The Recovering Farmer

Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding Your Supports

Over the last two years I have talked often about the importance of a support system for yourself. Someone you can talk to. Someone that will listen. Someone that cares. Often that will be someone you might least expect.

During the course of our Farmer to Farmer workshops this spring, I met a couple who epitomized the whole idea of a support system. I will, with their permission, tell you their story.

Ed and Jan (not their real names) farmed in the southwest region of Manitoba. Due to circumstances they had to wind down their farm in the late eighties. If you will recall the eighties saw very high interest rates and created issues for many farmers. Aside from the high interest rates Ed and Jan also experienced poor crops. As well, some of their expectations, regarding land purchases, were not met creating further hardship. They had a dream. They were young when they started, they were going to raise their kids on the farm, one of the kids would eventually take over the farm and they would retire with land sales funding a relaxed, comfortable retirement. However, that was not to be. Their dreams died. They could not carry on. They had to sell out. At a time when most folks start thinking retirement, Ed and Jan joined the workforce.
Let me jump ahead to 2011. In April, as part of the Farmer to Farmer project, I was invited to participate in a call in show put on by a local radio station. During the show I talked about the stress of farming, the stress of financial hardship, the effect of stress on relationships, as well as some stress management techniques. At the end of the program I invited listeners to a workshop that would be held in the following days. It happened that Ed and Jan were listening that day. I received a call from them asking whether they could attend. The rest, as they say, is history. They participated in the workshop. They took the opportunity to open up about many dark feelings they still harboured regarding the loss of their farm. Ed became emotional as he shared how listening to the radio show had finally given him the hope that he had found an avenue to begin the healing process of what had happened so many years ago.

After the completion of the workshops it was decided that we would hold regular support group sessions. Ed and Jan have been regular attendees. They have shared more and more of their struggles. We have laughed, we have cried. In our last meeting Ed shared another story that really hit home for me. He related how they had attended a family function and at the end of the evening he had hugged two of his nephews. On the way home Jan asked him about that. She found it strange that he had shown that much affection for someone. Ed answered by saying that having had the ability to talk and share about his struggles at our meetings had given him the opportunity to open his heart to others and show a side of him that had been hidden away under a cloud of anger and resentment. All of this because they found a support system. All this because they took the opportunity to open up and talk.

Talking helps. Often times talking is the first step to a new life. Take the time to seek out your supports. It may be a family member, a neighbour, a good friend, clergy, a doctor. Someone you can feel comfortable with. Someone you can feel safe with. You’re worth it. Your family, friends and community will benefit. Your business will benefit. And most of all your life will benefit. Make it a good one.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Might Have Been

For those of you that follow my blog you know this one is somewhat tardy. When I initially started this project I enthusiastically set a goal of writing one blog per week. It did not take long to realize that writing something reasonably intelligent, on a weekly basis, would be a challenge. Well, here I am thirteen months later still coming up with little stories that, I hope, at a minimum, provide some entertainment for you, or perhaps put a smile on your face, or give you a better understanding of who you are through someone else’s experiences. I have an excuse for being late with this one. I was on holidays. You heard right. Holidays. Two and a half days. Spent my time golfing and engaging in good conversation with a good friend, I will talk about that some other time.

Remember how I was tooting my horn, patting myself on the back, talking streak. I am referring to winning two in a row against that certain left hander. If I write about him too often I will have to give him a different name. Hmmmmm. Wonder what that name could be. The first few that come to mind should probably not be printed in this forum. Okay. I will leave that one alone for now. I am sure by now you have figured out that I lost to him last week. I buckled. Snapped like a dry twig. Broke under pressure. I lost. So now I need to grovel. Not sure why. I win approximately 7.3417%, give or take 1%, games against the guy. (about the same win percentage I have with Spider Solitaire) But I did lose.

So what now? After being convinced that I was on the right path I seemed to have lost my way. In a flash I am filled with doubts. I am afraid I am slipping back into that abyss filled with double bogies, three putt greens, and duck hooks. Enough to give me nightmares.

