The Recovering Farmer

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

It seems that when I respond to various people these days I talk about “interesting times”. Perhaps that best described it a month ago but at this point there are numerous other adjectives that could be used. All I know is that everything feels surreal. Feels like a bad dream, something you can wake up from and go back to normal. Someone suggested the other day that when we changed our clocks from Standard Time we inadvertently went to the twilight zone. That’s what it feels like.

What I do know is that “normal” as we knew it may not happen for a long time, if at all. Don’t get me wrong. I am not being a fatalist here just suggesting that the new normal could be significantly different than the old normal.

I am self-employed and as such am working from home. A new normal for me is to meet clients and have meetings by videoconference or telephone. So far so good although I am of the strong belief that meeting in person still is the optimum way of having discussions particularly when conflict is involved. However everyone is keenly aware of the situation and does their best to work within the parameters we have.

My wife works in the medical community and goes off to work daily, never sure of what she will face and what she is vulnerable to. It is scary for her. To add to the anxiety of that I have reached that magical age of 60, have a compromised respiratory system and so at higher risk should I contract the virus. So my office is transforming into a bedroom as well. Just in case. Something just doesn’t feel right.

In essence nothing feels right. Along with that each morning brings on additional anxiety. As much as I/we are doing okay it’s the big unknown that brings uncomfortable feelings. If we knew that this would end June 1 or July 1 we would have something to look forward to, an end game. But the big unknown just has this pervasive way of adding more stress and anxiety.

Reading the news and going on social media does nothing to alleviate concerns. I did read one meme this morning which made a lot of sense. It simply said “don’t believe everything you think”. That gave me pause because as many of us experience, we fall into this trap of believing all these thoughts running rampant in our heads. As that happens we begin to worry, letting our minds paint a picture of what we DON’T want to have happen. It begins a vicious and debilitating cycle. It takes a monumental effort to not do that.

Gets me back to one of the basics often talked about. Do things that bring anxiety under control, at least for a bit. I have now gone on a bike ride a few days in a row. That felt good except for my sore butt and that too shall pass. Pulled out my guitar this weekend and did some jamming with my son. Okay, jamming might be overstating it, but we had fun. My fingers are screaming and that too shall pass.

And, of course, no pun intended, in the dark of the night when anxiety loves to mess with my mind, I play golf. Pick a course and play a few holes. As difficult as it maybe we need to find our happy place. For me riding my bike or playing guitar momentarily provided respite from the ongoing worries of Covid 19.So far so good, one day at a time. Make it a good one.

“Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You’re strong. You got this. Take it day by day.” Karen Salmansohn

Friday, March 13, 2020

Human Connection

There is some irony in writing about human connection considering what the world is experiencing with COVID-19. At the same time it is important that we remember to “connect” with others. Isolation breeds loneliness and loneliness is not healthy for the soul.

Some years ago I read a book entitled Escape From Camp 14. It tells the story of a man that was born and raised in a North Korean labor camp. A true story. It’s a story of life in worse than deplorable conditions. It’s a story of survival. Survival through starvation, physical and mental abuse. Where nobody, including your own family, can be trusted. But through the horrors of the camp, and an ultimate escape, is also woven a tale of the human spirit. And the ability of the human spirit to dream and hope even in the darkest hell. A story that is difficult to comprehend living in the luxurious freedom we experience on a daily basis.

Because he was born inside the fence of this most notorious of all North Korean camps, Shin, the main character, has no concept of a world beyond the electrified barb wire fence, a world where people live free of the terrors that he is subjected to. One day he is partnered up with a fellow prisoner who has lived on the “outside”. As their bond grows Shin begins to hear about and understand that there is a world outside the fence.

That friendship changed Shin’s life. Where, before he had been wary and distrustful of everybody, he now allowed himself to trust one person. As the author states in the book; “Shin was no longer a creature of his captors”. In a sense that one relationship, that one connection, provided some freedom for him. He began to think “outside the box”.

This is similar to the “bonds of trust and mutual protection” that existed in Nazi extermination camps. Researchers have found that survival depended on “pairs not the individual”. Eugene Weinstock, an author that has written about these camps, states that “survival. . . could only be a social achievement, not an individual accident”.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned here. How often, when we struggle with issues in life, do we withdraw or isolate ourselves. We have a tendency to bottle up things. Don’t have the freedom to talk about them. We may feel shame. Our pride takes a hit. We lose our self-esteem. We think we are the only ones that are having these experiences. We become captive in our own worlds, unable to see what is beyond the pain we are feeling.

Just recently I heard a speaker state that we are the loneliest society in history. We have the ability to connect in so many ways,but are we really connecting?

