The Recovering Farmer

Friday, November 29, 2013

Catch and Release

It would appear that the mouse population is exploding in Manitoba. Well, perhaps that is an overstatement. What I do hear about frequently is that there is a mouse invasion. Again, perhaps an overstatement. What I actually have heard is that many people are having mouse issues inside their homes.

You have to understand that as much as I may be friendly towards animals, again an overstatement, there are two types of animals that I am not a friend of. That would be snakes, a story for another day, and rodents. Mice, of course, fall into the latter category. I recall when our daughter was in kindergarten. The teacher kept a hamster , a type of rodent, in the classroom for the kid’s entertainment. So far so good. However, each weekend she allowed one of the kids to take the hamster home. Towards the end of the school year it was our daughter’s turn. Her mother warned her that she should not come anywhere near her dad with hamster in hand. Happens that on that fateful Sunday afternoon I was having a nap on the couch. My daughter, not heeding her mother’s warning, came and placed the hamster on my chest. Needless to say chaos ensued. The hamster got some free air miles that day. Literally.

A couple of weeks ago we found indications of mouse activity in our house. When we did some work in our garage we had brought in golf bags, hockey equipment and various other sundry items normally found in garages. It seems that by doing that we brought mice into the house. It took a day or two to get traps put up. One day as my wife was preparing lunch for the family she opened a kitchen drawer and a mouse jumped out at her. All we heard was a blood curdling scream, we looked, and she was firmly sitting on top of the counter, still screaming. A chase ensued. Ever seen a mouse trying to find traction on a hardwood floor? Ever see a group of consenting adults chase a mouse on a hardwood floor? Kind of humorous actually.

My son trapped the mouse in a small pail. As we pondered next steps I heard someone ask the following question.

“Ger, you’re not going to kill that mouse are you?

My answer?

“My oh my. Who me? Kill a mouse? How could this have happened? I think we need to find a reasonable method to dispose of this wonderful four legged creature." (Really that is not what I said but to repeat my words would not be suitable in this forum.)

I conceded. I helped my son contain the mouse in the pail and he took it out to our ditch and released it. However, I did make a quick trip to the store and purchased some traps. I did catch a few more but unfortunately mouse traps do not really allow for a catch and release program. So, perhaps, in some small way I felt vindicated.

Recently I checked for further activity. Seems we took care of the problem. My wife still uses extreme caution when opening drawers. That too shall pass. It does take a while for therapy to kick in. In the mean time I am reminded of the quote which says; “the early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese”. Is there a life lesson in this? I have no idea. I will let you decide. Make it a good one.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Connecting With Others

I have just finished reading a book entitled Escape From Camp 14. It tells the story of a man that was born and raised in a North Korean labor camp. A true story. It’s a story of life in less than deplorable conditions. It’s a story of survival. Survival through starvation, physical and mental abuse. Where nobody, including ones own family, can be trusted. But through the horrors of the camp, and an ultimate escape, is also woven a tale of the human spirit. And the ability of the human spirit to dream and hope even in the darkest hell. A story that is difficult to comprehend living in the luxurious freedom we experience on a daily basis.

Because he was born inside the fence of this most notorious of all North Korean camps, Shin, the main character, has no concept of life beyond the electrified barb wire fence. He has no clue that there even exists a world beyond. A world where people live free of the terrors that he is subjected to. One day he is partnered with a fellow prisoner who has lived on the outside. And as their bond grows Shin begins to hear about and understand that there is a world outside the fence. That friendship changed Shin’s life. Where, before he had been wary and distrustful of everybody, he now allowed himself to trust one person. As the author states in the book; “Shin was no longer a creature of his captors”. In a sense that one relationship, that one connection, provided some freedom for him. He began to think “outside the box”.

This is similar to the “bonds of trust and mutual protection” that existed in Nazi extermination camps. Researchers have found that survival depended on “pairs not the individual”. Eugene Weinstock, an author that has written about these camps, states that “survival. . . could only be a social achievement, not an individual accident”.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned here. How often, when we struggle with issues in life, do we withdraw. We isolate ourselves. We have a tendency to bottle up these things. Don’t have the freedom to talk about them. We may feel shame. Our pride takes a hit. We lose our self-esteem. We think we are the only ones that are having these experiences. We become captive in our own worlds, unable to see what is beyond the misery we are feeling.

