The Recovering Farmer

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Talk Time

Time seems to be flying by at break neck speeds. Seems like yesterday that I wrote about the topic I am broaching again this week. It is that time of year again. The annual Bell, Let’s Talk time. I like this yearly reminder that Bell puts on to bring awareness to the issue of mental health and the importance of talking about it. I feel saddened by the fact that mental health challenges seem to be on the rise and that there is not more done about it. Based on a recent news report only 7% of the national health budget goes towards mental health. As little as I know about health care or budgets that just does not seem right. I have been a vocal proponent of talking because I know how much it has helped me. And for those who have no clue what I am talking about I wish the reminders would come more often.

Over the course of the last year I have had numerous reminders of the benefits of talking. First of all the media attention has provided awareness. In my line of work clients often deal with various mental health issues. This can have a significant impact on how they deal with the stress and conflict in their lives. Having other participants aware of the effect of mental health challenges provides for better understanding and through that understanding a better approach to resolving issues.

Talking also benefits the person dealing with the mental health issues. Just recently I was involved in a conversation with a person who had “hit bottom”. They felt overwhelmed. They felt hopeless. They had no idea how they could ever get through the challenges they were facing. But through a recognition that help was needed they reached out and began talking. Through numerous conversations with different caregivers it did not take long for this person to begin a recovery and healing process. And in their words it is a matter of taking baby steps understanding that there will be days when it feels like one is slipping back. There are times when talking may not be the only requirement but it certainly is a good first step.

Through one conversation at a time this person was able to verbalize the hopelessness and anguish they felt. It is interesting, and I share this from my own experiences, that verbalizing the thoughts running uncontrollably through one’s head helps in sorting out what is real and what is unrealistic. That provides a certain amount of relief in itself. Often times people feel loathe sharing their thoughts because they perceive their issues to be humiliating and shameful. We feel isolated. We see no hope for the future. Being able to articulate that to a listening ear helps.

As a result of reaching out this person was provided with information that could help on the path to healing. Information for the mental health issues being experienced and information to address the circumstances that had pushed them over the edge. With this information the person knew there was hope. Knew that there was relief.

Again, as I have in the past, I will throw out a challenge to those that are fortunate enough not experience mental health concerns. Keep your eyes open. There are people around you that are hurting. Be prepared to listen. Be prepared to acknowledge. You don’t have to provide answers. You don’t have to be an expert. Just listen. Listen, normalize and validate. Simply provide support.

Just last night I heard a newscast on mental health. I was saddened to hear that suicide rates in Canada have not significantly reduced over the last number of years. That tells me that we need to do more. More awareness. More recognizing and reaching out. More talking. Make it a good one.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Great Expectations

Life provides us with all sorts of different twists and turns. Often times they make sense. Often times we enjoy what life has to offer. Then there are times when what we get is not what we had hoped for, not what we wanted and certainly not what we had expected. It can be that certain experiences have caught up to us and are creating major stress. It may be issues at work. It can be a simple thing like expecting a good night’s sleep. Yeah, right. Not going to happen. That wonderful thing called anxiety keeps rearing its ugly head. At the most unexpected and inopportune times.

Why is it that a dream of a hydro line with advertisements on it creates an anxiety attack? I have no idea. There is probably potential there for some money. The dream last night was about a hydro line I used to live close to. The two pole variety. Between the poles was a clear Plexiglas window with logos on them. The one I remember was a John Deere logo. It looked good. I think there may be potential there. But instead I woke up in a sweat with an anxiety attack. All I had was to ask the question, WHY.

There are other expectations we have. Whether health, financial wellbeing, relational, or job stuff, to name but a few, we expect certain things and, in most cases, deserve certain things. Perhaps our expectations are not realistic. Like buying a lottery ticket and having spent the 50 million before the draw actually happens. Give me a break. It felt good for a while till I realized that the draw had happened and there were not any winners. Okay, have to rejig this one.

Regardless of what the circumstances are we do have certain wants and wishes. At certain junctures those wants and wishes become expectations. Then when circumstances change we become stressed out. We are disappointed. We wished for something else. We become anxious. And in some cases we become despondent and feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

We even at times have expectations that something bad will happen. I always expect pain when I go to the dentist. There is the needle. The gauze they stick between your gums and your cheek that makes me gag. The drilling. And when the freezing finally leaves. Sorry. I digress. But we do often times allow ourselves great anxiety by expecting something bad to happen.

Whether for ourselves or our kids, and even grandkids, we wish for a life that is filled with happiness, contentment and satisfaction. The reality of life is that we will face challenges, we will face hurdles, we will at times be brought to our knees in sheer anguish. How we recover from that becomes the challenge.

Remember? “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Our state of mind can easily influence our expectations. From the extreme positive, as in my winning the lottery, to the extreme negative, as in me thinking I will probably die in the dentist chair. I often find I can trace back these expectations to what my stress levels have been on any given day. So it is important that we build healthy coping strategies. So we can keep on living in spite of stress, misfortune or change. So that we have more “great” expectations and fewer unrealistic or negative expectations. As the saying goes; “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it.” Make it a good one.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Mask

As is often the case, I seem to see, read, or latch on to certain information that really needs to be part of my last blog. Why is that? Is it that the information is a day late and a dollar short? Or is that type of information always available but I only notice when I focus on a certain topic? I have no idea. Not sure it matters.

