The Recovering Farmer

Monday, December 28, 2015

But Nothing Happened

I have been told that using the word “but” is a verbal eraser. When you discuss something with others you should avoid that word. At least that is what I have been taught. Here I am using it in a title and will use it just because. I think in this case it is okay to say “but”. Not just okay, important.

This winter, as in winters past, there has been a lot of public discourse on the use of winter tires. That same discussion has happened, again, in our house. My wife is a staunch believer in winter tires. She is a staunch believer in taking extra precautions in any and all winter driving. She has even suggested that she may get her tires studded. As for me? I haven’t bought into the whole winter tire thing. Yet. Knock on wood.

This last weekend as we ventured out on the highways and byways of Manitoba the snow began to fall. And as happens there was snow drifting across the road and some was accumulating on the sides of the asphalt. Normal winter driving. However, my wife being a worry wart about all things winter driving, was quite nervous. I tried. I really did. Drove somewhat slower than I usually drive. Was careful when meeting oncoming traffic. Didn’t pass people even when they were driving much slower than necessary. Just really thought I was being considerate, in fact more considerate than the people driving to slow. Just saying.

As luck would have it I ventured to far to the right and slipped off the pavement. No harm done other than the heart attack my wife was having. Also heard some strange noise coming out of her mouth. I suspect she was saying bad words about me. I asked what the problem was and she replied that she had been afraid of that, hitting the shoulder that is. So in all my wisdom I said “it happened but nothing happened”. I thought about that and repeated it and also suggested what a brilliant quote that was. I think she is still questioning that.

The more I thought about it the more I realized how important that quote is for life in general. How often have I, and do I, worry and ruminate about future events. Concerned over how things will turn out. Lose sleep thinking about all the worst things that will come of whatever it is that I am worrying about. And it seems that the more stress I have the more I worry and stew. Based on many conversations with others that in itself is normal.

But, there is that verbal eraser again, most times when I rethink an event that has happened and I was concerned about I realize that nothing happened. I survived and things turned out better than expected. It happened but nothing happened. Reminded again of a story told about Winston Churchill. A friend of his, lying on his death bed, said that he had had a lot of trouble in life, most of which never happened. There is a lesson here. But, that word again, a difficult one to learn.

So here I am virtually without winter tires on my car. Is it sheer stubbornness? Is it a matter of swallowing some pride? How dearly will I have to pay for not only avoiding winter tires but actually talking about it? Here is hoping that my next post does not involve a story of an accident that could have been avoided simply by investing in winter tires. I know enough that my wife normally gets the last word, and usually the last laugh as well. And for now I can say “but nothing happened”. Make it a good one.

“but, but, but, that is all folks”
Porky Pig

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Connected Christmas

When I look back at my latest posts I find a common theme. Connection. In fact 4 out of the last 6 reference connection. Connection with others is important. This particular time of year provides an opportunity for connection. Whether with family, friends, church or community, connection happens. I know of many situations where this time of year will be heart wrenching for many. A loved one passed on, relationships that have been broken, financial stress, ongoing health concerns. As much as that saddens me I get it. I recall in Christmas’ past an uncle who often times had tears in his eyes when carols were sung. Never knew why. I have come to an understanding of that. I have experienced the same. Through that I have come to the realization that Christmas is a time of reflection. What was and what might have been.

A poem I have used in the past still resonates with me. Seldom does that poem come to mind during the year but each Christmas it again comes to mind and I enjoy it all over again. So I am going to post it here, again, in hopes that it too can bring some thoughts of peace and comfort to you. Make it a good one.

Put your problems on probation
Run your troubles off the track,
Throw your worries out the window
Get the monkeys off your back.
Silence all your inner critics
With your conscience make amends,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Call a truce with those who bother you
Let all the fighting cease,
Give your differences a breather
And declare a time of peace,
Don't let angry feelings taint
The precious time you have to spend,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Like some cool refreshing water
Or a gentle summer breeze,
Like a fresh bouquet of flowers
Or the smell of autumn leaves,
It's a banquet for the spirit
Filled with family, food and friends,
So allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!
Bob Lazzar-Atwood

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Cuddle Hormone

I know. A lot of you are wondering what the Recovering Farmer knows about cuddling never mind the cuddle hormone. I suspect if, and when, my wife reads this she will give me a puzzled look. Never mind. Read on.

I have a confession to make. For a number of years I have “preached” about the need to manage stress and the negative impact of stress particularly long term stress. I have pointed out the effects it has on us mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially. Perhaps to the point of coercing people into thinking that they need to fear stress, be able to recognize it and deal with it, like right now, or the chances are good that their lives will spiral out of control. Now I have come across some information that potentially shows that I have taken the wrong approach.

Okay. Truth be told most of what I have said about stress in the past remains accurate. However the information that I have found through research, actually someone else’s research, shows that perhaps we need to view stress and our response to stress somewhat differently. The research has shown that stress releases a certain hormone in us that has some significant and positive effects on our bodies.

I am talking about Oxytocin, often known as the cuddle hormone. It is also known as a trust hormone, love hormone, and God hormone. Oxytocin is released when we are stressed and think that this stress is very harmful. In essence it is not the stress that releases the hormone but rather our negative thoughts about stress. How we think about stress matters. In fact a study involving 30,000 participants over 8 years showed that there was a 43% increase in the risk of dying for those that experienced a lot of stress AND believed that stress was harmful to their health. People that experienced lots of stress BUT did not view it as harmful had no greater risk of dying than those that experienced low stress. (Kelly McGonigal; How to make stress your friend)

Oxytocin is a hormone that induces feelings of optimism, increases self-esteem, and helps us build trust. It is released when you hug someone, when you shake someone’s hand, when you think about someone, and even when you just gaze at a person across the room. It is used to treat shyness, social anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, physical wounds, pain, and clinical depression. It helps in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. It makes us crave physical contact. It makes us want to talk to others. In fact it is enhanced by social supports and contact. It increases empathy, compassion, and caring.

Stress is a normal part of life. Long term stress can have a debilitating impact on us, physically and emotionally. However, based on the aforementioned information, there are some simple ways to deal with this. Obviously we need to change our way of thinking about stress. Understand better that stress is a normal part of life. However the most important information and help I gleaned out of all this research is the importance of connection. The connection with self, with family, friends, and community. The importance of talking to others. The importance of helping others. The importance of relationships. All of this important to maintaining a balanced life in this seemingly unbalanced world we live in.

On a final note Oxytocin also increases generosity. So when you hug someone or shake someone’s hand remember that this small act also releases the hormone in them as well. So now you are not just helping yourself you are also helping others. That increase in generosity might lead to a potential payoff, particularly at this time of year. Just saying. Make it a good one.

“Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Would I Have?

I find it interesting that I am not experiencing many of the feelings I normally have at this time of year. Usually I count down the days till December 21 when we experience the fewest hours of daylight because I know it is downhill from there on in. I have normally struggled with the concept of Christmas. It always seemed to be such a superficial time. I have always disliked the cold and snow that comes with our winter. This year is different. And like I said I don’t know what the difference is. Not complaining though.

Some time ago I was asked to do a presentation at Agdays this coming January. At the time January seemed a long way away. So it is easy to say yes because you really don’t need to do anything for a while. In fact, if memory serves me right, I was headed out to the golf course when I got the call. What they needed though was a title and a short synopsis of what I would talk about. Oh, and by the way, here is what we want you to talk about. Sounds simple enough.

I spent some time reflecting on challenges many farmers faced this year. From drought in some areas to excessive moisture in others. Volatile commodity prices. Early spring followed by a killing frost. Lower revenues. Tightening credit. Communication challenges between generations. Onslaught of decisions to be made. The list is endless. The stressors are significant.

And now as we approach the end of another year many producers look back and question many of the decisions they made. That is normal. We all do that. However what often happens is we start kicking ourselves about how we could make better decisions. If only I would have utilized risk management programs. If only I would have waited with selling. If only I could have bought that new equipment. I should have retired a year ago. I should not have bought that land. I could have grown a different crop. I should have, I could have, I would have. That list is endless as well. Again the stressors are significant.

Thus the title to my presentation is Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda. We all know that our decisions will never all turn out to be the right ones. There are far too many factors out of our control. So we make decisions to the best of our ability. Then we learn from those decisions. Sometimes the consequences are painful. But they are experiences and as the quote says; “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” We live in a fast paced world where things are always changing. It is tough to get what you want. It is tough to keep up. At times it is simply a matter of survival. Often times we are caught up in looking in our rear view mirror rather than looking ahead at the future and all the possibilities it holds for us.

So questions arise. Would I have? Was I wrong? Would I have changed the decisions I made? Would I have changed the way I did things? Would I have, could I have, should I have? For the most part we make our decisions, our plans on the best available information at the time. We must live with that and learn from that. To dwell on the past, to “kick” ourselves for things that went wrong is self-defeating.

