The Recovering Farmer

Saturday, December 30, 2017


As this year draws to a close and we look ahead to the next I find myself reflecting on the year that was. I realize, particularly when I think about my blog, that I seem to have lost something that used to be so important for me. Taking the time to write is not as easy as it used to be. It appears to be sporadic at best. As much as there are those that remind me of that, part of my motive for writing was for my own, selfish reasons. I always found that if I regularly took the time to think about and write about an event in my life, an epiphany of sorts, or some other random idea, my mental health benefited. In essence it was a type of journaling which comes with an assortment of benefits.

I have been busy working on a project which involves research and writing. As part of my research I remembered I had written something a few years ago that I knew could be helpful in what I needed to write about now. What happened is I spent significant time reading some of my dithering’s going back numerous years. I decided that I needed to get back at it. So here I am, ignoring the work I should be doing, writing about something totally different and not related to my project at all. This also comes with a resolve to be more committed to the Recovering Farmer. After all, I am still recovering.

Earlier this year I was asked which time period of my life I most fondly remembered. The question took me by surprise. It made me think. I did a real quick rewind of my life. Still not sure whether it was my life or the life I never had that flashed before my eyes. Perhaps the difference is insignificant. I suspect the person who asked me the question began to think that maybe he should not have asked as he watched my face go through various contortions of pain, regret, happiness, ambivalence, and others. Ultimately he was surprised with my answer, as was I.

I realized relatively quickly that my life over the last year or so was the best part of my life. I blurted that out, had a short conversation about it, and then moved on to something else. However my answer haunted me for some time. I knew that for various reasons it had been a good year and even as I think about it now, at the end of 2017, I would still answer the same way. Personally and professionally it was a good year. The pieces all seemed to come together.

At the same time I wondered why it took me all these years to have the best year ever. But then I also thought it would be sad if the best year had been years ago and now I was dealing with something less than the best. It left me feeling confused. Somewhat lost. Then I thought that perhaps that is the way it should be. What if someone had asked me the question five, or ten, or more years ago? The answer would have been somewhat different. Not that I could ever say this about myself but I suppose if each year is better than the last, life must be good. Then again it depends on the starting point, right?

See how easily I become confused? How the most innocent question actually haunts me? What happened was that the question asked of me opened my eyes to a moment of clarity. I had so many reasons to be thankful for as I reflected on 2017. And I can honestly say if 2018 is any better, even in a small way, it will be a great year. So here is looking forward to that. Make it a good one.

“A good life is when you assume nothing, do more, need less, smile often, dream big, laugh a lot and realize how blessed you are for what you have.” Unknown

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Honey Do List

Just in case you care, I have now made the bed for five weeks straight. Okay, just to be clear, I don’t always get to it first on the weekends. But during the week I haven’t missed a day. It is kind of interesting how this has turned out. I have found out it only takes a minute. It really does make me feel better. And not only that, I now find it rather disturbing to see an unmade bed. Who would have thought that at my age that could happen? Perhaps there can be more changes.

I now think my wife, who cannot be named, feels that perhaps other changes can happen as well. For years now I have been quite adamant that should I ever see a “honey do” list there would be some significant ramifications. I mean seriously. I have threatened to leave the marriage should that happen. I maintain, and all wives should take note, that if a man says he will do something he will. He does not need to be reminded every six months.

I really thought my wife, who cannot be named, understood this. Unfortunately today I have found out different. Perhaps I never should have started making the bed. I really think that is to blame for the dilemma I face this morning. As much as it made me feel better it has now apparently opened the door for more. Really? Is one significant change not enough for a while? I thought we had a system that protected me from the dreaded “honey do” list.

My wife, who cannot be named, is organized, to say the least. She makes lists for herself. I would not be at all surprised if in her binder, yes, she has a binder, there would already be a list for some gathering that may or may not happen at Christmas, 2018. Seriously, she is quite anal about that. I have noticed lately that her binder is open to her most recent to do page and placed in a prevalent place on our kitchen counter. And, on occasion, I will glance at it, making sure she doesn’t see that, and actually do some of the tasks she has listed. Perhaps that is what has led to my fall from grace. Honestly, I was just trying to be helpful.

I noticed last night that there was some sarcasm involved when she asked what my schedule was like for this week. You see, being self-employed with my type of work can bring about periods of little work. She hints at the fact that I seem to be semi-retired. I insist I have a flexible schedule. I told her I had a conference call slated for this morning. In a less than a loving voice she commented on how busy my life was. Having said that she had just come off a twelve hour workday. Perhaps I should be more understanding.

