The Recovering Farmer

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Never Stop Talking About It

 To think the last time I “talked” about this our world was significantly different than it is today. We traveled about freely, got together with anyone we felt like getting together with, we went shopping and ate out at restaurants, gave people hugs and many other fun things. We were unaware of what was about to happen. But happen it did.

 It is that time of year again. The annual Bell Let’s Talk day. 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. As much as awareness of mental health has grown over the years it is important to keep growing that awareness particularly with the year we have just experienced. Clearly the lifestyle we have had to adapt to has had a significant impact on our mental health.

Over the years I have related stories of friends, family members and clients who have shared their stories with me. This year I will draw from my own memory bank, a story I think about often and will refer to in my presentations as it truly epitomizes the importance of talking.

In 2005 I was on a motorcycle trip with my brother. Although I had been struggling with my mental health for some time, I had been off my meds for a few months and was functioning quite well, or so I thought. On the last day of the trip, as we were nearing home, I witnessed him crash his bike. Ironically that morning, before we hit the road, we chatted about our farm, the stress of ongoing challenges and the effect it was having on my mental health. We decided there and then that we needed to move forward on selling. Unfortunately, the relief that decision brought was short-lived.  When he had his accident, my responsibilities increased significantly. As he lay in the hospital, I needed to take over his portion of the work and life overwhelmed me.

A couple of days after the accident, I was at the farm when my neighbor dropped in. He asked me how I was doing. I was about to answer him the way most of us answer when asked that question. Whether we are doing okay or not we tend to just say “okay” or “not to bad”.

For some reason that day I started talking about what was really going on. My neighbor listened. He showed curiosity rather than judgement. He did nothing else except show caring as only a friend could do. Ultimately, he normalized and validated what I was feeling. That gave me the opportunity to verbalize all the negative thoughts running rampant in my head. That provided intense relief and provided the encouragement to carry on.

That fall I went on to seek further professional help. It was the beginning of my journey of discovery. But I always look back at that morning with my neighbor as a turning point, a turning point in the quest for a better, healthier life.

There are also those that may not need a reminder to talk about it. Perhaps their mental health is good. For those I will throw out a challenge. There are people around you that are hurting. Be prepared to reach out and check in. Be prepared to listen. Be prepared to acknowledge. You do not have to provide answers. You do not have to be an expert. Just listen. Listen, normalize and validate. Simply provide support.

Many feel that talking about it is a sign of weakness. We need to get past that stigma and together we can. The Bell Lets Talk day is a good reminder. From that reminder we must make sure we are tough enough to talk about it all year long. Make it a good one.

Friday, January 22, 2021

In Training

 I suppose when one quits learning one is dead. And there are times when one needs a refresher. Over the last 2 weeks I have been in training.  

Just before Christmas my son, who works with Mediation Services, sent a message to his family offering them the opportunity to take a workshop. I enthusiastically signed on because it was a workshop I had long been interested in taking. As it turns out I had not read the entire message and ended up registering for a course I had taken some 18 years ago. Furthermore, the trainer I had now was the same person who taught me those 18 years ago. He was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

Further to that the second workshop I took dealt with Mental Health literacy for farmers. As part of the In The Know program, developed by the University of Guelph, I will be co-facilitating some of these workshops in the months to come. Much of what I learned was things I had picked up over the years in other trainings and the work I do. But it also came with some new information that I can add to my arsenal.

One of the ironies in taking these workshops is how I relate principles and theories both to the work I do but also to my personal life and my relationships.

As it turns out I needed both conflict resolution and stress management tools in the last few days so the refreshers were good. It seems that at some point in life, and this becomes more challenging as I age, one must keep up with technology.

Just before Christmas I got a call saying that fibre optics was now available for internet at my house. Hey, sign me up. Faster internet and a cheaper price? Absolutely. It was relatively painless till I needed to configure, is that the right word, all my wireless gadgets. I got it figured out, just don’t ask how.