In my synopsis of the presentation I suggested that through personal stories, humour and research I would help the participants find a sense of sanity to the crazy world we live in. Someone has already questioned, sarcastically I might add, the research component of my presentation. I confess. Other experts have done the research. So if you want the full meal deal on woulda, coulda, shoulda, come see me at Agdays. Make it a good one.

"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew." Saint Francis de Sales (1567 - 1622)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Talk To Me

Just recently someone told me they did not own a cellphone. I found that hard to believe. After some thought I found myself being somewhat envious of that person. Think about it. The freedom. And, ironically, the inconvenience. It would take some getting used to. Communication plays a key role in our everyday lives. In fact our means of communication have changed and expanded greatly over the years. Some of it is good, others not so good. In my last post I vented about Facebook. Many other means of communication have become an important part of our lives.

Imagine if everyone in your life would forgo communication through email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, to name a few, and would only communicate through actual conversations. Due to all this technology, communication has probably increased but, I would argue, it is not all for the common good. Imagine if a friend came to you and showed you pictures of what they had for dinner, pictures of pets pooping on the floor, messages of extreme political views, everything that frustrated them, wishful thinking, personal updates on hygiene, underwear that was purchased, angry thoughts about their boss, stupidity of colleagues, and more. Sounds ludicrous, right? It happens on Facebook.

How about emails. It has become the norm to communicate with emails, for work and socially. It has become far too easy to send messages by email. Often messages that would not be conveyed would they be done in person. Often times there are no sober second thoughts given before the send button gets hit. I have sometimes wished I could run after the message and pull it back. But when that email is sent, it is as good as “said”. And how often do we tend to read emotion into an email? Emotion that may or may not be there. Most often what we read into an email is dictated by our own thoughts and emotion.

In my work communication plays a major role in more ways than one. Communication often causes conflict. Frequently it’s not what was said but the way it was said. It has been suggested that 10% of conflict is created by a difference of opinion while 90% is created by the wrong tone of voice. Research has shown that 7% of communication is verbal, 38% is tone and 55% is body language.

Communication is also key to resolving conflict. A lack of understanding frequently drives the conflict. I often tell my clients that it is not about being right or wrong but rather to gain understanding. Understanding is the first step to resolving conflict. For that to happen involves both talking and listening. Being able to clearly articulate your needs and wants but also listening to the other’s needs and wants. Often times we listen to reply rather than to understand. The Dalai Lama once said that “when you talk you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen you may learn something new”
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I have talked before about vulnerability. To become vulnerable opens the door to an increased ability to communicate. To share and to listen. But we also need empathy. Empathy gives us the ability to identify with others. To understand what struggles, difficulties, or feelings they may be experiencing. As Alfred Adler puts it, “empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” For me the challenge is to become a better communicator because we know that the best communicators listen more than they talk. Make it a good one.

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Winston Churchill

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

As It Happens

As much as I have been trying to avoid this I no longer can. Social media has caught up to me, or vice versa, and I can’t take it anymore. Facebook used to be a good forum to keep in touch. See what others were doing. It even became a way to reconnect with friends and relatives. A lot of whom I had not connected with in a long time. Then FB morphed into something different. It has become a challenge to seek out information on friends that is actually interesting and uplifting.

We just survived the federal election. It was a long, drawn out affair. Facebook was rife with opinion and rhetoric. I did not see many postings on any worthwhile policy issues. Politics no longer offers discourse or conversation. It has become a blame game. One side attacking the other. Right versus left and some up the middle. Some of the rhetoric was maddening. Some was disturbing. Some was ludicrous to the point of being funny, in a sad sort of way. I had to keep reminding myself that each person had their right to an opinion. And just because they voiced something that I did not agree with did not make them any less of a person. After all I am a mediator. I did make an effort to understand.

So like I said, I did survive. Then when the election was over and the Liberals won quite handily the rhetoric took on a whole new life. What caused me the most concern, dare I say consternation, was the ideas thrown out by the Christian right. If I were to believe what was said we had lost God and were being governed by Satan. Supposedly Trudeau had said that Christians were Canada’s biggest plague, and based on some comments I saw, that could well be accurate. Where all this came from I have no idea. Throw in some comments made by the president of Israel, add in the anti-Muslim sentiments, and comments by the GOP presidential candidates down south, I kept seeing stuff that was quite disturbing.

Then when things have settled down to some degree Paris experiences some horrific attacks by ISIS. And again the rhetoric starts. Suddenly, in some people’s view, all Muslims should now be categorized as terrorists. Granted the terrorists do their evil deeds under the guise of Islam, but as many Muslims are quick to point out these terrorists use selected portions of Islam to justify their mission. Hey, I know some Christians like that as well. Always liked the quote, “A dangerous book the Bible is. It can be made to say anything, its meaning in the eye of the beholder”. I suspect that could probably be said about most any religious “seminal” book.

So that was enough to take care of that. Instead of responding, and running the risk of upsetting people, I unfriended some friends. The choice was simple. Fight or flight. I decided to run. Avoid the potential of conflict. Classic example of what I suggest people don’t do. I was also troubled by the fact that I did not seek to understand. Show some curiosity. But I couldn’t. It was to upsetting for me.

Perhaps I am a bleeding heart Liberal. Maybe a Christian outside of mainstream Christianity. Some may suggest not a Christian at all. Just recently I heard someone suggest that religion, and I believe this fits for politics as well, has gone from a point of faith and curiosity to one of certainty. “I am right, you are wrong, shut up.” We have lost our ability to show kindness and compassion to others. We have lost the ability to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. We seek to blame as a means to rid ourselves of pain and discomfort. For me it is time to hit the reset button. Do what I can to make this world a better place. The quote below is insightful. Give it some thought. Make it a good one.

“The emptiness and the silence is so great. I look and do not see.”
Mother Theresa

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Coming Out of the Closet

Interesting title for the Recovering Farmer. Perhaps, at least at the outset, got you thinking about what you would read in the words to come. Obviously the term “coming out of the closet’ has, at least traditionally, been associated with gay or lesbian people. I want to take you down another path and give you another perspective of “coming out”. Some ideas that resonated with me from a podcast by Ash Beckham.

Often in the past I have facetiously admitted to being in the closet about various things going on in my life. I was a closet smoker because smoking was a sin and a big no-no in the home I grew up in. I was a closet drinker for years. Again a big no-no for more than solely religious reasons. When it became more of a crutch I did not want people to know how much I drank. I was in the closet with my mental health issues because of the stigma attached to it.

As I heard a new perspective about being in the closet I came to a better understanding of who I am, who I have been, and how this fits into a lot of the work I do. Beckham suggested that all of us have closets we hide in. And by her definition being in the closet simply means that a hard conversation needs to happen. Perhaps it is being gay or lesbian. Perhaps it is smoking or drinking or drugs. Perhaps it is mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Perhaps it is a financial issue. A relational issue. A physical health issue. It can be one or it can be more than one.

Being confined in a closet is not a pleasant thought. Use your imagination. Normally closets are dark and lonely places. It has the potential to fill us with fear, shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Regardless of the issue we are loath to talk about we visualize the response from others and the backlash it might create. We are so consumed by the issue (s) we compare ourselves to others and wish we could trade places. Because surely their life is better than ours. Their problems less than mine because nothing can be as bad as what I am experiencing. We differentiate between closets and make judgement on others. Often thinking no one understands. No one else is hurting so why would they care. Forgetting that “hard” is subjective. It is relevant. Forgetting that the ones we wish to trade with are experiencing fear and pain just like us. It is difficult and a hard conversation to have.

So we need to be real. We need to have these hard conversations. They will provide relief and a better life. But how? Beckham listed 3 things we need to do. First of all be authentic. Knock down the walls. Show vulnerability (there is that word again). Secondly be direct. Just say what it is. Don’t say I may be depressed/gay/sick/have a drinking problem/etc. That just leads to false hope and expectations, for you and for others. And thirdly don’t be apologetic. It is what it is.

So come out of the closet. Free yourself from the darkness around you. If it is a lifestyle choice let it be known. Be proud of who you are and who you want to be. There are those that will “get it” and be supportive. People will understand. If they don’t so be it. That then becomes their problem, not yours. If you are dealing with issues that you need help with talk about them. Find the support and help you need to overcome and to heal. Start living life the way it was meant to be lived. Be who you were meant to be. Make it a good one.

“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it.”
W.M. Lewis

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To Be Connected

Do you know that walking for 20 minutes a day and eating a handful of cashews a day is more effective than taking anti-depressants? For the record to make sure I eat two handfuls of cashews a day. Regular walking during the golf off season has been a ritual for me for a number of years. Last winter I slacked off and paid for it mentally and physically. So I am back at it. Actually my doctor suggested I exercise to regain elasticity in my lungs. There is another story there. Over the years I have tried watching TV or listening to music to overcome the monotony of exercise. This year I am trying something different. I am listening to podcasts. So my physical exercise, which also helps my mental health, is now also helping me learn. Wow, the benefits are almost overwhelming. I can hardly imagine the person I will be come spring. Fit, happy, and smarter. I might be dangerous.