But this morning I received an email that may well change my life forever. Not only that, it came just as I was teeing off on the 14th hole. Really. Don’t you think that is rather inconsiderate? That is a rhetorical question. No answer required. Normally an email from her that early is a cheerful “good morning” or a quiet “you up yet”. But not today.

She, who cannot be named, sent me a list of things that need to get done around here. A “honey do” list. Quite literally it is paralyzing. Now I can’t get anything done. How can I carry on? Perhaps I should pack my suitcase and get out while the getting out is good. However, there is a beacon of hope here. The last item on her list was to have a nap. That might just get me to stick around a little longer. And to think, all because I started making the bed. Make it a good one.

“If you can’t change the circumstances, change your perspective.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Puk or Bust

Some time ago I endured a road trip that I had both dreaded and looked forward to. I worked on a project this last winter that has given me the opportunity to visit numerous communities in northern Manitoba, communities I have never visited before. It has given me an appreciation for the vastness and beauty of the province I live in. Furthermore I have had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people. Quite frankly it has been an amazing experience. An added bonus has been the fact that I have done this work with a friend and colleague.

So back to the road trip. Some of you may have watched Ice Road Truckers. I had watched a few episodes and now have experienced that kind of road first hand. Hence the anticipation and the dread all mixed together in one. We traveled winter roads and ice roads as we made our way to Pukatawagan. That’s right. Pukatawagan. We were never sure quite where we were. We hoped we were on the right path and, quite frankly, calling it a path is being somewhat generous. A trail cut through the trees with the occasional rock and lots of roots poised to rip something from the undercarriage. It was always a relief when we came to a lake because on the ice it was relatively smooth and we were able to make up some time. Go figure.

I drew the short straw as the driver for the trip in which later I was rather thankful for because we did the same trip back in the dark. My passenger was rather nervous and on numerous occasions suggested, rather passionately, that I needed to slow down. How do you slow down when you are basically at a crawl? Looking back me thinks the trip in the dark was probably more relaxing as we were not able to see all the perils of the journey.

We had been told it was a mere one and a half hour trip if we, and I quote, “were law abiding citizens”. As it turns out it took almost double that. Because we felt that we were driving as fast as the conditions would allow we began expecting to see the community of Puk around every turn, and there were lots of those. It got to the point where we began to wonder whether we had missed a turn. We did make it but it took close to three hours. As the sun set in the western sky we headed back. It was interesting to note that when we got back to a main road the return journey had taken the same amount of time as the trip in and yet it did not feel as long. Simply put our expectations had changed which totally altered our mindset and made for a shorter trip.

On the trip back, when it was my turn to watch nervously and do my best to be encouraging with my driving advice, I reflected on our trip. It reminded me of the journey many of us have traveled and are traveling. When we live with a mental health illness we often wonder when that journey might be over, when we will traverse that last curve in the road and finally find our destination. A destination that will bring relief to the anguish and hurt we experience. Often times our expectations are not realistic and so we expect that relief around every bend in our path only to find more challenges we have to face.

The good news is that with enough patience, resilience, and a helping hand from those supporting us on our journey, there is hope and there is relief. There are simply times when we need to reset our expectations, to understand the journey and not give up. And then some day you can look back at the road you traveled and be proud of yourself, pat yourself on the back because you made it. Make it a good one.

“This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Subtle Art

*Warning. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective of course, the following contains language that some may find offensive. To the best of my ability I will not spell the potentially offensive words in full but rather use some symbols because that naturally makes them less offensive, right??

Some time ago I dealt with a client who was quite perturbed, a grossly understated description, about his predicament. He was involved in a situation that was, from all outward appearances, a life altering event. And as life altering events go life can become a challenge with its twists and turns and frustrations. As he described in vivid detail what was going on for him he was quite liberal in using the “F” word. Half way through his diatribe he apologised to me for his language. I looked at him, smiled, and said I was quite used to that language. After all I am an avid golfer.

Recently my sons challenged me to read a book with an interesting title. You have seen in my other dithering’s how book titles seem to catch my fancy. This one was no different. I know. You are not to judge a book by its cover. But I have before and will again. The book is called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. (written by Mark Manson) I bet that caught your eye as well.

