The Recovering Farmer

Friday, June 24, 2011

Will It Never End????

The natural sequence of topics for this week should be some discussion on being “On Firm Ground”. Two weeks ago I wrote a piece on Hit By The Storm. One week ago it was titled The Foggy Middle. However, stress and crisis never seem to follow a linear path. There is no natural progression. Just about when you think you have it beat, something else goes wrong. (sounds like my golf game)

Very reminiscent of the Souris River. My wife came home from work a few days ago with a new riddle. What goes up and down and up and down and up? Answer: The Souris River. Could be funny if it weren’t true. The official crest of the river came on April 26th. Since then we have had a few more crests. Now we are hearing about the river rising another eight feet. That is feet, not inches. Seems impossible. But then again, many other aspects of the flood would have seemed impossible, if considered earlier in the year.

For many people this will be another hit. Another storm. Dikes have to be re-enforced. In some cases rebuilt. Further evacuations will take place. Heard again this week on how many acres of land will not be producing a crop. Many questions abound for crops that were sown. Challenges persist. Lives are in upheaval. There is loss. Loss of property, purpose, identity. In many cases there is an impact on physical health. There is a tremendous toll on emotional health. The initial shock, disbelief and anger has turned to emptiness and confusion. Suddenly, without warning, there is a return of shock. Complete disbelief and a lot of anger. Will it never end????

Aside from the many that are experiencing loss, experiencing anxiety, experiencing the confusion and chaos of the ongoing challenges are those people that are working on the front lines. Those that work in flood recovery. Those that deal with people needing to evacuate. There are service providers from lending institutions. Department staff that are trying to help. I have met some that were pulled from retirement to assist. Many of these folk are taking the brunt of the anger and frustrations of people in crisis. By default, they too have been thrust into the cauldron. Feeling emptiness, confusion and chaos. These are new and foreign feelings for many.

I chatted, this week, with a woman whose parents had to flee their home during World War 2. She asked her mother how they had survived the long period of time hiding out in a barn. Away from home. Away from a normal life. Fully aware of the changing world around them. The answer was short and rather simplistic. They had hope. That is what kept them going.

Hope. Is that what it is that keeps us going in our darkest moments? Hope that life will change for the better. Hope that flood waters will recede. Hope that the rains will stop. Hope that flood forecasts will be wrong. Hope that we will survive. Hope that someday life will return to some semblance of normalcy. Perhaps that is all we have. Hope. Perhaps that is all we need.

Self-care becomes very important. Being able to recognize that life is out of balance. Realizing that stress has taken over. Understanding that change is a necessity. Perhaps it is time to step back. Maybe a time out is in order. Do what we can to survive. Knowing that there is hope. There is relief. Make it a good one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Foggy Middle

This Thursday morning I left the house bright and early so I could play a round of golf before heading in to the office. I like doing this. I get to the course before anyone else. It is probably the best part of the day. Too bad it is so darn tough getting out of bed. Anyway, there I was, Thursday, heading to the course just as the sun was beginning to rise. At least it should have been. It was only after driving for fifteen minutes that I realized the fog was so thick I could not see the sun rising, in fact, I was having a difficult time seeing the road. A thought occurred. How would I ever be able to see a golf ball flying through the air, never mind the target I was supposedly headed for? I know, some of you are thinking I should have noticed the fog before I left the house. Hey, give me some credit here. I did get up awfully early. The brain does not necessarily function that well, that early. So there I was. In the fog. Hitting towards imaginary targets. Actually hit the first green in regulation. Perhaps I should golf in the fog more often. Around and about the fourth hole I felt the start of a niggling head ache. No problem. But the other strange thing was that it felt like my vision was going. Oh no. I was having a stroke. Out in the middle of a dense fog, on a golf course, by myself. All sorts of scenarios attacked my fragile brain. And then I realized that, due to the fog, the humidity in the air was actually fogging up my glasses. It was truly amazing how well I could see when I cleaned my glasses. What a relief. I was going to live to see another day. I could again concentrate on golf. Although that didn’t help. Something was wrong with my game. It was frustrating. I finally gave up. Went to work.

People experiencing mind numbing stress, after being hit by the storm (see last week’s blog), often find themselves in the foggy middle. After having come to the realization that their life has changed, after having experienced loss and not having a healthy way to cope, people feel the way I did on that golf course. In a fog, feeling emptiness, confusion and chaos. Not sure which way to go. Nothing is clear. They need to find direction. Find the target. Find new coping methods. Gain a new understanding of how life has changed.

The challenges for many people continue. The flood waters are not diminishing their on-slaught of homes, fields, businesses, and communities. Excessive moisture has ruined the chances, for many, to produce a crop, to take advantage of higher commodity prices.

The Chinese symbol for crisis consists of two words. Danger and opportunity. Although it is very difficult to comprehend any type of opportunity when you are in the foggy middle, that opportunity may well come. Through a process of “finding” yourself, through gaining new perspectives, focusing on solutions, adjustments can be made.

A good start to accomplishing this change is to find your supports. They may include family, peers, clergy, co-workers. Perhaps you need the services of a professional such as a doctor, mental health worker or a counsellor. You can avail yourself of help lines such as the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services. Talking helps. I know. I have been there. There is help and there is hope, Make it a good one.