Along with that, something I had now avoided for over a year, was that my cell phone needed an upgrade. The reason I avoid this is the switch over has always been a hassle. Previously getting my email set up and transferring my data created problems. After I had picked my phone the person helping me said it would only take a few minutes. I gave my wife a sly look, thinking the fun has just begun. The phones were laid side by side, not touching and not plugged into each other. Within minutes the person gave me my phone and said it was all done. Wow, that was simple.

And then, unbeknownst to me, fibre optics meant I could switch my TV service from satellite to whatever it is when its hooked up to my internet. Again, better service at a cheaper price.

However, that requires phone calls to cancel services, unexpected disconnection charges, new remotes to figure out, finding my favorite channels on a new guide, new passwords and on and on and on. I am getting a headache just writing about it.

So all of that required all of my conflict and stress management skills. And sometimes at the same time. The refreshers on perspective checks, turning judgement to curiosity, keeping my emotions under control, utilizing self-care between phone calls and others helped me in surviving the week. Now I need to find my recliner and hopefully find the golf channel. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Different Perspective

 A few years ago our daughter got married on Prince Edward Island. A few of our friends made the trip and as such we spent a number of evenings chatting, reminiscing and just having a good time. One of the friends that was there was someone I had been in business with some forty years ago. As we chatted someone asked him why our construction company had only lasted for a year. The way he put it, he just could not see us being successful. During a week that fall, he was sick and when he came back to the job he claims we had only managed to put up 2 sheets of plywood during that week. (In certain circles I am now called “twei toffle friese”. A direct translation from German is “two sheets friesen”.) That may be closer to the truth than I care to think about.

However, that has nothing to do with my thoughts on perspective. I was reminded of that story when I received a text from that certain friend this week in which he reminded me that it was forty two years ago when the idea of a construction company was born. He went on to say how important that year had been to him in developing his abilities and confidence in accomplishing the various projects we had.

I found a great deal of irony in that. I too had found myself reflecting of late on that particular year and found myself feeling a certain amount of shame as all I could think about was how I had been young, inexperienced and immature. I obsessed about all the mistakes I had made. My perspective changed and with that change I understood what he was saying and began feeling the same way.

After I posted last week (Hindsight is 2020) I had some interesting responses. There were those who liked what I had written, there were those that commented on my thoughts regarding New Year resolutions and then there were responses that had me thinking that there was differences of opinion on thinking 2020 really being a crappy year.

Thinking I had been misunderstood, I reached out. I was curious about the responses. When I learned the intent behind the response, I realized I had not been misunderstood. People simply had a different perspective on the year that was. That helped me in changing my perspective as well.

So that got me thinking even more. I suspect that most times when we read or hear something, we interpret it based on our world view, our history and influenced by our wants, needs and fears for the future.

When I look back at events in my life, the construction company example above being one of them, I have a tendency to see the negatives. They often remind me of all that went wrong in my life. I have to learn to view these as a reminder of all that I am today. As I said in one of my responses, I have experienced numerous dark times in my life. Those experiences helped in molding and shaping who I am today.  However, in spite of how positive that may be, I hope I never have to relive those experiences.

So whether it is something someone else says or it is something I have an internal discussion about, and that happens quite often, I need to change my thinking, turning judgement to curiosity. Truly find out what the intentions were of what was said. Find out why I am so often filled with doubts and regrets. I need to understand that there are different perspectives out there and we can learn and grow from all of them.

After reanalyzing my feelings about 2020, using curiosity and not judgement, I am convinced that I never want to experience a year like 2020 again in spite of all the positives I could list. But rather than focus on the negatives I will now focus on the positives. I will endeavor to change my perspective. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

 I find it rather interesting that I have yet to see any thoughts or discussions on social media regarding new years resolutions. Normally people are reflecting on the year past and looking ahead wondering where they can do better. Lose some weight, exercise more, quit smoking, make more money, or spend more time with family, to name but a few.

