The Recovering Farmer

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wisdom to Know the Difference

Many of you are familiar with the serenity prayer. I have had it running through my head for some time now. Not sure when or why it started. But I have needed it on more than one occasion.

I took the opportunity last week to attend an annual district meeting for Hams. Many of you may not know what Hams is. Hams is an organization that evolved from Manitoba Pork Marketing, a group I was intimately involved in for many years. My reason for going was twofold, aside from the free lunch, of course. I wanted to meet people I had known through the years. Fellow producers, who have shown amazing resilience in facing the challenges of the industry for many years. As well, because I deal with producers in my mediation work, I was curious to see what the future might hold. I was interested to see whether there was hope for a turnaround anytime soon.

I found myself having an increased amount of anxiety as I sat and listened to the various reports. I found my mind wandering back to the days when I sat in those meetings as a producer. Back in the day I would try to glean whatever positives I could out of those meetings. Perhaps an increase in prices. Maybe feed prices will come down depending on drought conditions in the American mid west. Perhaps the soymeal crop in South America would be sufficient to put pressure on North American prices. Perhaps there will be an increase in free trade to the extent that our hog prices will rise. Perhaps production problems in other countries that would boost our prices. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Back in the day I was also in a leadership position and I recall speaking to hog producers at these meetings. As a leader it was important to present a realistic picture yet one that could provide hope. That in itself is a fine line. And as these situations drag on it becomes debilitating for anyone in leadership positions. Many times I would wonder why I was doing what I was doing. I would question my abilities. I would wonder whether someone different could provide better answers.

Notice how, as a producer, I would be consumed with what was going on in other parts of the world? Hoping that things would change elsewhere so that I could benefit? Things that were completely out of my control? As a leader I was taking on the responsibility of an industry. Getting to the point where I was taking the blame for other producer’s losses.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”. Many of the things I worried about were completely out of my control. There was no way that I could change that. It was then, as it is now, important for me to inventory the stress in my life and put aside those things that I cannot change and to accept the fact that I cannot change them.

“courage to change the things I can”. Now that I have put aside those things that I have no control over I can focus on the others. My list of stressors has become shorter and therefor more manageable. This eases a lot of pressure. However it does take significant courage to make some of the changes one has to make. For me it was an exit from farming. Sometimes in retrospect, I wish I had had the courage sooner. Change is daunting but can be so freeing.

“wisdom to know the difference”. It takes patience and practice. To be able to distinguish those things that we have control of. And when “stuff” happens, to have the ability, the discernment to understand when to accept a challenge or when to challenge it. Each time we do this our character grows, our emotions improve and our lives get better. Make it a good one.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentines Day

Dare I go here? It is early morning on February 13. I was to go to a meeting today but when I dragged my sorry butt out of bed at 5:00 this morning I had received a text, during the night, saying the meeting was cancelled. Okay, I have just varnished the truth a tad. At 5:00 this morning I actually, gently, I might add, suggested to my wife that it was time for her to get up. Just trying to help. It was actually 5:30 when I got up. For some strange reason I started singing that song, “good morning, good morning, we talked the whole night through, good morning, good morning to you”. Strange, because that didn’t happen. I mean talking the whole night through. No, really, where could that have come from?

Of course. Tomorrow is Valentine’s day. Yesterday the questions began. What are you doing for your wife on Valentine’s day? What are you going to buy her? You have a meeting here on Thursday, what are you going to buy us? Hang on a minute. Why is no one asking me what I will be getting? Is anyone bringing me chocolates? My memory isn’t that great but I don’t think anyone has ever bought me flowers, or chocolates, or diamonds for Valentine’s day. What’s up with that? Is this a gender thing? Are guys supposed to take the lead here? So many questions, so few answers.

So just to make sure I understand this, something that should have happened years ago, I googled Valentine’s day. Turns out it really began as a religious holiday. Then it morphed into something totally different. I will spare you a history lesson. It actually is rather boring. All I know is that the onus is on me to do something romantic.

When I was asked yesterday what I would be getting for my wife I became somewhat snide. In the words of one of my colleagues I became cheeky. Cheeky? Who me? As most of you know that would not be like me. Perhaps my defenses were up. I had not planned ahead for this special day coming up, when I need to express my love in ways that cost so much money and, in all likelihood, are so ineffective. After all I am a romantic, through and through. NOT.

My first response was to tell these folks that I had been married for thirty one years and so what if I did nothing special and besides that my wife does not appreciate flowers and on top of that what am I getting and besides that what is the worst thing that will happen and anyways I have something more important to be thinking about so there. Wow, almost lost my breath on that one. This is really getting to me.

Do I need to re-visit this? Perhaps. After my little rant yesterday one of the participants in this debate asked me why my wife had stuck with me all these years. That floored me. Good question. Not sure myself. That in itself is reason enough to do something special. Through thick and thin I have had a partner. I have struggled with so much crap in my life, most of it self-induced, and she has been there. Shown me the way. Helped me overcome hurdles that I had come to believe were unsurpassable. Never given up on me. Joined me on my journey. That is special. That defines a true friend. A partner. For that I will always be thankful. So instead of flowers, or diamonds, or chocolates here is a tribute to someone that has made my life special. Make it a good one.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Let’s Talk, Again

1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness in their lives. This from Bell’s, Let’s Talk website. Apparently 500,000 Canadians a day miss work because of mental health issues. A scary thought, to say the least. The commercials put on by Bell this year paint a vivid picture. They hit home for me. Got me thinking.