So a week in and I have already learned some interesting stuff. Two podcasts I listened to, one by Brene Brown dealing with vulnerability and one by Johann Hari on addiction, put forward a common theme. They both talked about the importance of being connected. NO, I am not talking about Facebook, twitter, emails or cellphones. It is probably important to sometimes disconnect from those. I am talking about having a connection with the world around us.

What is one of the first things that happens when we feel shame, low self-esteem, not worthy? We withdraw. We isolate ourselves. We can’t face other people. We don’t enjoy nature. Feel they will be judgemental. Just don’t feel good about ourselves. Live a life of regret and self-doubt.
However if we make an effort, and at times it takes a Herculean effort, to get together with others, to participate, to be involved, and to get out, our lives will improve. I often talk about golf helping me mentally. That is for a few reasons. First of all I am outdoors enjoying all that nature has to offer. I get exercise. And I socialize with others. I feel rejuvenated after each round. At times that is hampered by shoddy golf but that is easy enough to get over. Just go again.

Often times a disconnected life will lead to other problems. As we withdraw and isolate ourselves we turn to medication or vices to numb our feelings of shame and unworthiness, our emotional pain. Although these negative feelings arise from perception and not reality they hamper us in being who we really are. There have been times in my life that I have withdrawn from life. But through support and encouragement I have been able to get back to being the real me. Each time I found it interesting how many of my family, friends and colleagues commented on how good it was to have me back. The decline into this “hibernation” from reality can be a slow and insidious slide and we often don’t realize or understand what is happening. The road to recovery and connection can be much quicker and more fulfilling.

Inherently we search for ways to get rid of our emotional pain. This emotional pain, often accompanied by addiction, arises from feelings of low self-esteem, low self-worth, and shame. In general, a poor relationship with ourselves. Through connection we lose the desire to numb those emotions because our emotions become less painful. Through vulnerability, an ability to identify and express feelings, we can find connection with others. We can relate to others and others can relate to us. Through that comes an awakening, a healing, an ability to build relationships, and most of all, to make life a positive and fulfilling journey. A spiritual rebirth, if you will. Make it a good one.

“Make life changes before life changes”

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Back to Now

Interesting headline in the paper this morning. “In the past five years, at least six Americans have been shot by dogs”. I thought it important that you all know that. I won’t say any more about it. I suspect I might go somewhere from which place it might be tough to come back from.

Last week, October 21 to be exact, was the date that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doctor Brown (Christopher Lloyd) visited in the much acclaimed movie Back to the Future Part ll. The movie was produced in 1989 and followed the first Back to the Future movie, shot in 1985, where Marty McFly traveled back in time to 1955. Some interesting plot lines, to say the least, but totally useless except to get one’s imagination going.

As I heard some of the thoughts of various people about this rather significant or perhaps insignificant date, I was rather intrigued about some of the ideas put forward by some. One Winnipeg radio stations wondered whether people, given the opportunity, would prefer to travel back in time or to travel to the future.

That got me thinking. I know I have often times voiced regrets over events of the past. Curious whether I could go back and change these. Which ones would I change? And if I could change the events I wanted would my life have turned out better? The answer to that is clearly yes, if we lived in a perfect world. But we don’t. I cannot remember having heard anyone ever say that they wouldn’t change a thing given the chance. So all of us have certain life events that we would change if we could, or at a minimum, forget.

How about getting a glimpse into the future? If you imagine paying a visit to 2041 what do you see? That is 26 years from now. With the way things have changed since 1989 and keep changing at a staggering pace the possibilities are endless. When I take the time to think back to my parents’ childhood I am awestruck by the changes that have happened. It seems virtually impossible that these changes and the pace of these changes can continue. And yet they seem too. The future sometimes scares me. I often times imagine the challenges that my kids and grandkids will have as the world around them keeps changing. Then again I suspect our grandparents and parents had similar concerns.

After all this thinking about the past and the future I came to the conclusion that the present is what I should focus on. The past has shaped and molded who I am. I have had some struggles in the past and have learned valuable life lessons from those struggles. Someone suggested to me that had I not had the experiences I had I would not be as effective today with the work I do. Then again perhaps I would now be a professional golfer. . . . there I go. Only wishful thinking, I think.

So I am going to call this movie Back to Now. A story where I don’t relive the past but enjoy the memories of an interesting life. A story where I don’t have to worry about the future because today has enough challenges of its own. What happened yesterday cannot be undone. What may happen tomorrow is outside of my control. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Even if dogs are shooting people. Make it a good one.

“Scars remind us where we've been. They don't have to dictate where we're going”
David Rossi

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Double Play

The term double play is normally associated with baseball. I never watch baseball. I have never found it very invigorating. My son asked me how I can watch golf and say what I just did about baseball. There is an argument to be made but I won’t. I did happen to watch one inning of the Blue Jays’ game the other day. Happened to be the most exciting thing I have ever seen in baseball. Keep in mind I never watch the game. I suspect I could somehow bring the election into this as well but not going there. As the one FB post said, “I should say something, but I won’t.

I would like to expand on something I touched on with a previous blog. As it dealt with conflict there are obviously numerous directions I could go with this. At the same time I need to keep it simple or I might get lost in my thoughts and who knows where we might end up then.

It is important to remember that when we are involved in conflict or are facing a potential conflict that there are two plays at work. There is the actual conflict. This involves a struggle between you and someone else. But there is also an internal conflict that can happen. This internal struggle is often time one that can last longer than and be more difficult than the external conflict.

Again the internal conflict is a double play. We become consumed by the external conflict. Wonder how it will play out. Wonder what will be said or done. Often times we become overwhelmed and anxious. Anxious because we are dealing with an unknown outcome. We want the conflict resolved but ironically procrastinate dealing with it. Hope to wake up tomorrow with it gone and forgotten.

But as I mentioned last time there are numerous factors at play inside of us. Quite often, probably more often than not, these factors involve other life events. It maybe relational issues, financial trouble, illness, chronic pain, stressors at work, changes that are overwhelming. It could be a host of things. Issues that wear down our ability to manage conflict. Manage life itself.

As this internal conflict festers, a myriad of feelings take over. We have a tendency to be hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up. We feel like idiots. It wreaks havoc with our self-esteem. And as our self-esteem suffers we become defensive. We feel attacked. We feel like everyone and everything is against us. And far too often this has the potential to turn into resentment. And as the saying goes resentment is a poison we take hoping someone else will die. It can destroy us. It can take away from a positive life. It can lead to bigger problems.

So first and foremost we need to start being kinder to ourselves. All of us have an innate desire to be heard. To be understood. We need to quit believing everything we think. Our stinking thinking can demoralize us. Practice self-compassion. Our pain and anxiety reduces the more others understand and care. Our physical health improves when others show they care, when they show they understand, when they reach out to help. Using that same principle on ourselves is just as important.

Make an effort to deal with issues that drag you down. Use a mindfulness based approach to your everyday life. Make a conscious effort to feel better about yourself. And as this happens you will find that external conflicts are much easier to deal with. In fact you may find that these external struggles are only a function of your perception. Remember, we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Make it a good one.

“Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.”
Mary Schmich

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Paradigm Shift

As happens on occasion I am reflecting on the work I do. Thinking of ways to improve, add to, and enhance my business. For some time now I have called myself a consultant. It took a while but I finally gave in and started using that title. (To see a description of my thoughts on consultants check my post from March 17, 2011 entitled On Being a Consultant) I will refer to myself as a conflict resolution consultant, sounds, dare I say, racier than mediator, or a stress management consultant, which sounds better than counsellor, or for a real mouthful will introduce myself as a conflict resolution and stress management consultant.

As I reflect on the words “conflict resolution” I find myself thinking that there is a better way to describe the mediation work I do with couples, families, individuals, and companies. Various words, and how we use them, can conjure up negative or positive connotations. An individual who I have worked with in the past does presentations on what I call “stress management”. He doesn’t like that term and calls his work in that area “building resilience”. Just recently I was chatting with another colleague and told her about some counselling I was doing. She asked whether I was counselling or coaching. She went on to explain that, in her mind, counselling dealt with a person’s intrapersonal issues whereas coaching dealt with one’s ability to cope with and enhance the future. Made sense to me and made me realize that the term coaching is more suitable for what I do in the area of helping individuals.