There was a reason my sons wanted me to read the book. As I have mused about previously I easily get caught up in the negative aspects of life. They control my mood and my thoughts. They are often filled with regrets. Far too often I look back and wish I would have done things differently. I preach the benefits of positive thinking. I challenge myself and others to rid ourselves of negativity through positive thinking which is good and well as long as we don’t stew about those negative experiences. But stew I do. I need to change that. Quite frankly I find that at times I have these delusional expectations for myself and for others. Just reading one quote by the author on the inside cover got me keenly interested in what he had to say.

“F*ck positivity. Let’s be honest, sometimes things are f*cked up and we have to live with that.” So there is more to living an enriched life than positive thinking. The argument he makes, academically researched I might add, is not about changing every negative into a positive but rather accepting the fact that we will encounter negative events in our life and we need to live with that. Nobody is perfect and we need to understand and accept the fact that we all have limitations regardless of our expectations.

One particular part of the book speaks about the “feedback loop from hell”. That piqued my curiosity. I have this uncontrollable way of letting my mind run rampant with negative and morbid thoughts. And because I know better than to allow those thoughts I start bemoaning the fact that I have these negative thoughts and that I am such an idiot for thinking them and such a loser for thinking that I am an idiot and because I am an idiot there is no wonder I am useless at this thing called life. Notice how quickly I can get myself in trouble? As the author states; “we feel bad about feeling bad. We feel guilty for feeling guilty. We get angry about getting angry. We get anxious about feeling anxious”.

What is my point? There is a way to short circuit that feedback loop. You guessed it. Don’t give a f*ck. You see, when we understand that we are not destined to live a trouble free life, always having positivity in our thoughts, we will have the ability to live a more fulfilled life. We will accept our shortcomings. We will be more content. It is a subtle art. Make it a good one.

“Wanting positive experience is a negative experience, accepting negative experience is a positive experience.” Mark Manson

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is That Helpful

Back in January I wrote a few pieces regarding talking which came with some interesting feedback from some of my readers. That was encouraging in a few ways. First of all it has reminded me that I need to talk more. Perhaps that is not stating it correctly as there are those that probably wish I would talk less. I need to be more open regarding the various struggles I have and have had because that helps me keep on the path I like to be on. Secondly it motivates me to think about things and write them down.

One of the calls I received was from someone I got to know a number of years ago, and have always appreciated her wit and wisdom, concerning a family member that was dealing with significant addiction issues. As she talked I listened. I must admit that I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the conversation. Because of my own addiction experiences many of the things she shared resonated with me. It reminded me of what I have put loved ones through. It reminded me of the struggles I have had in overcoming addictions.

My initial reaction was that I would listen, normalize, and validate. What else could I do? When mental health issues meet addictions, or the other way around, the problems are significant. First of all for the addict. As much as one tries different means and tricks to overcome, the allure of a “high” is always present. Knowing that in some small way it will help in overcoming the inadequacies the addict feels. The problem is that when the high goes away the inadequacies come back with a vengeance. A slippery slope indeed. So what does one fight first, the addiction or the mental illness? Or is it possible to do both?

Secondly the people who love the addict and want something better have a struggle. They try their utmost to support and help. Some days there is hope only to have the hope dissipate the next. Sometimes they feel like they have gotten through only to have the addict lash back and continue on the path of destruction. It becomes a harsh and difficult journey for them, trying desperately to understand and to help and far too often feeling guilt for not providing a solution that can help.

It has become clear to me through my own journey and the journeys of others that there is a fine line between being supportive and actually being an enabler. Sound confusing? It can be. When a person is in the depth of their addiction they need support. They need help. But what should that support look like? If the wrong kind of support is provided the addict finds that as a way to continue with their addictive behaviors. Sometimes to be truly helpful one must draw a line in the sand. There must be a deeper understanding that as much as we want to see change, change will only happen when the addict understands that that change must be made because they have a problem, not others. Only that way will the addict truly come to an understanding that change needs to happen.

At the end of our conversation I suggested to my friend that she write a letter to her brother. I shared with her that in my darkest days I had received some notes from my kids that had been and still are helpful. It is quite easy, and often convenient, to forget difficult conversations. It is also easier and more beneficial to write down your thoughts as you can take the time to ensure the message is clear and concise.

A few days later I received an update. The letter had been written and her brother was going to seek treatment for his illness. I was relieved that the suggestion I had provided had been helpful because, quite frankly, I felt helpless as she shared her story. As you find yourself struggling with relationships, for whatever reason, put pen to paper. It will help you to clarify your own thoughts and send a clear message to the recipient. Make it a good one.