Connection is a core human need. It is having shared experience, relatable feelings and similar ideas. The stress prevalent in agriculture creates a damaged ability to connect with others because we isolate ourselves and try to hide. Authenticity is required for connection and social media increases our ability to construct a fa├žade of our lives which often is not reality.

If we build on relationships, when we share with each other, when we talk, we gain the freedom we so desperately strive for. We can think outside the box. We discover a world we knew could exist but couldn’t see because of the box we had put ourselves into. We find new direction, new identity, and a new purpose. Make it a good one.

“Never forget where you’ve been. Never lose sight of where you’re going. And never take for granted the people who travel the journey with you.” Susan Gale

Friday, March 6, 2020

What To Do

I have had the opportunity to talk to various groups this winter about the link between stress and farm business management. As much as farming used to be much simpler farmers now have an abundance of decisions to make. Increasing stress has the ability to cloud a logical approach to these decisions.

Technology is marvelous. When I look back to when I worked on the fields as a teenager and compare equipment and technology to today’s it, quite frankly, is mind boggling. What we had back then would be considered archaic in today’s world. I suppose that ages me but then again technology changes so rapidly that even what we had a few years ago now seems archaic.

These technological advances have the potential to come with a cost. Financial costs obviously, but it can also take a toll on our mental health. Why? We live with the assumption that having a choice gives us freedom. It does but also comes with some added stress. With the technology available today the onus is on each one of us to make choices that work, that provide for efficiencies, and that add to the bottom line.

As I reflect on the equipment we used on our farm I was also reminded of other choices that producers now have which were not available back in the day. For example there is marketing choice. Farmers can deliver their product to a buyer of their choice. Along with that there are also a myriad of pricing options available. The choices can be overwhelming and yet have had a positive impact on farming. As the numerous and complex options are contemplated various factors play into making decisions. And at times better decisions could have been made and then one becomes spooked and it becomes more difficult to make a decision. Just in case.

Perhaps I have put too much of a negative spin on choices we have. We love choice, right? Yes we do, till we make a wrong choice. Then we are left with thoughts of; if only I had chosen different, if only I had listened, if only I would have known, if only. . . . ! Before the days of choices, if something went wrong, we could blame the world. With multiple and numerous choices, when a wrong choice is made, we blame ourselves.

So it needs to be a learning process, to educate and get better. We must be willing to dust ourselves off, stand up, and try again. Use the understanding and knowledge of the failure to build a foundation from which you can grow and flourish and maintain perspective. The key is not to be spooked by failure but rather to have a willingness to fail again, because if we don’t take risks, if we don’t step outside of our comfort zone, we will not become better. And, most important of all, we must forgive ourselves for the wrong decisions we will invariably make. Without forgiveness we will continue to beat ourselves up which inevitably will lead to more failures.

As we blame ourselves for mistakes a change happens to our thinking and our actions. Our expectations change, not just for ourselves but for others as well. When that happens relationships suffer, stress increases, and conflict ensues.

Take comfort in the fact that we make decisions on the best available information at the time. Very few of the most successful people throughout history did so without making mistakes. When a wrong choice is made we must live with those decisions and learn from them. That way we can keep our focus on the future, a future bright with potential and promise. Make it a good one.

“Give yourself a break. Stop beating yourself up! Everyone makes mistakes, has setbacks and failures. You don’t come with a book on how to get it right all the time. You will fail sometimes, not because you planned to, but simply because you’re human. Failure is a part of creating a great life.” Les Brown

Friday, February 28, 2020

Do You Trust Me

Truth be told, I am so done with winter. It just does not want to let go of its hold on us. As I sit and think about that and some of the work I am doing with farm families I think there is a correlation we can draw here. This cold weather at the end of February could be likened to conflict. You hope it doesn’t last. It doesn’t feel right. It’s uncomfortable. And it should have been over a long time ago.

The difference of course is that with winter we depend on Mother Nature to make the ultimate decision on when spring will arrive. It is totally outside of our control. However, with conflict we have choices. We can choose, as best possible, to ignore it and hope it goes away or we can be proactive and deal with it. Often conflict within working families develops over time and has the potential to eat away at relationships. When that happens families suffer and businesses suffer.

What is it that we, as a society, want? What are we looking for? Trust. Plain and simple. We want to trust others. Our spouses, our partners, our kids, our colleagues, people we do business with, and those that are in power, such as politicians. And equally so others want to trust us.
I like one of the definitions of trust that the Encarta Dictionary has. Trust means to “rely on somebody or something”. It goes further and states that it means “to place confidence in somebody or in somebody's good qualities, especially fairness, truth, honor, or ability. . . to allow somebody to do something, having confidence that the person will behave responsibly or properly”. It does not sound complicated but, unfortunately, can be.