In a similar sense this got me to thinking about conflict resolution. As we all know conflict is part of life. Regardless of the relationships we have, be they with spouses, partners, colleagues, kids, in business, in sports, to name a few, we will experience conflict. And as such conflict is not always a bad thing. One of the definitions in the Encarta Dictionary refers to it as “a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people”. With constructive or positive conflict, ideas, principles, or people can become better. It has the ability to enhance. To improve. To make better. It is when conflict is not dealt with, is ignored, or avoided that bigger and more serious issues can and will develop.

This is where a paradigm shift has to happen. Instead of being consumed with wanting to resolve conflict, often seeing conflict as being negative, we need to view conflict as something that needs to be managed. Not only managed but transformed. That simply means that we accept conflict as a part of life and look for meaningful ways to manage it. And, let me throw another word in here, we need to transform conflict. Again I will defer to a definition in the Encarta Dictionary. To transform means to “to change somebody or something completely, especially improving their appearance or usefulness”.

Sounds so simple. Instead of allowing conflict to fester and grow we find ways to deal with it proactively. However I can tell you from my own personal experience that is easier said than done. Conflict comes from a variety of reasons. Often times our involvement or response in conflict has nothing to do with the conflict. Often times the conflict arises because of other life events. We become consumed by intrapersonal issues and through that our response to others leads to conflict.

In my last post I mentioned the importance of listening for writing purposes. One of the most important keys for conflict management and transformation is also listening. There are others which we can explore in the future but for today let’s make the effort to be better listeners. The best communicators are ones who listen more than they talk. We should listen to understand rather than to reply. You will be surprised at the results. Make it a good one.

“Conflict is an indication that change is needed.”

Friday, October 16, 2015

A New Start

As some of you will have noticed my writing of late has been rather sporadic. In fact there was a period of months where I did not post anything. It seemed that my ideas bank account had run empty. In fact, in looking back, I would suggest that with some of my thoughts I was overdrawing the account. They should have been returned NSF.

Since the start of this project I prided myself in the regularity of my posts. Sure there were times when it took an extra week for ideas to flow. Occasionally the post was “nothing to write home about” but then some song, conversation, or epiphany would come and I would be able to write something helpful or inspiring. I suppose over time thoughts can become stagnant if we allow them to.

As I look back over my posts in the last year I also notice a common theme. I was struggling. Struggling to find my way. Just not having fun. The good news is that I have come to an understanding of what was going on in my life. I recognize now what I should have done back then. Could have made my life much more positive much sooner. The irony is that even back then I knew in my sub consciousness what I needed to do but for some reason did not do it.

So I need to revamp what I write. To do that I need to change the way I do certain things. My brother sent me a book this week. Tells me it’s an early birthday gift. Not sure I can accept that. The early birthday gift part. I am accepting the book. It is called The Right to Write written by Julia Cameron. I have only read a few pages and already have a better understanding of where I was at with my writing and where I need to go to get back on track.

What resonates with me is when the author of the book challenges the reader (writer) to listen. To get direction from what is around us. She suggests that when we force ourselves to write, writing becomes a chore and becomes less effective. When we listen to the world around us, and by world I mean people, music, stories, events, to name a few, we find the direction. We come to an understanding that it is not about us and through that understanding are better at writing and better at communicating. That is where I was. I was forcing myself to write. I was consumed by my own issues. And when I check back it is easy to recognize when I felt forced to write and when the writing came from a natural flow of thoughts created by listening.

So here I go. A new start. Since 2010 I have posted 246 times. I have often alluded to the benefits I found in writing. In a sense it is a type of journaling. And we all know journaling is a huge benefit in finding clarity in this journey we call life. I need to get back to that. Find the time and the energy to put pen to paper.

Here is another quote from the book. “We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.” Make it a good one.

“Whether you say you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Henry Ford

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Contradiction

We are in a time of contradictions. After all it is election time. And as I have stated earlier the political rhetoric is getting somewhat tedious. And I use the word tedious as the words I would really like to use are not suitable in this forum.

Over the course of the last two months I have been battling a nasty chest infection. At one point I believe the doctor suggested I was suffering from bronchial pneumonia although I think he was somewhat flummoxed himself. Since the end of August I have been on five different antibiotics and four different inhalers. Some of them work, some not so well. Is it a bacterial infection or is it a virus? Is it because I abused my lungs in the past or is it because this bug is making its rounds? Am I slower in getting over it than others or did I wait too long to see a doctor? So many questions. So few answers. For now I seem to be getting better. Two weeks ago I was better too and then it came back with a vengeance.

So in this new world we live in you take an antibiotic to get rid of an infection or inflammation. However that creates a problem. Pardon my ignorance but I did not know this. So the antibiotic gets rid of bacteria. Makes sense if you have a bacterial infection. However, and here is the contradiction, your body needs bacteria. So I have learned that there are good bacteria and there are bad bacteria. Antibiotics don’t know the difference so they simply zap all the bacteria. But now that the bacteria, good and bad, are gone I have to replace the good bacteria by using a pro-biotic. I was told that eating yogurt would do that for me. Quite frankly I would rather not replace bacteria if it means eating yogurt. So someone in all their wisdom provided me with pills that have the same effect. Perfect. Antibiotics in the morning, pro-biotics in the evening. Makes for , and I quote, an ultimate flora. That is all I am saying about that.

Oh, I forgot. Aside from antibiotics and inhalers I also needed to use cough syrup. Have you ever taken a look at what is available on the drugstore shelf? Tough to decide which one to use. Just before I decided it was time to see a doctor I stopped in at a drugstore to buy some cough syrup. Should have been easy. I asked the pharmacist which kind would be best. She did not want to sell me any. Insisted I go to the doctor. I concurred but still needed some. Made my own choice. Don’t think it worked. The doctor suggested which kind I should get. Thank goodness it wasn’t Buckley’s. Now there is an adventure waiting to happen. Finally got one that worked. And again there was a contradiction. A cough syrup that is an expectorant, which loosens up whatever is in your lungs, and a cough suppressant. How does that work? It loosens up the phlegm but suppresses the cough. Does that not mean that it actually works against each other? All I know is that I seemed to cough up stuff I remember inhaling years ago. Don’t ask me to describe it. It was ugly.

That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Tonight I seem to be losing my voice. What does that mean? A relapse? I hope not. My son laughed at me when he heard my voice. Commented on the tough year my body has had. Hopefully things will get better. Perhaps get in a game of golf. Been missing that over the last six weeks. Then again maybe I will say what I used to say when I was farming. There is always next year. Make it a good one.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Are You Serious

I am serious. It is the beginning of September. The weather is nice. Sun is shining. I should be golfing. Unfortunately I am not. It appears like I have developed a classic case of pneumonia. Sure wonder where that came from. So I am trying to get better by medicating and resting. Given me too much time to watch TV.

Raise your hand if you are already sick of the upcoming election. Seriously. The stars must be lining up. We have the American election coming next year and so we have a host of people vying to be leaders for their parties. We have the Canadian federal election campaign well under way. And already a hint of our provincial election coming next spring. Personally I am getting somewhat tired of the political rhetoric coming at us from all directions.

How about Donald Trump? Isn’t that enough to make one lose faith in anything political. And to think he is on top of the polls for the Republicans. His “bull in a china shop” approach is mind numbing and discouraging. From insulting anyone that gets in his way to some of his ideas that he wants to implement, a leader like that is scary. Just as walls come down in many countries he is suggesting building a wall between the US and Mexico. I wonder where that wall was when his ancestors came over. And now it has been suggested that a wall be built between Canada and the US. Are you serious?

In our federal election we seem to be hung up on hair, or shifty eyes, or anger, or beards, or. . . . Seriously? That is all we have? I have asked it before and will again. Where is there any substance to what we as a country need to build and grow? And to think there are more days in this campaign than we normally have. So hang on. Only 41 more days till this is over. Only 41 more days till you can cast your ballot. Trust me. It will feel like forever.

Of course we could start thinking ahead to Christmas. It is only 4 months away. But that only brings a host of other issues to worry about. Snow. Cold. Short days. Not pleasant me thinks. After all we are still enjoying summer. At least trying to.

There you have it. Perhaps now that I have written about the frustration of anything political I won’t have to think about it. Yeah right. Only if I bury my head in the sand. Perhaps take some advice from a dog. See, I told you I could come up with more animals to write about. Saw this the other day and thought how applicable. “Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If you can’t eat it or play with it pee on it and walk away”. I like that. Now you know what I am doing with the election. At least until election day. At that point I must do my civic duty.

Perhaps I am to negative. I should not be. Summer has been good. Golf game was improving. My mental health is better. I have so much to be thankful for. So enjoy it. Each day is something to be treasured. Make it count. And as far as politics go, what would we complain about if politics were to disappear. And Christmas, with the snow and cold, is coming. But not something to worry about just yet. So here is to the rest of the summer. Seriously! Make it a good one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

To Err Is Human

I came across some information on the internet that I think teaches a valuable lesson. Actually I did not come across it; my daughter in law sent it to me. Notice, I just made a mistake. Fortunately I caught it and was able to correct it quickly before it became an issue involving others. Unfortunately I am seldom that quick at realizing when I have screwed up. And for the most part my mistakes, my screw ups, my stupidity hurts others. And, ultimately, make my life worse as well. Except, of course, if I realize and understand the mistake and do my utmost to make it right.