Reiterates a point I often make. “Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process.” Without relationships we have nothing. We remain lost in a sea of resentment, self-pity, and pain.

However, if we build on relationships, when we share with each other, when we talk, we gain the freedom we so desperately strive for. We can think outside the box. We discover a world we know could exist but can’t see because of the box we have put ourselves into. We find new direction. New identity. And a new purpose.

As I have said before, talking works. I know. I have tried it. Three weeks ago I quit fooling myself. I talked to a few people I have shared with in the past. Through those conversations I have been able to make strides in improving my mental health. Nothing happens overnight but over time the quality of life improves. For me the journey continues, with a keener sense of what works and what doesn’t. May you also find positives on your journey. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Did I Say That

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece and called it Let It Snow. My rational was simple. I kept looking at the golf course and seeing green grass. Last week we had a day where the temperature got close to 10. In my mind I was thinking golf. However, the course is closed so that is all I could do. Dream about it. So that glorious afternoon I put Christmas lights on the house. Another story for another day.

Yesterday morning I woke up to a white world. The snow had come. It was actually quite beautiful. For a fleeting moment I enjoyed the winter wonderland. However, before I finished my first cup of coffee I was already commiserating the arrival of winter. I told my wife that winter had come. I had enjoyed the winter but was now ready for spring. Then I thought back to that blog about letting it snow. I thought, did I really say that?

Came across a posting on facebook the other day. It said, “I have reached the age where my brain went from; You probably shouldn’t say that to what the heck, let’s see what happens”. That describes me to a tee. I live on the edge when it comes to communication. Then again, if you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much room. But it can and does get me into trouble.

I find myself in that dilemma far too often. I say things and then wish I could take it back. I send emails and then wish I could recall them. I have had training in assertive communication. I have done research on that topic. I have presented on effective communication. But I can’t seem to master the art. Perhaps it is like my hairdresser said the other day. I was explaining stress management techniques to her. Then I admitted that my stress manifested itself in road rage. She called me a hypocrite. I think she was smiling when she said it.

I cannot get away from my inherent passive-aggressive approach to communication. My wife blames it on my genetics. Perhaps it is, but does that give me an excuse? Me thinks not. I need to learn that harsh, angry words will do more harm than good. Think before I speak. Sometimes I wonder if I actually have the ability to do that.

The other piece involved in communication is the issue of understanding. I need to do a much better job of understanding people and what they are saying to me. Listen more, talk less. Ever notice that in the heat of the moment, in a passionate discussion you are preparing yourself for the next thing you want to say while the other party is talking? In my case I often don’t even prepare. I interrupt. I challenge. But never take the time to listen and understand what the other party is saying. I often tell mediation participants that it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong. It is, first and foremost, a matter of understanding what the other person is trying to communicate. And when we have that understanding, and understand the other, we can have a much more effective discussion on the subject at hand.

I keep going back to a favorite quote I have. “Each Person is doing the best they can do at the moment. Regardless how stupidly, inadequately, ineptly, stubbornly, and defensively the other person is behaving. They may be lacking skill or defending themselves.” Next time I get overly passionate about an issue and think the other person is not “getting” it I need to remember that. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writing About It

Did you know that an Ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain? I didn’t. Interesting fact. I actually know some people like that. Starfish have no brains. I know some people like that too. Okay, just kidding. About knowing people like that. The other things are true. I think.

I have been doing research for a presentation. . The theme of the conference is “from farm to fork to facebook”. The internet has become a major and integral part of life. From medicinal diagnosis to recipes to social media to marketing to interesting but useless facts as shown above. Sounds interesting. Now to figure out what my presentation will look like.

I have made an important discovery this week. Something useful. Something helpful. I have heard about it in the past but never got into it. Although some would argue, and I might concur, that this blog is a big step towards what I am about to share.

In the past I have often talked about “talking about it”. I am a strong believer in having the ability to talk about issues that are affecting your life. Issues, events, situations that are dragging you down. I have a tendency to bottle up these feelings which has an incredible negative impact on my life. It makes me depressed, anxious, morose, and filled with regrets. Perhaps there are issues that I need to make sense of or come to grips with before I talk about them. I have discovered a new tool that works really well.