“Don’t tell someone to get over it. Help them get through it.” Sue Fitzmaurice

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Making My Bed

There is a certain job in life that I have never been able to get my head wrapped around. It seems like so much work that I avoid it, never sure why. Lately I have been hearing some snide remarks from a certain someone that I live with but shall remain nameless. Subtle hints, text messages from siblings relating stories of their screwing up on the job, a colleague I work with, who also shall remain nameless, who lets me know, quite frequently, that he does that job every day. I did try one day this winter and got it done but decided it really wasn’t necessary. So I slipped back into denial.

As I walked through the Minneapolis airport earlier this week I stopped in a bookstore because the title of a book caught my eye. First though, let me explain what I was doing in that airport. During the last winter I spent copious time with a former colleague in completing a project that involved significant travel in Northern Manitoba. As we traveled those highways and byways we commiserated about not having time for a winter vacation. We are both avid golfers and chatted frequently about the upcoming summer and the golf we would enjoy. We even, somewhat tongue in cheek, talked about taking some time to watch a PGA tournament. On a whim we did go and had an enjoyable time watching big name golfers play a premier golf course in Florida.

So let me explain the dreaded job I referred to above. I HATE MAKING THE BED. Aside from the fact that I am not very good at it, although I suspect I would get better if I actually did it, it seems quite redundant. Really. You get up in the morning, you leave the bedroom, and don’t return till the evening when you just jump back in. So why bother. Because someone might see an unmade bed? First of all, why is anyone looking into my bedroom? Secondly, close the door. Way simpler than making the bed. Sorry, I digress.

So the title of the book was Make Your Bed written by Admiral William H. McRaven. Seeing I was in a strange airport and no one would recognize me I grabbed the book just to pique my curiosity. In retrospect I must have been feeling some guilt to even be curious. Below the title was a short sentence that said, “Little things that can change your life. . . and maybe the world. That really caught my eye. Making the bed has the potential to change the world? I read the first paragraph and that was all I needed.

As a self-employed person working out of a home office I sometimes find it difficult to focus on the work I need to get done. If I have a meeting to go to it is simple. You get up, get ready, and go. However if I spend time at home, read office, it can be challenging to focus on a certain task and to finish that or any task. It is quite easy to get distracted by other, more mundane things that need to be done. So the concept outlined in the first sentence of the first paragraph made sense. “If you want to change the world…start off by making your bed.” Simply put, if you start the day by completing that task the rest of the day will follow suit.

So here I am on day 2 of making my bed. It actually feels good. The interesting part of this story is that when that certain person I live with came home from work and went into the bedroom to change she didn’t even notice. It doesn’t matter. For now I will make the bed in the mornings because I do want to change my life and, if possible, the world. Make it a good one.

“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step.” Naeem Callaway

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Adding to the Noise 1

If nothing else the recent inauguration of the American President has given us more than enough examples of conflict. Okay, in reality not the inauguration itself but certainly the events leading up to it and Trump’s actions since. The election debates, the protests, the marches, the backlash from some, and endorsements from others. It appears the issues are black and white from either side of the political spectrum.

One side propagates Christianity as the reason for the changes while the other side claims it is anything but Christian. There are terrorist attacks, there is the shooting of innocent people, there is the threat of war, there are millions fleeing from their countries seeking a safe haven, and on it goes. And with all that comes a broad spectrum of ideologies and beliefs. With Fox news being the source for the right and, based on them, all other media being a source for the left. As they say, if you don’t read the paper or watch news you are uninformed. And if you do read the paper and watch news you are misinformed.

There are many different beliefs, diverse cultures, and political diversity. So what is our response? Depends on who is asking. So an event occurs that goes against everything we believe in. It only makes sense to lash out, add insult to injury, lambast the establishment, and insult the other side. Or does it? Don’t get me wrong. There are atrocities happening all around us, whether on the other side of the world or closer to home. But it seems to me that the response is somewhat counterproductive. It appears that we are just adding to the noise.

In a macro sense that is conflict at its worst. In a smaller way that paints a picture of many of our own personal conflict experiences. A conflict as defined by the Encarta dictionary is “a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people’. Conflict is a normal occurrence in our lives that has the ability to destroy relationships. Similar to macro conflict, individuals involved in interpersonal conflict often have this ability to add fuel to the fire and to lash back, to become angry and lose any sense of what is right and what is wrong. We have a tendency to add to the noise.