Perhaps with the year we have had there are many that secretly would like to start, rather than quit, smoking or drinking or any sundry activities that would help us cope with what we are experiencing. Although it has been years since I quit smoking, just thinking about it now makes me want to light up.

I often say that new years resolutions end in failure, so I do not make any. My way of thinking on this is that we think in our minds that January 1 brings about a new year and so that seems like an appropriate time to starting or stopping something we have long wanted to.

However, when we wake up on New Years morning the world is still the same. Still the same face that looks back at you from the mirror. The same sights outside my window. The same wants, fears and needs running rampant in my brain. It quickly becomes evident that nothing is different leaving one less than enthused to carry through with any resolutions.

Perhaps most of us are somewhat shell shocked with what we have experienced this year, continue to experience, and really have no idea when the pandemic will ease up and allow for a somewhat normal life. This past year has brought about an abundance of metaphors, analogies and descriptors that tell a story of a world in crisis.

My favorite one is when someone suggests that saying “hindsight is 2020” will never have quite the same meaning. In the past when we recalled events in our lives and lamented about how we could have done better we often heard others respond by saying hindsight is 20/20, referring of course to 20/20 meaning perfect vision.

From now on the term “hindsight is 2020” will likely refer to something being, how do I say this as nicely as I can, CRAP.

Let me share with you a thought. Let me use another analogy. The rear-view mirror on my car is small. How successful are we in moving forward if we only look at that small mirror? Even the warning “objects maybe be closer than they appear” holds some truth. Sometimes the past seems to be sneaking up on us and come close enough to create worry but ultimately need not be a problem unless we are backing up.

However, when we look forward, we have a significantly larger view through the windshield. To keep moving forward use the windshield, accept the future for all it has to offer. We may fail and we may think that failure defines us. Rather we must use the understanding and knowledge of the failures to build a foundation from which you can grow and flourish and maintain perspective.

So no, I am not making any resolutions other than, as soon as possible, I am getting the vaccination. Perhaps I will grow horns or some other silly side effect. So be it. If that’s what it takes, I will live with it. And that may be when I say, “hindsight truly is 2020”. Happy New Years. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Oh Zoom All You Faithful

 There is probably a few more songs we could tweak to make them more appropriate for this Christmas. For example, Zoom they told me Pa rum pum pum pum, or It’s the Most Wonderful Zoom of the Year or Jingle Bell Zoom. I best stop.

I suppose this Christmas will go down as no other. It is the time of year when families and friends get together, to celebrate the season. However, this year is clearly different. There are many, if not all of us, who will be spending the season in much different ways than what we are accustomed to.

Normally this time of year provides an opportunity for connection. Whether with family, friends, church or community, connection happens. Aside from the havoc wreaked by Covid there are many other reasons why 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. And connection provides an opportunity to support and be supported.

It has been said before that music provides a pathway to reflection. I recall in Christmas’ past an uncle who often 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.

Clearly this this year more time will be spent in reflection, at least if we adhere to the rules. As I know from experience it is easy to dredge up negatives from the past. That really serves no valuable purpose. Instead let’s reflect on the good memories we have and look forward to next year when things will, hopefully, be different and more memories will be made. Make it a “zoom” one AND make it a good one.

Memories

Memories are a special house
We build inside ourselves
Where love and laughter linger,
Where all our past life dwells.
On holidays like Christmas
We can draw upon the store,
Reliving happy times
And feeling all that warmth once more.
Wherever we may travel,
This house is always there
To help to blend the old and new,
To build on . . . grow . . . and share.
This house can never get too full,
Just grow from floor to floor,
Because the joy of memories
Is always making more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Great Equalizer

 It seems that when it comes to mental health and gratitude, I am of two minds. And at times my thoughts appear to be somewhat contradictory and at times my two minds argue about it.

Some time ago a friend sent me an email in which were listed seven things that upset him. The language used was of concern to me and so I reached out. When he answered he was just out and about so could not really talk. I quickly suggested to him that I had read his list and thought it would be helpful to now list seven things that he was grateful for. I also said he should call me back when he had a chance to talk.