I am talking about journaling. I have found through research, and now with personal experience, that journaling can be a big help in stress management. A help in getting rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. As I did my research I came across the following information. “Journaling can be used for stress reduction. It has been proven to improve mental and physical health. It can lead to increased self-esteem.” The information went on to say that “In addition writing in a journal is an effective tool for use in the healing process.” (this information and more can be found at ) There are many other websites that provide good information on how to journal and the effects of journaling.

So I have started. This week I woke up one morning in poor state of mind. I had not slept well. I was facing a long day of driving and meeting with people who I knew would be difficult to deal with. My mind was still going at a brisk rate thinking about things that had been dragging me down for some time now. On top of this I knew that I needed to think about my upcoming presentation. So early that morning, as I was having my first cup of coffee, I pulled out my journal and began writing. Put down on paper all these thoughts that were racing through my mind. As I wrote I felt my brain slowing down. I felt my body begin to relax. It was a surreal experience. And as I drove the highways and byways of Manitoba I found myself being able to concentrate on tasks at hand. Not the normal “stinking thinking” that usually dominate my mind when I spend a lot of time driving.

So write about it. Make it a daily occurrence. I know I will. Now back to my presentation. Did you know that you burn 150 calories an hour banging your head against the wall? I must be losing weight. I suspect there are better weight loss programs out there. Now I am curious who does the research for these interesting, but useless facts. Perhaps I won’t go there. Do something a little more productive. Make it a good one.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Will Live

I sent my wife an email this week suggesting that I would live. You see, I just finished my follow-up appointment with the doctor. The one I had mentioned previously. Seems I was rather concerned about it. As I sat and waited in the waiting room, funny they should call it that. Think about it. Waiting room? That is what I did. I waited. Although I will be the first to admit that the wait was not very long. I have endured much worse. As I waited I was convinced that my life would be irrevocably changed. It would be a matter of making final arrangements. I just knew that my life was catching up to me. Mind you, my life catching up to me? Should not be difficult. I have slowed down some.

When I sent my wife that note I was excited. I had a reprieve. Life was going to carry on. Although I will admit there was one little blip. My lungs. Happens they are too large. Should help in a marathon, or relay, me thinks. The doctor tells me different. Blames it on smoking. Okay. I admit it. I have enjoyed an occasional smoke in my life. Still wish it wasn’t unhealthy. There is something to be said about that. The feeling of that first drag in the morning. Right after some coffee. Wow. Feels good. Wait a minute. NO. Should not go there. I tried to suggest to the doctor it was because of being a farmer. He was not convinced.

So her question? How long???? I sensed some disappointment in that question. Obviously because I can sense emotions, even in a text message or email. That is part of my job. Being able to read people. See what they are thinking. That in itself is a scary thought.

My response to her was that it appeared I had an opportunity to live as long as I wanted to. Again, her response was, shall we say, different than I had expected. She suggested it was a good thing that it was up to me. Oh oh. Seems we have a problem. Do I need to sleep with one eye open?

Seriously, I found it interesting how this appointment seemed to bother me. Unconsciously. Not that I thought about it a lot. But it was there. Beneath the surface. The night before the appointment I seemed to be more uptight, more emotional than usual. That morning I had difficulty eating my breakfast. And, as happens far to often my worrying was for naught. What a profound sense of relief when I left the clinic.

Strange how events or things affect us differently. As I think back to that experience I realize this is a regular occurrence in my life. Find myself uptight. Think about it. Recognize why. And then have a melt down. No. Just kidding. I come to the realization that the day, the meeting, the appointment, the moment, may be difficult. That is when I need to utilize my coping skills. Like I told the doctor. I understand and “GET” what is going on. It becomes a matter of coping. Dealing with it.

The first option is always medication. Use this pill. How about that one. Those side effects will do this. The other ones will do that. Who knows? You have to try before you can be sure. Sounds scary. There must be other ways.

There is hope. The doctor tells me that for my lung issue and my mental health concerns I need regular exercise. OK. I can do that. Just put my mind to it. Here goes for a healthier life style. Make it a good one.