Reminds me of life. I have talked previously of getting hit by a storm, being in the foggy middle and finally getting on firm ground. Often times when we have experienced a crisis in our lives and feel that the worst is over something pops up and sets us back. We panic. We doubt ourselves. We are afraid. We remember some of those dark moments that we hoped had been forgotten. So what do we do? Do we allow ourselves to be consumed about what might have been? Seems that is one of my biggest weaknesses. Instead of pushing on, “getting back on the horse”, and just simply moving on, I find myself questioning and analyzing what might have been.

So here goes. I will move on. I will win again. Remember the old adage, “scars remind us where we have been but they don’t have to dictate where we are going”. I know it is within me to play a better game than I did last week. My golfing buddy is on holidays next week. There will be a couple of matches. I need to sharpen my game. Kids are coming home this weekend. They want to golf. Perhaps a few rounds will help me understand what went wrong. Then I can be ready for the next big one. Here’s hoping. And if not, at least I will have some fun. Make it a good one.

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Happened to Me

I received a call recently from a neighbour lady and during the course of the conversation she told me she was calling to see whether I was okay. I found the question rather curious. Was I okay? Where do I start? Define okay. Was wondering what she was after. She then informed me that she had heard that I had almost drowned. Almost drowned? And then I understood what she was referring to.

It happens that our home is perched on the edge of the Souris Valley. We have had a bird’s eye view of the flooding river. People have often asked me, because I am from Wawanesa, whether the flood is impacting us in any way. I often suggest that when our house floods most of Manitoba will be submerged. I have often dreamt of having a lake view property. Well, for the last three months it has been exactly that. It has been interesting, intriguing, and, yes, really picturesque. Unfortunately, I also understand what is a scenic view for me is devastating for many folks that live down stream and around the lakes that the Souris drains into.

Eleven years ago when we built our home we had a difficult time finding a water source. Ended up having to drill a well at the bottom of the valley, not that far from the river. In spring, as the flood began, I could quite easily keep an eye on the well as the trees were without leaves and so with binoculars I monitored the situation. The well was surrounded by water but there never was any danger of it becoming submerged. Two weeks ago, shortly after Minot was devastated by the flood and the forecast looked grim for Wawanesa, I decided that I needed to seal our well. In spite of the well being on a ridge and the well head being a good three feet above ground level, I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. We ventured down the hill with our supplies. The plan was simple. I would wade through the water to the well, seal it, and wade back. I did not realize how deep the water was. Turns out it was too deep to wade across. My wife went back to the house to get an air mattress. Perhaps I could use it to swim across. To ensure my safety she also brought back a life jacket. In my mind, being a man and all, I thought that somewhat unnecessary but to humour her I donned the life jacket, grabbed the air mattress and set out. I did not realize there was a current till my feet could no longer touch ground. Well, there was a current. Instantly, and with some speed, it started taking me towards the river. Not a good idea. I managed to grab a tree and surveyed the situation. My wife offered to go get help. I suggested I could probably make it back but might lose the air mattress. Long story short, I used my legs to push away from the tree and made it back to terra firma. My wife and I decided, at that point, that the well did not need sealing. The water would never get that high. I think that is often referred to as denial. It was the easy way out.

Turns out that three days later our well did become contaminated. Still could not believe that the well could be submerged. Wondered whether there was some other reason for it. So I spent the last weekend putting up a cistern so that we could have water hauled in. Small inconvenience compared to what many people are going through. Earlier this week my son and I canoed to the well. It became obvious that the well had been submerged. By now the water has retreated and the well is again producing crystal clear water. For safety reasons we are getting the water tested to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.

Of course, I never viewed my escapade as being life threatening. However, thinking back it could have been a lot more interesting than it was. I imagine a ride down the Souris, on an air mattress, would have been rather unpleasant. Well, it didn’t happen. All is well. And in the words of Mark Twain, “the rumours of my (near) demise have been greatly exaggerated”. Make it a good one.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Firm Ground

Well, here we are. The river has finally crested in Wawanesa. Seems that the rush to protect many parts of the town paid off. Hopefully flood concerns can start easing. After all it is July. While having said that I heard on the radio this morning that sand baggers are still required in some areas of the province. And while the towns along the Souris River can breathe a breath of relief, all the water still in the Souris River needs to find its way to Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. Lake levels will continue rising, meaning still more challenges for land owners and farmers.

