The Recovering Farmer

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Breaking The Silence

I have a brother who is the pastor of a church in Saskatchewan. Occasionally he will send me his sermons. Now, whether that is because he feels I don’t go to church often enough or whether he thinks I need more spiritual food than what I am getting or whether he just feels that the topics he picks will interest me, I am not sure. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I have another brother who is not a pastor but probably should be. Then again, based on my mother’s opinion, I should probably be one too. However, that is a topic best left for another day. So in a nutshell I have one brother that is “Mennonite” (leave that one alone as well) and one who is Catholic. Then again I have a friend who is a Lutheran pretending to be Catholic. So what am I? Since our move I have been to a Catholic church and a Mennonite church. I suspect that would categorize me as being between churches.

Back to the real topic. The latest sermon I read talked about breaking the silence. Reminded me of the work I have been doing in the last few years. Ironically, the same day I read the sermon I did a noon hour interview on CBC radio noon. The topic was the ever worsening plight of our hog farmers. I emphasized the fact that people need to talk more. They need to open up. Find a support system. Find the resources that can help them. They need to break the silence.

“Breaking the silence” is a common theme in today’s world. When you google “breaking the silence” there are over 7 million results. 7 million. Quite astounding, actually. In my work with the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services we often talk about “breaking the silence” as it concerns depression and suicide. In my radio interview I was again asked about my experience with depression. I have often related how I kept it quiet. Even today when I find myself slipping I am loathe to talk about my mental health issues. Why is that? Why is there such a stigma to talking about how we are feeling mentally or emotionally? I have no problem telling anybody who will listen when I have a back ache. I quite openly complain about being tired. My wife thinks I never stop complaining when I have a cold. These ailments are easy to talk about. However, talking about feeling down, feeling anxious, feeling helpless, is difficult.

“Silence is to say we can imagine nothing else than what is and we are quite prepared to accept the evil as the best and only thing that can be.” I took this quote directly from my brother’s sermon. That quote really hit home for me and my struggles with negative thoughts and feelings. When I allow the dark clouds to move in, when I do not act proactively against these feelings, I often times feel like I am conceding. I am giving in. I seem to accept the darkness as the only thing that can be.

The challenge for us is also to be aware of those around us. Many of us have friends and neighbors who are struggling due to a variety of reasons. These people often times feel alone. They have withdrawn. Perhaps they could use our help. “Maybe there is a silence that needs breaking but the people who need to be heard simply cannot find their voice. It’s been silenced for too long, the pain is too great, the hopelessness has gone on for too long? You can break the silence for them, and give voice to their cry, their pain, their groaning.” (Another quote from my brother. If nothing else he should at least know that I read the stuff he sends me.) I know from experience that talking to someone about my issues helps. I have also found that when I talk, others share with me. I just hope that I can help others like others have helped me. Make it a good one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Means To An End

The hog industry is in the news again. Over the last week we have heard of two large companies seeking court protection from their creditors. An industry that had so much potential is facing ongoing challenges. At the outset of 2012 there was significant optimism. The future looked bright. Feed prices were relatively stable. Futures prices for hogs were good. I talked to some producers who had locked in very favorable prices. But then that changed. Drought hit the American mid-west. Feed prices sky rocketed. Potential profits turned to devastating losses. What looked good, no longer was.

It is difficult to imagine how much money has been lost in the industry. Back in the mid 1990’s there were many positive market indicators that showed the industry having nothing but success. The government of the day jumped on the band wagon. The Manitoba industry was promoted around the world. Study after study showed how Manitoba could be and would be the place to produce hogs. But since 1998 the industry has had more downers than uppers.

I remember 1998. It was the beginning of the end for many producers. The price hit all-time lows. It was said at the time that producers lost 15 years of equity. Some knew that it would be a struggle to make that back. Many tried. Many failed. Some sooner than others. I have sometimes said, facetiously, that I was one of the first to lose my farm. My claim to fame. Truth be known, I have looked back and thought of things that I could have done differently that could have kept me in the game. In the last few years I have come to the realization that my demise as a farmer was inevitable. Some people have suggested I was lucky. Maybe I was.

Over the last few years I have dealt with many fellow hog producers. So often the question comes up, what will I do? Is there life after farming? Many have reached the age where they thought they were working towards retirement only to have, what was once worth thousands or millions, become a liability. Not something that promises a healthy retirement. Now they wonder, what next?

Often times we hear that there is more to life than money. Don’t even get me going on the current labor dispute in the NHL. The top Jets player will be losing $64,000 per game that is not played. That is more money than many people make in a year. Much could be said about that. Often it is said that money is simply a means to an end. Far too often these comments come from people who have never experienced the devastation of losing all. The devastation of coming face to face with the reality that life has changed. The reality is that money is important. And yes it is the means to an end. An end to one part of life as we move into the next phase. A comfortable retirement. For years we have committed to the demands of our farms. Sacrificed, because some day all that work and effort will pay off. When you have a passion to farm, when you are connected to the land, when farming has been your life, it is very difficult to see anything beyond that.