I looked back and realized I wrote on the same topic a year ago. It seems to be an annual event. That in itself is a sad commentary. This should not be a once a year conversation. This should be an ongoing discussion. Mental illness is real. As stated above it is a serious problem for many. Awareness is key.

Recently I dealt with a situation that involved a person with significant mental health issues. As in most of the mediation files I work with the party on the “other” side was puzzled. How is this different from the other files we deal with? Why should we treat it differently?

Just prior to that question being asked they had explained how this person was not responding. They were not answering the phone. Mail was not picked up. Calls not returned. In my mind I just thought, “I rest my case”. It was because the person was not functioning. The stress in that person’s life had pushed her beyond the ability to cope. There was only darkness. There was no future.

It is not easy to make sense of this stuff. Not something we are used to. We need to recognize what is happening. When stress hangs around for a long period of time we begin to lose focus. We lose our ability to cope. We begin to look for change. In many cases, in sheer desperation, we look for help from above. We simply have given up on anything that makes sense. Anything that might have helped in the past. We cry for help.

Therein lies a problem. Often times we look in the wrong place. Mental health issues are not readily talked about. We feel embarrassed. Ashamed. Our self-esteem is shaken. We must recognize that we are experiencing a health issue. At one point, in talking to a client, I became frustrated. When I suggested that he needed to see a doctor, he had just described his symptoms, he wondered if seeking the help of a spiritual care giver would work. I asked him whether he would seek the help of that spiritual care giver if he broke his leg. Please don’t take that comment the wrong way. The point is that we need to recognize mental health issues for what they are. “Health” issues.

I have been reading a book that tells stories about people who have had various struggles in life. The story I read last night deals with a fellow who suffered significant abuse as a child. Although there are many details in the story, details that leaves the reader shaken, the point is made that his recovery could only begin when he began to talk about his issues. Issues that had ruined two marriages. Issues that left him feeling lost. Eventually he did begin to talk. And as he talked others talked as well. And the healing began.

There are two points here. First of all, if you suffer from any type of over whelming stress, anxiety, or depression, find someone to talk to. A family member, a neighbor, a professional. Anyone that will take the time to listen. Secondly, as part of a community, it is incumbent that we are more aware of people that are hurting. More aware of issues that are debilitating and life defining those close to us. We must all learn to talk more about mental health issues. Make it a good one.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Next Step

Seriously? Minus thirty four? February 1? Should not be that way. Remember how I had suggested previously that the end of January was another milestone in surviving winter? Here we are and it would appear winter is still here and here with a vengeance. Even people who normally don’t complain are beginning to question the snow and the cold.

So along comes the groundhog. Who cares whether he sees his shadow or not. Does it really matter? We are in the depth of winter and I don’t really think a groundhog will change that. Especially in Manitoba where the official groundhog is a puppet, for crying out loud. So we waste our time and energy trying to figure out whether a puppet can see its shadow? Come on. Environment Canada may not always be accurate but surely we can do better than that.

It’s the kind of cold where rubber turns to steel. Normal asphalt becomes so hard that you could probably skate on it. You know where I am going with this. You look sideways once, just once, and out of the exhaust haze appears the back end of a bus. You take a quick look to see whether changing lanes is an option. There is frost on the window. There are no options. You slam on the brakes. Anti –lock Brake systems kick in. Traction control kicks in. Panic kicks in. Your life flashes before your eyes. Actually that was my wife telling me I should have put on those winter tires. I am sliding towards what can only be described as chaos. The only thing worse than hitting something is waiting to hit something. Why? Why is this happening?

I managed to stop on time. At this point my heart is beating at a minimum of 4 times what should be considered a normal heart rate. I need time to recover. The bus starts moving. I have no choice but to carry on. I commiserate about the cold. I look skyward. I see the sun. But wait. There are sun dogs. That means that cold weather is here for another six weeks. But that goes against what the ground hog told us. Is there hope? Will I survive?

I sent a message to one of my golfing friends. Simply asked when we might start the season this year. Hoping she could provide some hope. After all, the groundhog and the sun dogs are not helping. I need something. Fifty four more sleeps. That was her answer. Now I only need to figure out whether she knows. But then again, who am I to argue. It is that woman’s tuition. I hope she is right.

I just checked the weather. I notice that our normal highs are going up. The sun is providing some warmth. There is more daylight. Notice I did not say our days are getting longer? My wife suggested yesterday that she could almost imagine spring. That is what I am going with. Spring is around the corner. I will survive.

In the mean time I am finding my happy place. You got it. I am golfing in my imagination. The sun is warm. The grass is green. Worries are gone. Anxiety has gone into hibernation. I hit my first shot and see it disappear into the sun rise. I know I can do this. In my happy place I don’t even par the first hole. I settle for a bogy. It does not matter. I know there are better things to come. I love it. Make it a good one.