Go to to find further information on stress management. The resources include pamphlets entitled Hit by the Storm, The Foggy Middle and On Firm Ground.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hit By The Storm

It finally happened. The bridge has succumbed. A bridge that has withstood the test of times. It is a sad day. What am I talking about? The bridge you see in the picture has been compromised. This particular bridge is a very short distance from our house. It has been around for numerous generations. It is unique in its design. It provides a spectacular picture of the Souris River. Very scenic. It brings back many memories. The bridge used to have three arches on each side. Massive concrete arches. Beautiful handiwork. It lost one section in the 1976 flood. A piece was added on to ensure its usefulness. Our kids called it the McDonalds bridge. (the golden arches). Many fun hours were spent at the bridge. Fishing. Swimming. Watching the idyllic flow of water, usually a lazy, serene flow. Each spring, as the Souris River ice broke up, we wondered, could it handle the pressure? It was surreal standing on the bridge and feeling it tremble and shake as large ice chunks smashed into the massive concrete pillars. But it withstood that pressure, year in and year out. However, this year things are different. The high water flows continue. On a regular basis debris would have to be cleaned out of the river as large trees would get hung up and create extra pressure. Banks would have to be reinforced as the water flow eroded the embankments. All for naught. The bridge has been closed. It is done. Rest in pieces.

Many people can relate to that bridge. They have been hit by the storm. Many have come face to face with the realization that life will never be the same. Gone are the hopes and dreams for tomorrow. In many cases people have lost what has taken generations to achieve. We are a unique culture. As farmers and others living in rural Manitoba, we have a deep connection to our land, our livestock, our way of life. The very roots of our beings are being attacked just like the bridge. The pressure is relentless. It never seems to end. There are feelings of helplessness, shock, anger. And somewhere in that storm people can lose their resilience.

Let me tell you of another group of people involved in this storm. I had the opportunity to talk to some `front line’ workers this week. Workers that have been designated to help victims through the process of recovery and rebuilding. In a heartbeat these folks have been thrust into a job that requires a strength beyond imagination. Each day they deal with people whose emotions are raw. People who have lost so much. People who are uncertain of tomorrow. Uncertain what they have left. Uncertain as to why this happened. These call center workers care. They want to help. But answers are difficult. Rules change. Mother nature has her own plans. It becomes frustrating when you need to provide help and you feel helpless yourself.

It becomes important to recognize the stress and be as proactive as possible. Try to gain a better understanding of your limits. And when you reach a breaking point, step back. Take a breather. Reduce the stress as best possible. Respond to your body`s needs. Proper nutrition, sleep and exercise are important. Take the time to relax your body and mind. And last but not least, reach out for support. Talking about it helps. Find someone you can confide in. If feelings of over whelming stress persist, seek the help of a professional. There is no shame in asking for help. Make it a good one.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Remember When. . .

For some strange reason I have the lyrics of the song “Remember When” going through my mind this week. Not sure why. Keep in mind that it is a country song sung by Alan Jackson. And quite frankly, I don’t really care for country music although I keep being told that country music is changing from what it used to be. Remember when country music consisted of nasal voices singing about. . . , I don’t want to go there because I will get depressed. Remember when there was uproar about Rock and Roll music and what happened if you played the record backwards? Yeah, I know, some of you don’t know what a record is. In fact, most of you cannot even relate to 8 tracks. As teenagers we were told that if you played rock and roll music backwards there were all kinds of messages from Satan, messages about demons, in plain language, it was bad news. You know what happens if you play country music backwards? Your wife returns to you, your dog comes back to life and you get out of prison. Haha. I love it.

I think a lot of my trip down nostalgia lane is because of the announcement this week that the Winnipeg Jets are coming back. Great news for a lot of people. It will be great for Manitoba. It will provide a significant boost to our economy. It will provide great entertainment to those that can actually afford going to games. Again I am aging myself but I remember when Bobby Hull was signed by Winnipeg. He soon became known as the Golden Jet. Rumour has it he had a hair transplant done. Not sure if that actually happened or whether that is just a story going around at the time. Remember when the Jets used to play against Edmonton in the playoffs. It was awesome hockey. A lot of hockey fans felt that if we could just get by the Oilers the Stanley Cup would come to Winnipeg. There was quite a rivalry between those teams. A lot has changed. I also remember in the mid-nineties when there was a real push on to save the Jets. People were being asked to provide financial backing. Being part of an agricultural commodity group, I recall the organization being asked for significant money to save the Jets. The irony was that farmers were being asked to save a hockey team that was paying their players millions of dollars a year, money that farmers could only dream about. Let’s hope they can survive on their own this time around.

Back to the song. I printed off the lyrics and the song has some beautiful words. Particularly the last part. Let me quote them for you.

Remember when thirty seemed so old
Now lookn' back it's just a steppin' stone
To where we are,
Where we've been
Said we'd do it all again
Remember when
Remember when we said when we turned gray
When the children grow up and move away
We won't be sad, we'll be glad
For all the life we've had
And we'll remember when

So I suppose that means enough of any regrets. Look at the positives. And there were many. So, remember when and. . .Make it a good one.