As I told you some time ago I was feeling despondent about my golf game. I felt lost. Confused. Lost in the foggy middle. Was not sure what was going on. The only bright spot being a win against that certain left hander. Wondering what would happen in our next match. Not sure how it happened but I won again this week. Two in a row. Do I dare call that a streak. Perhaps I should retire from the sport. Quit at the top. Went for an early morning round today. Beautiful morning. Hit the ball well. Made some good shots. Felt my spirits rise. There is hope.

Could it be possible that I am on firm ground? A place where self-esteem and self-worth increase? Where optimism increases? I recall some of these feelings after I had been able to work my way out of a messy financial situation on the farm. I had come face to face with the realization that, what at one time had been a dream of financial success, a source for retirement, was not going to happen. I was forced to make changes. A different way of life. At an age where many start considering retirement I had to make significant changes. A change of jobs. A lifestyle change. After the debilitating thoughts of failure, feelings of shame and guilt, I sensed myself regaining my personal power. I became more confident as I transitioned to a new life.

I have had to learn new coping skills. My level of functioning is not what it once was. I seem to have a lower tolerance to stress. I need to remind myself of this on a regular basis. Otherwise I find myself slipping back into old habits. Slipping back into a zone where coping is difficult. I can tell you that I know more about myself. I know what I want and most of all I know how to adapt. The challenge is to know that I know and ensure I act upon that knowledge.

That certain left hander (he knows who he is) gave me some advice as he watched me struggle with my golf game. He told me to quit caring so much. In other words let it happen. After all these years of golfing the body knows what to do. I need to have faith in my muscle memory. Quit analyzing each little quirk in my swing, or in my putting or with my thought patterns. Let it happen. So often we have it within ourselves to move on. To have the needed strength. To see the positive things in life. To be mindful. To live within the moment. It is just a matter of reminding ourselves of these qualities before we fall back into that foggy middle. Sometimes it is good to have someone remind us and assist us as we face various challenges. 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.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wawanesa, God’s Country

I often brag to people that I live in the most beautiful area of Manitoba. Often refer to it as God’s country. I refer to the valleys and hills that are common place in this area of western Manitoba. There are creeks and rivers. Sand hills and ravines. The town of Wawanesa is situated in a valley, seldom seen or noticed by anyone passing by on the highway. It is located in the Souris Valley. It sits within a horseshoe of the Souris River. It even has a dam. Usually life in this small town is quiet and relaxed. Aside from the fact that this is where the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance was founded, the town is somewhat typical of many rural towns. It used to be that everybody knew everybody.

Even today, as you drive into the town, nothing seems too unusual. Main street is quiet. The usual crowd at the coffee shop. Someone is mowing their grass. Seems like a normal summer day. However, drive to the western most part of the village and a whole new picture emerges. It appears to be a war zone. Work is being done at a feverish pitch, trying to protect the town from a major disaster. Flood waters are coming. A river that has been flowing at unprecedented levels is forecast to rise more in the days to come. The school, the health care facility and numerous homes are at risk. No costs are spared. Looking skyward you notice a helicopter. It is dropping rocks around the dam to try and ensure the dam is not compromised. So, while most of the town appears serene, away from the public eye, rages a battle.

Reminds me of myself. On the outside all is well. It is summer time. Golf season. Weather, all though a rough start, has turned to normal summer like conditions. What more could I ask for. Well, just like the flood fight in Wawanesa, there rages a battle inside of me. Confusion reigns. Hopelessness is setting in. A total lack of direction. Not sure what steps to take to rectify the situation. Find a way out. Do I give up? Throw in the cards? Concede? Seek professional help? Therapy? I thought I figured it out. I worked on it during the winter. I was confident.

What, you ask, is the problem? My golf game. Every time I think I have it figured out something goes wrong. At times I am hopeful and in the next moment hopeless. But I need to keep fighting. I need to keep working on it. It is so enjoyable when the game plan comes together. It did come together for a fleeting moment last week. Beat a certain left hander out there. Need to do that again. The way I golfed this weekend will not cut it. I think the mental part of the game is lacking. That is the next thing I will work on. Hmmm. How do I do that? Not sure. Will figure it out. Gain some confidence. And, I suppose, practice. Make it a good one.