, what would have worked better. Our inner critic likes to remind us of where we went amiss, where we came up short. We have a tendency to look at others, who by all outward appearances seemed to fare better than us. But did they? Have a conversation.

Whether its work related or going on a holiday, we can always use input from others. Their experiences may well help us in doing better. Perhaps I will need to take this to heart myself. I have actually admitted to some that I seem to be addicted to golf which may create some issues when the season comes to an end. I may need a support group. Perhaps therapy. A story best left for another day. In the meantime I need to find some help with my putting. Perhaps I can gain some tips from others that play the game. Who knows, I may shoot par yet. Then again, there is always next year. Make it a good one.

“Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from people who didn’t intend to give them.” Unknown

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Naturopath?

Here we go again. I just checked and it is now going on 15 months since I last posted something on the Recovering Farmer blogpost. When this project began in 2010 I was quite faithful in making sure I wrote something on a weekly basis. That lasted till early 2015 when the writing became more sporadic. I rededicated myself to writing in late 2015 but never seemed to get in the groove. Quite frankly I have missed these weekly musings but never found the intestinal fortitude to really get back at it, in spite of trying on more than one occasion.

Over the years I have had my struggles with finding motivation, whether to work, play, and at times, even to live. I have often slipped into old ways, found ways to make my life much more difficult than it need be. Sure, I have sought the help of professionals, but never seemed to find what I was looking for. And so, as often happens, I would simply keep muddling along, surviving as best I could.

Earlier this year my wife and kids noticed that I was not in a good place and challenged me to seek help. Perhaps their frustrations had got to the point where mine were, convinced that there had to be something out there that could help. In my state of feeling guilt at having put them through this again, I promised I would try. I had tried a psychiatrist, a few psychologists, community mental health workers, a therapist, and even a counsellor. Nothing seemed to work for me. (Note. Not a criticism of these professionals but rather a commentary that different things work for different people or circumstances.)

So in an effort to placate them, as I had literally given up, I agreed to an appointment with a naturopath. As I journeyed to the appointment I just felt that this was another effort in futility. I suspected I would have a chat with the doctor, get some supplements, and be told to eat less of what I was eating and eat more of everything I really did not care for. I even prepared my answers to some questions I just knew the doctor would ask.

I was rather surprised at how the appointment went, not at all like I had envisioned. I call it a game changer. For the first time ever someone connected the dots for me, made sense of everything that had never made sense to me in the past. In the weeks to come I will write more about some of the things we chatted about that resonated with me and helped me connect dots.

I have come to the understanding that I may never be what I would like to be. Perhaps my expectations are too high. I have come to understand that having high expectations can lead to future resentment. Perhaps I have to be more accepting of who I am. Perhaps I am somewhat different than who I think I am or who I would like to be. I have come to understand what truly is going on in my brain. Perhaps I need to focus on working with that understanding. Be more willing to accept who I am.

For years I would attempt to make changes, fool myself into thinking I have overcome, and then slip back into a mindset that never worked in the past. What I have learned is that I must be intentional, intentional in taking care of my body and mind, intentional in how I approach change, intentional in how I address challenges that arise. I want to strive to be intentional in writing because I know that helps me and, in some small way, it may help others. Make it a good one.

“When you find no solution to a problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.” Unknown

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quit Trying

Truth be told it is the time of year when I longingly look out the window and wish for spring. The time change came rather unexpectedly but was welcomed nevertheless. The time change, particularly in spring, means a change in perspective, a change of heart, and new things to come. As per usual there began a great debate. Should we change our clocks? Of course we should, and don’t get me going on that. I love the “later” sunsets. It does provide new hope.

As we enter this time of year I seem to be more interested in watching golf on TV. I suspect it is because of my own desire to be out there. It makes me look out at the golf course and dream of swinging the clubs, achieving new heights, of parring the course.

This past Sunday I found myself watching golf AGAIN, even after our kids and grandkids showed up, probably because that is simply who I am. As in a few Sundays of the past, the golfers on the leader board starting disappearing come Sunday. Yes, I know, Tiger is back, but, believe it or not, this has nothing to do with him. Rather it is to do with a comment made by Johnny Miller who, by the way, I do not like as a golf commentator. When mentioning golfers that fall off the leaderboard on Sundays he said they need to “quit trying”.

That made so much sense. “Quit trying”. I have been involved in a few golf tournaments in the past and I always found it interesting that before and after those particular tournaments I could play my usual game, just above or just below my average score. However, come tournament time it seemed I could manufacture the most bizarre shots. It often left me scratching my head, questioning the very essence of the game and my participation in that game.