A day went by and as I had not heard from him, I called him again. When he answered I said I had expected a call back and was concerned about his well being. I found out rather quickly that he was quite upset with me. He felt that suggesting he list positives or things to be grateful for was minimizing what he was feeling about the negatives in his life. I did not say it to him, his emotions were obviously quite raw, but thought that was the point.

I look at gratitude as being the great equalizer. I find it a little too easy to slip into a mindset where my focus is on the things that have gone wrong in my life, the areas where I screwed up, and events that happened where I felt I had been treated unfairly. As that happens, I sink into the abyss of anxiety and anger with depression lurking and waiting to rear its ugly head. However, if I am proactive, self-aware of where my emotions are headed, I can stave off that slide into darkness. At least sometimes.

We must also be aware that gratitude may not be the answer and may at times exacerbate our feelings of despair. Earlier this summer, when I found myself in a dark place, I consciously tried to list all the things I was grateful for. Trust me, the list was long, much longer than the list of negatives. But then I found myself slipping further into depression. When I realized how many things I had to be thankful for it made so much less sense that I was feeling down. I found myself getting more depressed because I was depressed and didn’t think I should be. It filled me with shame and self-loathing.

We have to be mindful that depression and anxiety are a sickness. Suggesting that gratitude will fix that is like suggesting gratitude will fix your broken leg. When we tell people with depression to count their blessings, we run the risk of perpetuating the stigma of mental illness.

Listing the things that are upsetting you at any given time is a good exercise. First and foremost, it puts it out there. In essence you have verbalized them and that takes away their power. And when you revisit that list later that day or the next, they may not be as upsetting as you felt. Simply put when our emotions are raw it is easy to stew about things. When our minds are clearer these issues do not bear the same amount of pain.

I don’t expect that a gratitude intervention will help me feel less depressed or anxious. However, when I spend time in being grateful for the good things in life, I find just a little more incentive to be more intentional with my mental health. My gratitude list tells me there is hope and there is relief and that I have something to work towards, one day at a time. It can be the great equalizer.

Contradictory? Maybe. Confusing? Probably. I found a new word this week. Doublethink. Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them. I am going with that. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Don’t You Quit

 I often wonder how strong I really am. I don’t mean physically. I know I am not strong physically. I am talking mentally and emotionally. Seems over the years I have resorted to various unhealthy forms of coping when life seemed overwhelming. That would suggest that I am not strong and have certain weaknesses.

Most of us have become Covid weary and been that way for months. Now with Christmas approaching and news that restrictions will be in place into the new year dashing hopes of getting together with others, that weariness increases.

We have all heard that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I often have serious questions about that. At first blush it makes sense. After all we all have challenges in life. We have experiences that we would rather not have. Many of us have experienced some type of trauma. And, often times, we learn from these experiences, we grow, we do become stronger.  But not always.

I am not convinced that all of life events make us stronger. Some events, some experiences, some trauma will test the very core of our strength and will leave us weakened. And when we get knee-capped by something that weakens us we must find ways to recover and heal, understanding that we may never reattain our former strength.

I chatted recently with an elderly lady who has shown amazing strength and resilience through adversity and pain. As we addressed her latest challenge, I made a comment about that strength. She looked at me with a weary gaze and said she was getting tired of being strong. Ongoing challenges, pain, and frustration had left her tired.

So whether we experience something that leaves us vulnerable or whether ongoing adversity leaves us weary the challenge is to be aware. Be aware of changes to your body, to your mind and to your emotions. Be aware when life is challenging you. Recognize the symptoms.

The following poem is one that has encouraged me in difficult times. I have committed it to memory and will often recite it to myself. It was written by John Greenleaf Whittier who was an advocate for the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s. He experienced his own journey with mental illness. Hopefully it can encourage you as well. Make it a good one.

Never Quit
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, 
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill, 
When the funds are low and the debts are high, 
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
 
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit –
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
                                                     John Greenleaf Whittier