I spoke last week of a secret life that many of us live. I mentioned certain things about my upbringing, my background, and even the church life I have had. I mentioned some “gifts” my mother had in making me talk. I had certain responses to my blog which I always appreciate. These responses make me write the next one even if my mind and body say NO. At times, quite frankly, it is a chore. And yet a chore that makes me feel better. Better because I have put pen to paper and expressed or clarified certain thoughts. Yet I was haunted by some of the responses. It was not meant to be a diatribe about my mother, the church I once belonged to, or any other crap I might still be carrying with me.

So I felt I needed to build on what I had written. I used the example of guilt not as the focus or topic of my narrative. Rather it was used to provide a stepping stone to a secret life many of us have. Not one that should create guilt, not one that was created by guilt, although that may be debated because often guilt, rightly or wrongly, drives us to a secret life. I realized there might have been certain thoughts that were coming to the surface that might not be helpful. Not portray what I wanted to portray. After all, I need to be helpful. God forbid I post anything that is not helpful. God forbid I post anything that might question me, my life, or my issues. (tongue firmly planted in my cheek)

This morning I received a link to an article from one of my colleagues. It tells the story of a person’s struggle with losing a child to sudden infant death syndrome. I cannot relate to that and never want to. Not convinced I could deal with it. What struck me about this story is the comment the counsellor made. He said; “The mask she wore for the world was carefully constructed and effective”. (Patrick O’Malley, The New York Times)

That reiterates my point of leading a secret life. We put on a mask. We are good at it. We can fool most everyone, perhaps even ourselves. But do we???

Many of us experience pain as we live life. That pain may come from the past, it may come from a recent experience, or it may be a culmination of many experiences. Who knows and who cares. All we know is that we are feeling pain, a pain that overwhelms our life. And that is where we often try to fool the people around us. Our friends, our family, or the ones we work with. It sucks to have to share what really bothers us. So we put on a mask.

When and where do we address what really needs addressing? We have an innate desire to fix what befalls us. However, through all of this, we often kid ourselves. We can put on this false front, we can kid ourselves into thinking we don’t have problems, we can even fool ourselves into thinking it is others that have the problems.

As the quote above suggests, many of us put on a mask. At certain points in our daily lives many of us try to portray something that is not accurate. Sometimes we need to do that, other times we need to understand that there is a secret life that, very simply, is not fun anymore. At that point we need to take off the mask and deal with life honestly. There are ways of doing that. The first step is to talk. It will help. Make it a good one.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Secret Life

As most of you know by now I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. Church was an integral part of our life. And guilt. It seemed that everything was driven by guilt. Even manipulation by guilt. It would appear that I succumbed to this more than most others. It is interesting how I always thought that nobody utilized guilt more than Mennonites. In later years I had some interesting discussions with a Catholic friend and a Jewish friend. They tried to convince me that they knew all about guilt long before there were Mennonites.

My mother, God rest her soul, knew better than anyone on how to use guilt for confession purposes. Whether we were on the field combining, sitting in our living room on a quiet Friday night, or going to another church event, she could cajole almost anything out of me. Okay, actually, everything. There were things I confessed to that I would just as soon never hear from my kids. Would probably make me blush. Nothing abnormal, just things that most kids experience. I actually chuckle when I think of one particular day. She asked me whether there were any particular problems I was experiencing. I knew there had to be something. I suspect I had a guilty look on my face that had got me in trouble before. So I started fessing up. Halfway through my story my mother interjected and informed me there was nothing wrong with what I had done. Seriously, I had no secret life.

In a recent conversation with a fellow experiencing heart wrenching worries over his business, I was struck with his constant concern that nobody should find out, including his family. He is quite literally living a secret life. At least he thinks he is. I recall those days where I thought I was doing a good job of hiding the reality of my life. I have found out since that I was really not hiding anything. My wife, my kids, and neighbors knew full well that there were issues.

In some of my readings this week I came across the following quote. “There is no agony like having an untold story inside you.” - Zora Neale Hurston. That is so true. Often times we find ourselves dealing with issues we can’t just admit to anyone. It becomes a burden. Just like the gentleman I just mentioned. He had found someone he could open his soul too. Verbalize the anguish from within. Although it did not fix his problems it helped in putting the proper perspective on the issue. But he needs to ensure that no one knows. It is his secret life. I suspect we will be having more conversations.

There is another part to this narrative. Yes, we keep secrets. At times some of us live secret lives. Why? Because we are filled with guilt, because we feel shame, because our self-esteem cannot take another blow. So we keep it a secret. We hope to wake up tomorrow and have the issue resolved.

We are also convinced that no one will believe us. I come from a generation where people with mental health issues, didn’t. Where people with financial struggles, didn’t. Where people with relational issues, didn’t. It was because we did not work hard enough, we did not go to church often enough, we did not pray often enough, we did not have faith.

There is a new reality. That reality is that one out of three people suffer from mental illness. That reality is that as strong as we think we are there are issues that will knee cap the best of us. That reality is we need to find someone that we can talk to. That reality is we need help. That reality is that we live a secret life and want release. And we are looking to you for help. Make it a good one.