Patrick Lencioni, a management consultant specializing in organizational health, talks about trust being at the very foundation of a team. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he outlines a compelling case for trust being that foundation. As he puts it, “members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors”. He goes on to explain why this is essential for teams to be effective and efficient.

That same concept can be applied in most any, if not all, relationships we have. How can any relationship thrive with the absence of trust? A lack of trust leads to break downs, break ups, conflict, and lack of commitment. It destroys relationships. It destroys teams. It destroys individuals. Like the Irish saying goes, “when mistrust comes in, love goes out.”

Being involved with others, being able to trust others, requires us to be authentic. And to be authentic requires us to become vulnerable. Open ourselves up. That in itself is a scary thought. We have a tendency to hide behind walls. We are frightened at the thought of others finding out who we really are. But when we practice this we see ourselves and others in a different light. It opens up a whole new world. Yes, at times uncomfortable, but overtime it builds that trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in others. It works. Trust me. Make it a good one.

You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.” Mandy Hale

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dealing with Loss

I suspect that when most of us hear about grief and the stages of grief we assume that is normally for people who have lost a loved one. But I think it is important to understand that these stages of grief can be experienced with other events that happen. When you Google “grief” there is often mention of the loss of a loved one but there is also reference to other events in life that can cause grief. My favorite tool, the Encarta Dictionary, defines grief as “the cause of intense, deep, and profound sorrow, especially a specific event or situation”.

I chatted recently with a friend who I quickly came to understand was going through the stages of grief without realizing it. She was involved in a situation where her job provided her with some opportunities that excited her. She saw an opportunity for financial growth. She, being one that struggles with mental health issues and often feels low levels of self-esteem, saw an opportunity to be part of a team that gave her confidence and helped her overcome her feelings of unworthiness. In moments of clarity she also understood that she had something to offer and looked forward to bigger and better things.

But then her world crashed. What she had thought was going to be an opportunity for her turned into everything but. She was shocked. She felt that she had not been listened to. She felt betrayed. Her mental health took a significant body blow. She felt lost and unsure how to move forward.

As she talked about the situation and the emotions she was going through I quickly came to understand that she was experiencing the classic five stages of grief.

1. She was clearly going through a denial stage. She talked about feeling that this really wasn’t happening, that there had been a mistake made and that she would wake up the next day and it hadn’t happened. She was using denial as a defense mechanism and to numb the body and soul to the intense emotions that she was experiencing.

2. She related how in her darkest moments there was anger, anger that appeared to be rooted in her sense of betrayal and feeling humiliated. She had trusted, she had been open and honest, she had opened her soul and now felt that it had been ripped from her.

3. She related how she felt vulnerable and helpless, a clear indication of bargaining. She was looking for ways to regain control hoping to change the outcome. Thoughts of “what if” and “if only” flooded her mind.

4. She told me of how she isolated herself. She experienced subdued moments, times where depression took over, a common after effect of intense anger. The feelings were heavy and, in her words, she felt like she was in a fog. She felt confused.

5. But there were also times when she felt she could accept and move on. That this wasn’t the end of the world but rather a starting point or an opportunity to move on. Even thinking at times it was best that this had happened.

As I outlined what I felt was happening she asked an interesting question. She wondered why they were called “stages” as in her mind stages suggested that this would be a linear process and in her experience it was anything but linear. I compared it to a word I often use with my own journey. I call it a labyrinth, “a place with a lot of crisscrossing or complicated passages, tunnels, or paths in which it would be easy to become lost” (Encarta Dictionary).

I follow up with her every so often to help her in her journey. Not that I am an expert but rather felt I could be there for her, to listen and to normalize and validate her feelings. She expressed gratitude for the support and related how her family was an incredible support and was helping her understand that what had happened wasn’t personal and that there were other opportunities awaiting her.

Why, you may ask, am I telling this story? There are many different experiences we have and often these experiences have a significant impact on our lives. They maybe financial issues, family conflicts, and broken relationships. They fill us with unwanted feelings and emotions. They literally throw us for a loop. In times like this it is important to gain an understanding of what one is going through, to seek out a support system and to talk about it. And, most importantly, to know there is hope and there is relief. Make it a good one.

“At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.”
Christine Mason Miller

Saturday, February 15, 2020

My Check Engine Light Is On

We all know that if we own any type of vehicle or equipment, regular maintenance is a good thing. In fact it’s not just a good thing, it is required if you want to ensure any kind of longevity in performance. Now a days, vehicles, tractors and sundry equipment come with any and all kinds of warning lights. My favorite is the “check engine” light that comes on frequently in the vehicles I drive. That warning light comes with its own challenges because it covers a variety of potential problems. It requires a visit to a garage where you now watch them hook up scanners and normally stand and scratch their heads because they are stumped.