FUBAR is a term first used many years ago in the military. I remember the first time I heard that word. It was during a game of Trivial Pursuit at a church youth function. You would think a family game such as that would not create a problem during a wholesome church event. The question asked what the word FUBAR stood for. As the question was asked the pastor was hovering around our table watching the activities. Needless to say when the answer was given there were some red faces around. For those that don’t know FUBAR “is a term that originates as a military acronym for "fucked up beyond all/any recognition/repair/reason/redemption". My apologies if I offended anyone with the use of the “f” word. I plead ignorance as I was just quoting someone else. In fact it being an important historical military fact I plead innocence.

I often use the word, FUBAR that is, because most of my gaffes fall into that category. That is just simply me. Yes, I am trying to change but at my age change can be slow and tedious if it happens at all. Nevertheless I digress. The point is we all make mistakes. How we deal with the mistakes, whether our own or someone else’s, becomes the challenge. Following is what my daughter in law shared with me.

“In a certain African tribe, when someone does something harmful, they take the person to the center of the village where the whole tribe comes and surrounds them.

For two days, they will say to the man all the good things that he has done.

The tribe believes that each human being comes into the world as a good. Each one of us only desiring safety, love, peace and happiness. But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes.

The community sees those mistakes as a cry for help. They unite then to lift him, to reconnect him with his true nature, to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth of which he had been temporarily disconnected: “I am good.” Shikoba Nabajyotisaikia!

NABAJYOTISAIKIA, is a compliment used in South Africa and means: “I respect you, I cherish you. You matter to me.” In response, people say SHIKOBA, which is: “So, I exist for you.”
(author unknown)

As I alluded to earlier I make my share of mistakes. More than once I have needed what is described above. As I struggled with certain issues earlier this year my wife, my kids and my family did what the African tribe did for their own. For that I am appreciative. For that reason I am able to function today. Perhaps we can take this mantra with us and use it with others. After all, and again I quote, “It is natural for humans to cooperate, help and share. Individuals may be callous, inept, and defensive; but true malevolence is rare”. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Tragedy

Two weeks ago we received a call that shook me to the core. Someone we knew had died by suicide. I grew up and was friends with her husband. She was a wife and a mother. She was a business person. In the weeks since a myriad of emotions have flooded my mind. It has made me think because of my own struggles with mental health. It has made me think of the many people I have met through my work in various areas regarding mental health and suicide. It has made me wonder how we as society can make a bigger difference for so many people that struggle. How can we create more awareness?

The funeral was sad particularly in light of the circumstances. But strangely enough I came away from this one with different feelings than I normally do. Dare I say it encouraged me? Too often people are loathe to discuss suicide. Often times the cause of death is glossed over, perhaps in some attempt to run away from the tragedy. In this case there was none of that. The family was open about what happened. Others that spoke challenged us to be aware of mental health and the many that deal with this insidious illness. We were reminded of the best way to be a support to the family as they deal with the loss of a loved one.

During the service one of her kids mentioned how in the few short days since her passing they, as a family, had learnt a lot about suicide. What caught my attention was when he suggested that had his mother suffered and ultimately died because of cancer we would be talking about her courageous fight. We would talk about how brave she had been. He wanted everyone to know that his mother had fought a courageous battle. She had been brave. Her fight had been with a mental health illness not a physical illness.

That insight provided me with encouragement. In spite of awareness campaigns regarding mental health illnesses there remains a stigma. People that suffer from depression, PTSD, anxiety, Schizophrenia and others often times try to keep it a secret. We put on a mask hoping no one will know. We feel shame. And because of that we often do not seek the help we need. We have to put aside the stigma. And for the people who suffer from mental health illnesses we have to understand that it is a fight. It takes courage. And when we come to that realization we can take off our mask and show the folks around us that we have the courage and we need their support.

The family was also very clear that this death by suicide was not a selfish act. As awareness grows there is a better understanding of mental health and suicide. Again I was encouraged with the family’s approach. I have long been frustrated when suicide is referred to as a selfish act. It seems to me that calling it a selfish act is judgemental and takes away from a better understanding of the depths of despair many people feel. We should never confuse ending our pain with ending our life. I would go on to suggest that calling suicide a selfish act shows an ignorance of mental health.

This death was a tragedy beyond comprehension. It was a reminder for me to be aware of my own struggles and find better ways to deal with them. It was a reminder that there are many out there that face daily battles with their mental health. It was a reminder that more needs to be done. It was a reminder to seek understanding in spite of our own thoughts or beliefs. It is a challenge to all of us to be a support. A support to those who continue the courageous fight. A support to those who have lost a loved one to mental health. Make it a good one.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Squirrel

Good morning. That is a different start to a blog. The reason I thought about that is an email I get most mornings from my wife. You see, she gets up at the most unearthly hour to get to work. When I finally get up, at a time that I still think is too early, she is already at work. And quite often when I check my emails over a cup of tea, yes, you heard right, tea, I have an email from her entitled “Good Morning”. And in the email she will include some words of encouragement for the day. As that has helped me I am saying good morning to you in hopes that what I write and you read will provide some encouragement to you.

In my last few posts, and it has been awhile, I referred to a parrot sitting on my shoulder. And the more I think about it the more sense it makes. And when I share that with clients and others they too understand the concept. For others it seems to have made them wonder who I really am. One reader, who I have worked with in my mediation work, laughed as she said that my reference to a parrot was “so not like you”. Wait till she sees this one. I am going to talk about squirrels. Perhaps I could start my own TV show on the National Geographic channel.

I recently chatted with a client and asked him if anxiety was a person or thing how he would describe it. With little hesitation he answered “a squirrel”. I found that intriguing. As we delved into it further the concept really made sense to me. Imagine a squirrel. Very active. Quite noisy. Flits from place to place. Never runs in a straight line. Hops from tree to tree. Quite agile. Can be intrusive. Always on the lookout. Never a dull moment. I wonder, do they ever sleep?

Now compare that to anxiety. Many people I talk to describe how anxiety creates a myriad of thoughts running through their minds. And just as you deal with one thought another one comes rushing in. Scurrying about in your gray matter, jumping from one thought to another. Puts you on edge. We become spooked. Never knowing what lies around the next corner. As one who has experienced significant anxiety I know it is intrusive and never sleeps.

So if it never sleeps how does one effectively deal with it? I could go into some detail about the way our brain works. How the lower brain is our early warning center. The amygdala, which is literally communication center. And the higher brain which recognizes patterns and prepares the responses. However, as intriguing as the brain might be, particularly the amygdala, the details can become rather tedious.

So we understand, to some degree, how squirrels act. We have a basic understanding of how our body, particularly the brain, responds to anxiety. But understanding does not get rid of the problem. I know of various means to get rid of squirrels. Best not to become too descriptive about that. Want to make sure I don’t offend anyone. I also know some basic tricks to deal with and rid myself of anxiety. Perhaps as I reboot my efforts at writing on a regular basis we can discover new ways of dealing with the many anxieties life throws at us. In the meantime I am rather curious what animal I will come up with next. Make it a good one.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Oba

My parrot, Oba, who you remember from a few weeks ago, has been very busy the last while talking to me. To the point where I felt like doing something really bad with the parrot. Nothing I could go into detail about on this family show but trust me the parrot would be gone. You see, the messages I was getting was that I did not know how to golf. In fact it was that an idiot like me should not even be out there. The way I was swinging my club looked like, actually didn’t resemble anything. The parrot told me that there was no sport under the sun that incorporated my kind of swing. The parrot led me to believe that he wanted no part of me. Only later did I wonder why he was still there.

And when I got a friendly reminder from friends about writing another blog the parrot started talking again. That parrot, I can’t even call him by his name anymore, told me that the crap I put down on paper is not worth the paper it’s written on. I actually got him there because it is not on paper, it’s on a computer. The parrot told me that I should move on in life. Quit trying to fool people. Because people were not being fooled.

That damn parrot came close to ruining my life. Last night as I awoke at my usual time I decided to get out of bed, wander over to the kitchen for a drink of water and then sit in my recliner and reflect. For a fleeting moment I had to tell myself that I was living the dream. Actually I think Oba was still snoring. It was during that reflection that I was reminded of the fact that I feed the parrot. The parrot is only capable of repeating words it hears. So as much as you would like to hear something positive it probably won’t happen. EXCEPT. . . . .