The stress of facing these financial challenges is enormous. Our pride is hurt. Our self-esteem takes a beating. We feel like such failures. We feel lost. We feel alone. This stress often hampers our decision making abilities. It hampers us from making good choices. We do things we would not normally do. Far too often these poor choices only make things worse. The good news in all of this is that there is help. There is relief. The key is to reach out for help. There are others that have been there. There are those that can guide you through the process of moving on. And best of all. There is life after farming. I know. I have been there. Make it a good one.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Random Acts Of Kindness 2

I did a random act of kindness early one morning last week. I wish I could say I had done it intentionally. Not so. I was rushing to a meeting. Enroute I stopped at the bank to deposit a cheque. I also needed cash. No problem. It’s handy when you drive by the bank on the way to your destination. Downtown Winnipeg I stopped at my usual coffee corner for a coffee and muffin. I put my hand in my pocket to grab my money. It was at that point that panic set in. I had no cash. My mind started racing. Where could it be? I checked my pockets. Twice. I thought I had lost it. I thought back to my stop at the bank. The only conclusion I could come up with is that I never took it from the ATM. I was in a hurry. I was somewhat preoccupied. Of course, this created a distraction all morning.

Why am I telling you this story? Plain and simple. I knew that at some point I would have to fess up. Admit to my forgetfulness. My stupidity. My ineptness. Break it to my wife. I shared this with one of the participants in my meeting. She laughed and suggested what she doesn’t know can’t create issues. I could only wish it would be that simple. Unfortunately my wife checks the bank balance on a daily basis. There would be questions about why I needed to make two cash withdrawals in one day. I needed cash to pay for parking. It would be tough to fool anyone.

I have another problem. Since I was young I have never been able to hide any feelings of guilt. In fact I can recall my mother questioning me when she thought I had a guilty look on my face in spite of me not having done anything wrong. That problem has stuck with me. I wear my thoughts on my face. Tough to keep secrets that way. Tough to hide anything.

So at noon I called her. Curious what I would hear. Filled with trepidation over what she would say. She laughed and without missing a beat suggested that I had made someone’s day with that screw up. That was it. The only verbal abuse I got for that incident was what I gave myself. And trust me, I did give myself a true tongue lashing. I am really getting good at that. Call myself everything in the book. Accomplish nothing by doing that.

So what now? I stopped in at the bank to ask them. They said I should bring in my receipt and they would investigate. Oh really? What if I don’t keep my receipt. I never even look at them. Don’t want to know. Stems back from my farming days. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. I wish. Well, as luck would have it I found my receipt. In my car, in the cup holder. How it got there I have no idea. It’s still readable, in spite of the coffee stains. See if they can investigate that.

I challenged a client today that they should leave the past behind and look ahead. Move on. Like the saying goes, “scars remind us of where we have been but do not have to dictate where we are going”. Perhaps that should be my goal. After all, it was only 60 bucks. Ouch, that still hurts. But, I suspect, I have probably spent money on things less useful. Lesson learned. In the meantime I made someone’s day. I hope. Make it a good one.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hope Springs

The good news is, I remembered my wife’s birthday. Even better, the kids took control of the evening. They made dinner. Not my favorite but who cares. I did not have to prepare it. One son surprised his mother by showing up earlier than she had expected. All I did was suggest, early in the week, that I would take them all to a movie. Of course, with me paying the way, I got to choose. Ever mindful, of course, of what my wife would like to see. I chose the movie Hope Springs. Not because of the topic, a middle aged couple having bedroom issues, but because I like the main actors. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. I suspected it would be good.

I would be remiss in not pointing out that my kids were not that enthused about the movie pick I had made. One hates movies and did not want to go at all. Another one suggested that the Bourne Legacy movie was showing as well. He obviously knows my weakness for the Bourne movies. But they humoured me. We all went. By the time we got there the theater was almost full. We had to sit right in front. I did notice, however, that our kids were the youngest people there.

I enjoyed the movie. Had a few good laughs. Noticed quite a bit of laughter coming from behind us. Some of it seemed like nervous laughter. I was wondering if there were parts of the movie that was hitting some nerves. You know the old adage, truth hurts? I suppose that is what happens when you have a bunch of middle aged people watching a movie about relationships, particularly as it concerns the physical aspects of a marriage. It was hilarious to see Tommy Lee Jones playing the role of a man forced to go to marriage counseling. Frustrated, nervous, nonchalant. A roller coaster of emotions.

What I got out of that movie was that we need to make an effort at retaining and maintaining our relationships. It does not happen on its own. We need to work on it. No different than many other things we do in life. If I don’t practice and work on my golf game on a regular basis it goes awol. If I don’t keep up with training and working at my mediation skills I lose my effectiveness. If I don’t watch what I eat or drink my body does not respond the way I wish it would. Quite frankly, this age thing is wreaking havoc with that. The point is that we need practice, we need “updating”, we need to work on all aspects of our lives. And there are times that we need to seek professional help.

It’s called relationships. We have partners. All of us make mistakes. We are human. All I can say is hope springs. The lesson I learned from the movie is simply this. Communication is important. Jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, picturing in our minds what might happen are exercises in futility.

My wife and I are taking a break for the weekend. Take a little trip south. Grand Forks. Ironically that is where we went on our honeymoon 30 years ago. Hmmmm. Wonder what will be different this time around. I may tell you about it, but then again, I may not. Make it a good one.