When I heard Miller’s comment on Sunday a light went on. Let me explain. For the first two days golfers just simply go out and swing the club naturally, using muscle memory. They know which club to use for each shot, what works and what doesn’t. They think of nothing else except what has always worked. Then when they find themselves in contention everything changes. They start trying. They second guess what has always worked. They may become overly cautious. Their body tightens up. Adrenaline output peaks. And things start falling to pieces. Why? Because they started trying.

Some time ago I mentioned to a friend and mentor that I had a particularly challenging situation I needed to deal with in my work and that I needed to make sure I performed at the best of my ability. His response came quickly. He challenged me. He was curious what I did when involved in other situations. Did I not try? Did I not give it my best? He went on to explain that we all are good at what we do. A lot of what we are good at comes naturally and when we suggest we need to make sure we are on our “A” game we set ourselves up for failure.

That makes so much sense. We have so much in us that helps us conquer each day, each situation, each challenge. When something bigger comes along we gear up, we try harder, we second guess what has worked in the past, we become anxious, we change strategies, and we end up blowing it. All of us have that inner spirit that has and will keep pushing us through the “game” of life. Take advantage of your inner abilities, your inner strength, and go out there and play the round of your life. Just quit trying. It will come naturally. Make it a good one.

“What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.” Unknown

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Reflections

As this year draws to a close and we look ahead to the next I find myself reflecting on the year that was. I realize, particularly when I think about my blog, that I seem to have lost something that used to be so important for me. Taking the time to write is not as easy as it used to be. It appears to be sporadic at best. As much as there are those that remind me of that, part of my motive for writing was for my own, selfish reasons. I always found that if I regularly took the time to think about and write about an event in my life, an epiphany of sorts, or some other random idea, my mental health benefited. In essence it was a type of journaling which comes with an assortment of benefits.

I have been busy working on a project which involves research and writing. As part of my research I remembered I had written something a few years ago that I knew could be helpful in what I needed to write about now. What happened is I spent significant time reading some of my dithering’s going back numerous years. I decided that I needed to get back at it. So here I am, ignoring the work I should be doing, writing about something totally different and not related to my project at all. This also comes with a resolve to be more committed to the Recovering Farmer. After all, I am still recovering.

Earlier this year I was asked which time period of my life I most fondly remembered. The question took me by surprise. It made me think. I did a real quick rewind of my life. Still not sure whether it was my life or the life I never had that flashed before my eyes. Perhaps the difference is insignificant. I suspect the person who asked me the question began to think that maybe he should not have asked as he watched my face go through various contortions of pain, regret, happiness, ambivalence, and others. Ultimately he was surprised with my answer, as was I.

I realized relatively quickly that my life over the last year or so was the best part of my life. I blurted that out, had a short conversation about it, and then moved on to something else. However my answer haunted me for some time. I knew that for various reasons it had been a good year and even as I think about it now, at the end of 2017, I would still answer the same way. Personally and professionally it was a good year. The pieces all seemed to come together.

At the same time I wondered why it took me all these years to have the best year ever. But then I also thought it would be sad if the best year had been years ago and now I was dealing with something less than the best. It left me feeling confused. Somewhat lost. Then I thought that perhaps that is the way it should be. What if someone had asked me the question five, or ten, or more years ago? The answer would have been somewhat different. Not that I could ever say this about myself but I suppose if each year is better than the last, life must be good. Then again it depends on the starting point, right?

See how easily I become confused? How the most innocent question actually haunts me? What happened was that the question asked of me opened my eyes to a moment of clarity. I had so many reasons to be thankful for as I reflected on 2017. And I can honestly say if 2018 is any better, even in a small way, it will be a great year. So here is looking forward to that. Make it a good one.

“A good life is when you assume nothing, do more, need less, smile often, dream big, laugh a lot and realize how blessed you are for what you have.” Unknown

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Honey Do List

Just in case you care, I have now made the bed for five weeks straight. Okay, just to be clear, I don’t always get to it first on the weekends. But during the week I haven’t missed a day. It is kind of interesting how this has turned out. I have found out it only takes a minute. It really does make me feel better. And not only that, I now find it rather disturbing to see an unmade bed. Who would have thought that at my age that could happen? Perhaps there can be more changes.

I now think my wife, who cannot be named, feels that perhaps other changes can happen as well. For years now I have been quite adamant that should I ever see a “honey do” list there would be some significant ramifications. I mean seriously. I have threatened to leave the marriage should that happen. I maintain, and all wives should take note, that if a man says he will do something he will. He does not need to be reminded every six months.