Do you remember what I said about parrots? They will only say what you say. Thinking about that struck me. Do you mean to say that when that parrot said I was no good at golf it was me actually saying it? And when the parrot told me I had nothing positive to share in a blog it was my own feelings coming through? And when that parrot bemoans the fact that I take my wife, my partner, my kids and my grandkids for granted it is what I am actually thinking? And that if I allow life to happen that could change?

I like that. There is hope. This last Tuesday I played golf and as I stepped up to the first tee I told Oba that I could hit a driver and I could hit the driver right down the middle of the fairway. Through the course of that evening I realized more and more that the thoughts running through my mind, the positives and negatives influenced my life, influenced my game.

I have spoken to numerous people this week. Oh, don’t tell the parrot. He was telling me that I have no work because I am an idiot. Guess what. I was busy this week. I was able to communicate with people in a broad spectrum of life and what life throws at us. It was great. And just for a fleeting moment I got some peace and quiet from Oba. Just for a moment he realized that perhaps I knew what I was doing, just perhaps there were opportunities that I needed to build on. Just perhaps he needed to change his tune. And just perhaps he needed to start being an encouragement. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Being Married

I ventured out this morning to buy a newspaper. Don’t often do that but occasionally I like to read the news from start to finish. Normally I check the internet for headlines and then move on with life. Today is different. Although I need to do some office work it has been awhile since things were quiet around here. First the grandkids were here for a week, and I could write a number of stories about that, then work took me away from the office every day. So here I am.

One of the first headlines I read was one regarding that tragic airline crash where the co-pilot allegedly crashed the plane intentionally. Since day one that story has intrigued me. The circumstances behind that boggle the mind. As much as I have some experience with anxiety and depression and various thoughts on how to end life I cannot imagine taking control of an airliner and running it into a mountainside. It defies logic.

The story that caught my eye this morning was from an event held by Turkish Airlines. Apparently the CEO of Turkish Airlines told their new pilots that it would be best if they were married. Okay? Nothing against marriage but why would he say that? He feels that people with spouses are more stable. Interesting, to say the least. So if this particular fellow had been married the tragedy would not have happened?

My first inclination was to laugh off such a weird conclusion to a tragic event. But it got me thinking. I thought back to an Alan Jackson song. Please don’t hold that against me. I don’t particularly care for his music or his style of music. I can nasal my way through a lot of songs but it does nothing for me. However, I do recall a song he produced many years ago. Don’t recall the title, don’t recall the music. I recall one sentence and it went like this. “She is all I’ve got between the devil and me”.

I often wondered about this whole relationship concept, who helps who, who really is strongest. Then this morning I read a post from my brother who, and I would suggest his wife would say, finally admitted to the fact that through the years his wife had been right about so many things. I sensed in his writing that he could have come to this conclusion a little sooner. But I really don’t want to go there. That is his issue to deal with.

I thought back to the many challenges I have had in life and realize that my wife, my partner has kept me sane. Has kept me from the metaphorical crashing the plane into the mountain. Sometimes I have fought against her ideas. Sometimes I have even been right. I remember in 1997 when we were talking about. . . . oh never mind. She has been an incredible encouragement in my journey.

So instead of running the risk of having a whole bunch of husbands jumping down my throat let me expound on what I just said. The news article got me thinking about this. When I look around at some of my friends I think it is true. When I look in the mirror I know it is true. However I must be very clear on something. Relationships help all of us. Whether we are a wife, a husband, a partner, a friend. Whether male or female. Relationships provide us with the energy to face challenges in life. Never forget that. Never under estimate that. Work on relationships. It will be worth it. Make it a good one.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I Wanna Live

Been singing the song from our friend Mr. Young. Not going to recite the lyrics here but they are easily accessible.

As an aside I need to brag about one small point. For years, in my farm debt mediation work, I have been involved with Neil Young’s relative. Really. Then again, how many Youngs’ are there in Manitoba, never mind Cypress River.

This all has nothing to do with what I am about to say. In the past I have alluded to various challenges I have had particularly this last winter. It always seemed that my outlook on life was jaded by real life stories. And it felt like each time I got over one, or got some positive news, or more work, something bad would happen.

This week was no different. Monday night as I was just drifting off into what I was sure was going to be a minimum 3 hour sleep the phone rang. Fortunately the phone is on my wife’s side of the bed so I did the big fake sleep thing. Probably even faked a snore. When she hung up she was rather surprised that I asked who that was. She told me it was my oldest brother.

I left it at that and tried my best to have a decent night. Didn’t happen. You get a certain sense about things. He would not normally call me on my home number at that time of day. Him calling me that way left me with a chilling thought. Something was wrong. I thought back to our last conversations and recalled he had mentioned an issue he had that he needed to take painkillers for. I suspect if I had gone to my computer I could have written the script. Those thoughts haunted me all night.

I called him first thing in the morning, although I had to figure out the time difference between here and Saskatchewan and that in itself is a problem. Leaving that one till next time. As soon as he answered I knew my worst thoughts during the night had been right. He had gone through that infamous test that most of us try to joke about, but fail miserably, and the picture (no pun intended) was not good. The dreaded C word. The same issue that took our father many years ago. Not sure that matters. The C word brings about all kinds of thoughts, pictures we have seen, friends and family we have lost. To say it haunts me is an understatement.

It took a while before I had the emotional fortitude to call him again. I was amazed at his positive outlook on life. He felt he had been given a clear message. He realized life was not forever. That might mean a week, a year, 10 years, even a longer term where you wonder whether the first death might have been the best one. He said he had come to the realization that what he wanted, while his life allowed, was to, and I will quote him here; “I want to live, I want to love, and I want to write.”

I could relate more stories of how his own family is taken aback by his new approach. For me it has been interesting. When I spend my wakeful hours during the night thinking, I normally experience significant anxiety. Since my conversation with my brother I wake up and instantly say these words. “I want to live, I want to love and I want to write.” It has helped me. Looking forward to the challenges these words present. Looking forward to implementing those thoughts and words in my own life. Perhaps we can talk about this in the future. But most of all I send all positive energy to my brother. He will need it as he faces this challenge in his life. Make it a good one.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Obahyo

Over the course of the last number of months, make it approximately nine if you’re keeping track, I have become involved with an organization by the name of Facilitated Solutions. Each time I work with them or meet with them I get further insights into who I am, why I am who I am and how to change if I don’t like who I am. Sounds like a religious cult. But it’s not. It is a group of people involved in the same type of work I do and as a team we try to make a difference.

In the past I have alluded to this problem I have where I will recall an event from the past and berate myself for it. If memory serves me right I believe I had someone suggest Turrettes a few years ago. Perhaps. Hear me out. Something that might have happened last week, perhaps last month, even as long ago as 1983 is enough to elicit a response of some sort. Yeah. I know. 1983? That is so last century. That is not even in the realm of the world we are in. But it happens. I am just fortunate that cars don’t have built in recorders (pvrs or blue rays for our younger readers). Honestly, if all my outbursts had been recorded there truly would not be a resale value on my car.

I actually chuckled when I reflected on the number of times I have let loose with expletives while driving down the highway. I suspect other drivers may well have been befuddled by what they saw in my car. Who cares. And quite frankly, when you have watched one episode of Schitt’s Creek most any life would seem normal.

But this is not about TV shows. This is about stuff, don’t you like that word, stuff. You can include almost anything in that. This is about life experiences. This is about how we as individuals deal with life. It may be normal, it may be off kilter, we may have it figured out only to find out we don’t.

Through my association with others I have come to realize that I have a parrot on my shoulder. (see last week’s version of The Recovering Farmer) It is true. You may laugh but hear me out. What do you picture when you envision a parrot sitting on my shoulder? A bird. Colorful. But other than another example of the wonders of nature, it is a bird. At least I hope that is what you envisioned.

Let me introduce you to my parrot. I am going to give it a name. I am calling it Obahyo. Those that know the german language and know me will understand. (a story for another day) Oba, my nickname for Obahyo, has been sitting on my shoulder for nigh on to. . . . . forever. Never realized it was there. Now that I do a lot of things are making sense. Over the course of the next while I will relate various stories of Oba but for now suffice it to say I have finally met my parrot.

I now understand my outbursts over a long gone memory. I understand why I have a difficult time building my self-esteem. I now understand why I react the way I do to the many of experiences life throws at me. And for that I am thankful. The fact that a parrot has brought me to this point may be a concern but also something I can overcome and embrace.

Keep in touch. I am taking off on a new journey in life. I am going to tame the parrot. I will teach that parrot to say the most amazing things. That parrot will go from being a pain in my . . . oops, sorry, pain on my shoulder to being my best friend. Come along for the ride. And no, Polly does not want a cracker. Make it a good one.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Don’t Get It.