When my kids started owning their cars I would often get phone calls. Dad, they would say, my car broke down. I would ask them what the problem was and they would say a warning light came on and based on their owner’s manual it was the “check engine” light. Usually I would just laugh and tell them I would be much more concerned if it wasn’t on. Obviously I had become somewhat cynical.

Just before Christmas I went for a complete physical. As the doctor went through his routine, and I knew it was coming, he asked me to drop my pants and lay sideways on the examination gurney. The dreaded prostrate check. I apologized profusely that he had to do that, notice how I cared more for him than I did for myself. He just laughed and said I should think about it as an oil change. That actually made me laugh because, as some of you know, that is something I avoid as well.

Further to my analogy, the night before going for my follow-up appointment I told my wife that I was going to find out how long I had. When I told the doctor about that comment, he laughed and said I was good for another 100,000 miles, if I didn’t speed. Initially I was happy about that but now I wonder what that really means. But I digress.

I have found that my mental health also needs maintenance. In essence my “check engine” light comes on. Unfortunately, just like I do with my vehicles, I tend to ignore it. Hope that I will wake up one day and it will have gone off.

This winter that “check engine” light has been on for a little too long so I decided to seek the help of my favorite “mechanic”, my naturopath. We chatted about how things had gone since our last appointment. As I told her about my ups and downs she informed me that I have an exquisite sensitivity to dopamine. That almost sounds exotic, like something I should cherish. As she has in the past, she connected dots for me. She reminded me of what would help in increasing my dopamine. She chastised me, gently, for not being regular enough with exercising. She suggested that I should be more diligent with using my SAD lamp.

She also suggested that when I shower in the mornings I should just have the cold water on for the last minute of the shower because that was a good way to release dopamine. I get the exercise and SAD lamp piece but the cold shower? Does not sound very appealing at all.
The point being there are numerous things that we can do to keep the “check engine” light off. It requires a certain dedication and a will to feel better even if it creates some discomfort. It also reiterates the fact that we need to occasionally seek help from a professional, someone who can help in keeping the “check engine” light off. Make it a good one.

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A New Challenge

Recently I made the comment that I need to accept who I am because if I am not who I am then who am I. That’s a mouthful and, quite frankly, gives me a headache if I think about it too much. But I think I maybe on to something new. Keep reading.

I am trying to become Twitter agile and have been on Twitter quite often lately. Further to that I have given someone else access to my Twitter account so that she can post for me. Hopefully that means it will be somewhat more consistent than it has been. I have tried but doing so is way outside of my comfort zone.

I did see an interesting quote as I traversed Twitter. It went like this. “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” That sounds like a novel idea to me. It seems we spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ourselves, at least I do, and when I do look I normally just get lost even worse, or when I do find myself, I don’t like what I find.

Further to that I read an interesting piece this morning. A therapist, who deals with couples struggling with infidelity in their relationship, has a novel suggestion for these couples. She suggests that there are two approaches to the problem. One is explore obvious hurts and betrayal but the other is the growth and self-discovery that can rise to the surface. She will tell these couples that their first marriage is over and that they have the opportunity to start a second marriage.

That got me to thinking more of my own story of recovery and discovery. Through my journey I have spent significant time ruminating about the past, regretting some of the decisions I made, wishing my choices had been better. It actually reminds me of a conversation I had with a feed sales person. He asked about the farm and I told him we were winding down the farm and that I had come to the conclusion that I was no longer a farmer. He looked at me and suggested that perhaps I never had been.

My initial response to that was one of “how dare you”. I felt diminished and embarrassed. For a fleeting moment it felt like I was not who I am. But those feelings left quickly when I understood what he meant. It wasn’t that I was a bad farmer, although that probably would have been true, but rather he was validating and confirming the work I was doing in helping people through conflict as well as sharing my story. It was actually encouraging. That suggested to me that some of my choices could have been better but at the same time many of my experiences have shaped who I am today.

As I have talked about, I have learned a lot about mental illness and how that pertains to me. As insidious as the illness is there are ways and means to deal with it. Having said that perhaps I need to change my approach based on some of what I talked about previously. Instead of looking for myself I need to create myself. Instead of looking back at some bad decisions in my life I need to look ahead and make good decisions for my future.

The way I see this is that if I close the chapter on the past I can begin writing a new chapter starting with the present, in essence starting a new life. It would seem to me that that could provide for a brighter future. I think this may work. So if you see me in the future and I am not who you think I am you will know I am who I am; working on a new me. And then I can say I am me and nobody else and nobody else is me. Might take a while to figure this out but I think it may be worth it. Make it a good one.

“Pause and remember: Every single event in your life, especially the difficult lessons, have made you smarter, stronger, and wiser than you were yesterday.” Jenni Young