I really thought my wife, who cannot be named, understood this. Unfortunately today I have found out different. Perhaps I never should have started making the bed. I really think that is to blame for the dilemma I face this morning. As much as it made me feel better it has now apparently opened the door for more. Really? Is one significant change not enough for a while? I thought we had a system that protected me from the dreaded “honey do” list.

My wife, who cannot be named, is organized, to say the least. She makes lists for herself. I would not be at all surprised if in her binder, yes, she has a binder, there would already be a list for some gathering that may or may not happen at Christmas, 2018. Seriously, she is quite anal about that. I have noticed lately that her binder is open to her most recent to do page and placed in a prevalent place on our kitchen counter. And, on occasion, I will glance at it, making sure she doesn’t see that, and actually do some of the tasks she has listed. Perhaps that is what has led to my fall from grace. Honestly, I was just trying to be helpful.

I noticed last night that there was some sarcasm involved when she asked what my schedule was like for this week. You see, being self-employed with my type of work can bring about periods of little work. She hints at the fact that I seem to be semi-retired. I insist I have a flexible schedule. I told her I had a conference call slated for this morning. In a less than a loving voice she commented on how busy my life was. Having said that she had just come off a twelve hour workday. Perhaps I should be more understanding.

But this morning I received an email that may well change my life forever. Not only that, it came just as I was teeing off on the 14th hole. Really. Don’t you think that is rather inconsiderate? That is a rhetorical question. No answer required. Normally an email from her that early is a cheerful “good morning” or a quiet “you up yet”. But not today.

She, who cannot be named, sent me a list of things that need to get done around here. A “honey do” list. Quite literally it is paralyzing. Now I can’t get anything done. How can I carry on? Perhaps I should pack my suitcase and get out while the getting out is good. However, there is a beacon of hope here. The last item on her list was to have a nap. That might just get me to stick around a little longer. And to think, all because I started making the bed. Make it a good one.

“If you can’t change the circumstances, change your perspective.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Puk or Bust

Some time ago I endured a road trip that I had both dreaded and looked forward to. I worked on a project this last winter that has given me the opportunity to visit numerous communities in northern Manitoba, communities I have never visited before. It has given me an appreciation for the vastness and beauty of the province I live in. Furthermore I have had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people. Quite frankly it has been an amazing experience. An added bonus has been the fact that I have done this work with a friend and colleague.

So back to the road trip. Some of you may have watched Ice Road Truckers. I had watched a few episodes and now have experienced that kind of road first hand. Hence the anticipation and the dread all mixed together in one. We traveled winter roads and ice roads as we made our way to Pukatawagan. That’s right. Pukatawagan. We were never sure quite where we were. We hoped we were on the right path and, quite frankly, calling it a path is being somewhat generous. A trail cut through the trees with the occasional rock and lots of roots poised to rip something from the undercarriage. It was always a relief when we came to a lake because on the ice it was relatively smooth and we were able to make up some time. Go figure.

I drew the short straw as the driver for the trip in which later I was rather thankful for because we did the same trip back in the dark. My passenger was rather nervous and on numerous occasions suggested, rather passionately, that I needed to slow down. How do you slow down when you are basically at a crawl? Looking back me thinks the trip in the dark was probably more relaxing as we were not able to see all the perils of the journey.

We had been told it was a mere one and a half hour trip if we, and I quote, “were law abiding citizens”. As it turns out it took almost double that. Because we felt that we were driving as fast as the conditions would allow we began expecting to see the community of Puk around every turn, and there were lots of those. It got to the point where we began to wonder whether we had missed a turn. We did make it but it took close to three hours. As the sun set in the western sky we headed back. It was interesting to note that when we got back to a main road the return journey had taken the same amount of time as the trip in and yet it did not feel as long. Simply put our expectations had changed which totally altered our mindset and made for a shorter trip.

On the trip back, when it was my turn to watch nervously and do my best to be encouraging with my driving advice, I reflected on our trip. It reminded me of the journey many of us have traveled and are traveling. When we live with a mental health illness we often wonder when that journey might be over, when we will traverse that last curve in the road and finally find our destination. A destination that will bring relief to the anguish and hurt we experience. Often times our expectations are not realistic and so we expect that relief around every bend in our path only to find more challenges we have to face.

The good news is that with enough patience, resilience, and a helping hand from those supporting us on our journey, there is hope and there is relief. There are simply times when we need to reset our expectations, to understand the journey and not give up. And then some day you can look back at the road you traveled and be proud of yourself, pat yourself on the back because you made it. Make it a good one.

“This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”