I know. I went to Mexico to fill my emotional gas tank. Somehow the leak I had sprung was not fixed and here I am out of gas. May sound unique to some. Hear me out. Many years ago I recall my father driving over a bridge to fast which meant the car bottomed out which meant the gas tank landed firmly on the gravel which meant we sprung a leak. Based on that it really did not matter how much gas was in the tank because it was dripping out faster than any remedy we could find at the time.

You see, back in those days should you have a bar of soap handy the problem could be fixed. Small hole in the tank, rub it with soap and we are good to go. No idea how long it would last. But it worked. In later years I worked for a building mover, and you may not believe this, but we used soap to slide houses onto their foundation. Really. But it had to be Ivory.

Came back from our vacation feeling rejuvenated. Thought I could carry on. And as much as I remember and fondly recall our vacation it seems to have gone. Just like my tan. Seems like my emotional gas tank had a hole in it that could not be plugged. Nothing worked. Came back to reality to find that reality really sucks. Been involved with some medical appointments this week to ensure that life will carry on. (That was said with my tongue firmly in my cheek)

Today I did have a dental appointment set. All morning I was trying to figure out how to cancel that. For some reason dental appointments send the fear of God through me. Today was no different. As it turns out the dentist had a family situation to deal with which left me the option of “woo hoo”, no needles, I AM OUTTA HERE.

Gave me the opportunity to have coffee/lunch with my daughter. After all she would have been the assistant in whatever pain needed to be dealt with today. And if there is no pain they do find a way to create pain. Sorry. There is my cynical part coming out again. Happens occasionally.

She noticed that my mood was off. And it has been. But today was worse. Right from when I got up this morning I noticed a news story developing that tore at my very being. Four kids dead. Three saved. It does not matter which way you slice or dice this story. It is unfathomable. Hard to grasp. How could anyone deal with such a tragedy?

So I don’t get it. Life does throw us curve balls. Most of them I do gain an understanding for. Others not so much. How anyone could come to grips with four kids succumbing in this horrific event is beyond me. How anyone can even try to comprehend what the parents have and will be going through in this tragedy can and will not ever be understood.

As suggested last week a story such as this should provide encouragement to someone like me who really has no problems except for a screwed up brain. And perhaps it will. May take some time. (Just read that within two years people will be able to get head transplants. For a mere 13 million dollars. Perhaps I need to start buying lottery tickets.) And we know that come tomorrow a different headline, someone else’s story, or a stubbed toe will become the flavor of the day. I will get past this. The family coming to grips with losing four siblings will deal with this for years to come. Here is wishing them well. Here is wishing them a good one.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Perception

Perception. A word that has stuck with me for some time. That is what it is about. How we perceive things. For years I used a quote as follows; “we do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”. Even had a follower post a picture on Facebook with that quote. Often wondered where it came from. Even Google failed me. Then as I was going through some training material from years ago I found the source. Anais Nin provided us with those words of wisdom. Here I thought I could take credit for it.

I have been consumed of late. Consumed with what I had perceived as overwhelming problems. Consumed by the fact that life had dealt me bad cards. Not sure how I could overcome. I was fixated by certain issues and in that fixation found myself minimizing other people’s challenges. Chatted with a friend that is frustrated, read a book written by a colleague’s wife, read other true life stories. Got a better handle of what my reality really was and is.

I spoke to a group of people a few years ago. Spoke of the various challenges that farmers face. Spoke of the stress that accompanies all of us. One participant came to me after and shared what his major stressors consisted of. At the same time he said that was nothing compared to the devastation in Haiti. They had just experienced a devastating earthquake.

I concurred with him. I understood where he was coming from. At the same time I was not about to minimize his own issues. You see, all of us face challenges. Many of us feel that what we are experiencing is as much as we can bear. Then we talk to others who downplay our anxieties because theirs are much worse. And they may very well be. But the way it stands, the way I feel, is how I determine my situation, gauge my stress. I have not walked in the other’s shoes. The only thing I know is that I am down and would like that to change.

Sometimes it becomes a matter of interpretation. Often times it becomes a matter of how we deal with our challenges. Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said life would come without challenges. Although I often wonder why good people struggle and bad people seem to succeed. Sorry. Just being judgemental for a minute. I feel better.

As I alluded to earlier I have been consumed. Lost in my own world where nothing made sense. Lost sight of reality. Wallowing in a pool of self-pity. Wondering why, why could my life not be what I want it to be?

Then, thanks to a friend, I came to the realization that my life was good. I have so many things to be thankful for. Perhaps not the ones I would pick, at this moment, but many nonetheless. I understood that I had been fixated on the negative. I had lost sight. Blinders were firmly affixed to my outlook.

I came to a better understanding that my perception was off. I had lost sight. I needed to adapt and understand that life was good. Could it be better? Absolutely. Could it be worse? Without question. At the end of the day it is what it is. And what I do with what I have is all that matters. And, quite frankly, I really do not want to lose what I have.

Billy Graham said “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; and when character is lost, all is lost”. So I am going to work on getting my character back, then my mental health, (or the other way around) and, if there is time left, will work on my wealth. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

As The World Turns

I keep saying I don’t watch news anymore. And I don’t. But I will admit that I do peek at headiness every morning. Just curious. But it doesn’t take long to understand why I don’t watch news. Generally speaking news is depressing. Perhaps it is as Mart Twain said; “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed”.

And then I see a headline about being 3 minutes to doomsday. What is up with that? And when I go to that site they require my email address? Really? I answered a call this week and usually when you have a marketing call or a call for a survey there is a hesitation before the other party comes on line. Gives me a chance to hang up. Did not happen this time. Had an instant response. Wanting to tell me I had won 2.5 million dollars. It caught my attention. Don’t get me wrong. I knew it was a hoax but I felt like pursuing it anyway. In retrospect I should have been kind to the guy. Let him know that ship has sailed. I mean really. That scam has been in the news.

However, enough about the news. It is time to fill my emotional gas tank. We are headed south. Looking forward to having the sun bake my aching body. Time to relax. And especially disconnect. No interruptions. Just relaxation and fun with friends.

But I seem anxious about this. Seem to have this need to ensure that should we not make it back our kids would have some clue as to our affairs. Then I sit back and look at my office and realize it is hopeless to even begin sorting out this mess. Then again I suppose if it comes to that I won’t care.

So where is this anxiety coming from? Perhaps it is my age. More aware. Then again it may be that when I should watch news I watch reality shows. Like Mayday. Or Why Do Planes Crash. Then again when I did read the headlines this week I saw a video of a plane cartwheeling over a bridge in Tapei. That looked scary. Makes me wonder why I would want to fly anywhere. Then I think back to something I saw some years ago. If memory serves me right the comment was that there are more people killed on an annual basis by being kicked in the head by goats then people dying in plane crashes. Fact or fiction? Doesn’t matter. Stay away from goats. And goat cheese. Because it just really isn’t that good.

So here I go. Have John Denver’s song in my mind. 'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again.’ Really has nothing to do with my trip. For a number of reasons. Number one is that this is not a love ballad for me, although my wife and I will enjoy this together. Number two, I will be back again.

I have no choice. Running away and staying away are not feasible options as tempting as that may be. And as we all know escaping does not necessarily take care of issues, if there are issues. So I will fill my gas tank and hopefully be back with enthusiasm to carry on with a host of new opportunities. And if luck is with me the snow will be gone and the golf course close to opening up for the summer when I get back. Not likely. But I can dream. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Talk Time

Time seems to be flying by at break neck speeds. Seems like yesterday that I wrote about the topic I am broaching again this week. It is that time of year again. The annual Bell, Let’s Talk time. I like this yearly reminder that Bell puts on to bring awareness to the issue of mental health and the importance of talking about it. I feel saddened by the fact that mental health challenges seem to be on the rise and that there is not more done about it. Based on a recent news report only 7% of the national health budget goes towards mental health. As little as I know about health care or budgets that just does not seem right. I have been a vocal proponent of talking because I know how much it has helped me. And for those who have no clue what I am talking about I wish the reminders would come more often.

Over the course of the last year I have had numerous reminders of the benefits of talking. First of all the media attention has provided awareness. In my line of work clients often deal with various mental health issues. This can have a significant impact on how they deal with the stress and conflict in their lives. Having other participants aware of the effect of mental health challenges provides for better understanding and through that understanding a better approach to resolving issues.

Talking also benefits the person dealing with the mental health issues. Just recently I was involved in a conversation with a person who had “hit bottom”. They felt overwhelmed. They felt hopeless. They had no idea how they could ever get through the challenges they were facing. But through a recognition that help was needed they reached out and began talking. Through numerous conversations with different caregivers it did not take long for this person to begin a recovery and healing process. And in their words it is a matter of taking baby steps understanding that there will be days when it feels like one is slipping back. There are times when talking may not be the only requirement but it certainly is a good first step.

Through one conversation at a time this person was able to verbalize the hopelessness and anguish they felt. It is interesting, and I share this from my own experiences, that verbalizing the thoughts running uncontrollably through one’s head helps in sorting out what is real and what is unrealistic. That provides a certain amount of relief in itself. Often times people feel loathe sharing their thoughts because they perceive their issues to be humiliating and shameful. We feel isolated. We see no hope for the future. Being able to articulate that to a listening ear helps.

As a result of reaching out this person was provided with information that could help on the path to healing. Information for the mental health issues being experienced and information to address the circumstances that had pushed them over the edge. With this information the person knew there was hope. Knew that there was relief.

Again, as I have in the past, I will throw out a challenge to those that are fortunate enough not experience mental health concerns. Keep your eyes open. There are people around you that are hurting. Be prepared to listen. Be prepared to acknowledge. You don’t have to provide answers. You don’t have to be an expert. Just listen. Listen, normalize and validate. Simply provide support.

Just last night I heard a newscast on mental health. I was saddened to hear that suicide rates in Canada have not significantly reduced over the last number of years. That tells me that we need to do more. More awareness. More recognizing and reaching out. More talking. Make it a good one.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Great Expectations

Life provides us with all sorts of different twists and turns. Often times they make sense. Often times we enjoy what life has to offer. Then there are times when what we get is not what we had hoped for, not what we wanted and certainly not what we had expected. It can be that certain experiences have caught up to us and are creating major stress. It may be issues at work. It can be a simple thing like expecting a good night’s sleep. Yeah, right. Not going to happen. That wonderful thing called anxiety keeps rearing its ugly head. At the most unexpected and inopportune times.

Why is it that a dream of a hydro line with advertisements on it creates an anxiety attack? I have no idea. There is probably potential there for some money. The dream last night was about a hydro line I used to live close to. The two pole variety. Between the poles was a clear Plexiglas window with logos on them. The one I remember was a John Deere logo. It looked good. I think there may be potential there. But instead I woke up in a sweat with an anxiety attack. All I had was to ask the question, WHY.

There are other expectations we have. Whether health, financial wellbeing, relational, or job stuff, to name but a few, we expect certain things and, in most cases, deserve certain things. Perhaps our expectations are not realistic. Like buying a lottery ticket and having spent the 50 million before the draw actually happens. Give me a break. It felt good for a while till I realized that the draw had happened and there were not any winners. Okay, have to rejig this one.

Regardless of what the circumstances are we do have certain wants and wishes. At certain junctures those wants and wishes become expectations. Then when circumstances change we become stressed out. We are disappointed. We wished for something else. We become anxious. And in some cases we become despondent and feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

We even at times have expectations that something bad will happen. I always expect pain when I go to the dentist. There is the needle. The gauze they stick between your gums and your cheek that makes me gag. The drilling. And when the freezing finally leaves. Sorry. I digress. But we do often times allow ourselves great anxiety by expecting something bad to happen.

Whether for ourselves or our kids, and even grandkids, we wish for a life that is filled with happiness, contentment and satisfaction. The reality of life is that we will face challenges, we will face hurdles, we will at times be brought to our knees in sheer anguish. How we recover from that becomes the challenge.

Remember? “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Our state of mind can easily influence our expectations. From the extreme positive, as in my winning the lottery, to the extreme negative, as in me thinking I will probably die in the dentist chair. I often find I can trace back these expectations to what my stress levels have been on any given day. So it is important that we build healthy coping strategies. So we can keep on living in spite of stress, misfortune or change. So that we have more “great” expectations and fewer unrealistic or negative expectations. As the saying goes; “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it.” Make it a good one.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Mask

As is often the case, I seem to see, read, or latch on to certain information that really needs to be part of my last blog. Why is that? Is it that the information is a day late and a dollar short? Or is that type of information always available but I only notice when I focus on a certain topic? I have no idea. Not sure it matters.

I spoke last week of a secret life that many of us live. I mentioned certain things about my upbringing, my background, and even the church life I have had. I mentioned some “gifts” my mother had in making me talk. I had certain responses to my blog which I always appreciate. These responses make me write the next one even if my mind and body say NO. At times, quite frankly, it is a chore. And yet a chore that makes me feel better. Better because I have put pen to paper and expressed or clarified certain thoughts. Yet I was haunted by some of the responses. It was not meant to be a diatribe about my mother, the church I once belonged to, or any other crap I might still be carrying with me.

So I felt I needed to build on what I had written. I used the example of guilt not as the focus or topic of my narrative. Rather it was used to provide a stepping stone to a secret life many of us have. Not one that should create guilt, not one that was created by guilt, although that may be debated because often guilt, rightly or wrongly, drives us to a secret life. I realized there might have been certain thoughts that were coming to the surface that might not be helpful. Not portray what I wanted to portray. After all, I need to be helpful. God forbid I post anything that is not helpful. God forbid I post anything that might question me, my life, or my issues. (tongue firmly planted in my cheek)

This morning I received a link to an article from one of my colleagues. It tells the story of a person’s struggle with losing a child to sudden infant death syndrome. I cannot relate to that and never want to. Not convinced I could deal with it. What struck me about this story is the comment the counsellor made. He said; “The mask she wore for the world was carefully constructed and effective”. (Patrick O’Malley, The New York Times)

That reiterates my point of leading a secret life. We put on a mask. We are good at it. We can fool most everyone, perhaps even ourselves. But do we???

Many of us experience pain as we live life. That pain may come from the past, it may come from a recent experience, or it may be a culmination of many experiences. Who knows and who cares. All we know is that we are feeling pain, a pain that overwhelms our life. And that is where we often try to fool the people around us. Our friends, our family, or the ones we work with. It sucks to have to share what really bothers us. So we put on a mask.

When and where do we address what really needs addressing? We have an innate desire to fix what befalls us. However, through all of this, we often kid ourselves. We can put on this false front, we can kid ourselves into thinking we don’t have problems, we can even fool ourselves into thinking it is others that have the problems.

As the quote above suggests, many of us put on a mask. At certain points in our daily lives many of us try to portray something that is not accurate. Sometimes we need to do that, other times we need to understand that there is a secret life that, very simply, is not fun anymore. At that point we need to take off the mask and deal with life honestly. There are ways of doing that. The first step is to talk. It will help. Make it a good one.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Secret Life

As most of you know by now I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. Church was an integral part of our life. And guilt. It seemed that everything was driven by guilt. Even manipulation by guilt. It would appear that I succumbed to this more than most others. It is interesting how I always thought that nobody utilized guilt more than Mennonites. In later years I had some interesting discussions with a Catholic friend and a Jewish friend. They tried to convince me that they knew all about guilt long before there were Mennonites.

My mother, God rest her soul, knew better than anyone on how to use guilt for confession purposes. Whether we were on the field combining, sitting in our living room on a quiet Friday night, or going to another church event, she could cajole almost anything out of me. Okay, actually, everything. There were things I confessed to that I would just as soon never hear from my kids. Would probably make me blush. Nothing abnormal, just things that most kids experience. I actually chuckle when I think of one particular day. She asked me whether there were any particular problems I was experiencing. I knew there had to be something. I suspect I had a guilty look on my face that had got me in trouble before. So I started fessing up. Halfway through my story my mother interjected and informed me there was nothing wrong with what I had done. Seriously, I had no secret life.

In a recent conversation with a fellow experiencing heart wrenching worries over his business, I was struck with his constant concern that nobody should find out, including his family. He is quite literally living a secret life. At least he thinks he is. I recall those days where I thought I was doing a good job of hiding the reality of my life. I have found out since that I was really not hiding anything. My wife, my kids, and neighbors knew full well that there were issues.

In some of my readings this week I came across the following quote. “There is no agony like having an untold story inside you.” - Zora Neale Hurston. That is so true. Often times we find ourselves dealing with issues we can’t just admit to anyone. It becomes a burden. Just like the gentleman I just mentioned. He had found someone he could open his soul too. Verbalize the anguish from within. Although it did not fix his problems it helped in putting the proper perspective on the issue. But he needs to ensure that no one knows. It is his secret life. I suspect we will be having more conversations.

There is another part to this narrative. Yes, we keep secrets. At times some of us live secret lives. Why? Because we are filled with guilt, because we feel shame, because our self-esteem cannot take another blow. So we keep it a secret. We hope to wake up tomorrow and have the issue resolved.

We are also convinced that no one will believe us. I come from a generation where people with mental health issues, didn’t. Where people with financial struggles, didn’t. Where people with relational issues, didn’t. It was because we did not work hard enough, we did not go to church often enough, we did not pray often enough, we did not have faith.

There is a new reality. That reality is that one out of three people suffer from mental illness. That reality is that as strong as we think we are there are issues that will knee cap the best of us. That reality is we need to find someone that we can talk to. That reality is we need help. That reality is that we live a secret life and want release. And we are looking to you for help. Make it a good one.