Wouldn’t we live in a good world if we all got along? Wouldn’t we live in a perfect world if all our beliefs were the same? The reality is that we don’t but it would seem to me that there could be a different approach to dealing with a difference of opinion. (Please understand that this is coming from someone who does not necessarily practice what he preaches.)

Why does it seem inherent in many of us to become defensive and angry when presented with an opinion or an idea that we do not agree with? Invariably conflict is the result of assumptions. As these assumptions take root we become defensive because we are presented with an unbearable idea, one that, whether we are aware of it or not, makes us unacceptable to ourselves. It feels like an attack on our self-esteem and so we react to try and save face.

Perhaps we are uninformed. Perhaps our preconceived notions or assumptions misinform us to the reality of the conflict we are involved in. If we would take the time to build understanding, of ourselves and of others, we could become informed and deal with differences in a proactive way for the betterment of ourselves and others. We could rise above the noise and truly make a difference. Make it a good one.

“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.” Wayne Dyer

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Few More Thoughts

A few days have passed since the Bell Let’s Talk day. It was quite refreshing to see the response that it received. The concern I always have with these types of promotion about an issue is I often wonder about the day after, the week after, or the months to come. We are reminded to talk, we are enthused and engaged over the reminder but then we have a tendency to move on. I don’t mean to be critical but rather challenge us all to remember in the days to come.

After my post on thursday I received a note from someone whose partner has dealt with depression for years, stuck in a place that was obviously dark and lonely. In his words, “after 4-5 years, many psychiatrists/ psychologists, numerous medication attempts, (my wife) finally was able to break out of her cocoon that held her captive”. That reiterates the difficulties and frustrations many experience when they do seek help. The good news is that there is help, there is hope, and there is relief.

He also mentioned something else which has troubled me for some time. In his words “I find that people that have never struggled with or lived with someone struggling with depression/anxiety, find it almost impossible to identify with those dealing with it. Many think you can just snap out of it or just decide not be depressed”. Those words really resonate with me. In spite of my own experiences, being aware of the debilitating effect mental illness can have, and having been frustrated with some people’s response, I suspect I have been guilty of that as well, thinking that a person showing signs of depression should just move on.

Further to that is the fact that many try to hide their mental health issues. I am reminded of an interview I did numerous years ago when I first “came out of the closet” regarding my own mental health challenges. The reporter wrote to the effect that outwardly I had shown every sign of being a success yet inwardly I had been drowning in a black hole. We tend to cover up for various reasons. The stigma, the response we get from some, and the fact that we wish things could be different. Maybe, just maybe, if I act like nothing is wrong then nothing is wrong. And sometimes it is simply easier to pretend everything is okay rather than to explain why we are not okay.

So all of us need to continue with the Let’s Talk challenge. For those not living with mental health illness be ever mindful of those that are. Be ready to engage in conversations. Do what you can to listen and support. Don’t be judgemental but rather show curiosity, a curiosity that shows support through the questions you may have. Engage in a conversation that helps the other in their journey to recovery. Not just for the few days around January 25th, but for the entire year to come.

For those that are on the journey seek out your support system. Be willing to talk. Be willing to share. And don’t give up when the person you talk to is not able to understand. The more we talk, the more others will understand. The more we talk the more we will find ourselves being able to seek help, to move towards recovery, to move towards discovery. A discovery of life that takes us beyond the hopelessness and darkness that mental illness brings. And most of all be patient. It takes time to find the best way to heal. Be patient knowing there is hope, there is relief, and there is healing. Make it a good one.

“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.” unknown

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Talking and Listening

I ran into an interesting situation this week. I found out that people could not send me emails because my email box was full. In all my years of using emails I had never had that happen before. Turns out that I have been saving too many emails and thus needed to do some purging. As I scrolled through and deleted emails I came across emails I had exchanged two years ago. I noticed a sadness in a few of them. With a sense of dread I quickly understood why.

It was two years ago that two family friends died by suicide. Although I had often thought of the two families impacted by this it seemed to me that I had carried on with life with hardly missing a beat. Reading those emails and reflecting back was a stark reminder of those among us that have been suffering. Many suffering in silence, seeking a way out of those dark moments, moments when life itself is questioned, when the pain seems to overtake and overwhelm.

Ironically enough this stark reminder and reflection happened as we approach the Bell Let’s Talk day. It got me thinking. I thought back to a workshop I facilitated last fall where the topic of suicide was part of the discussion. I thought of the gentleman that got up to share at the end and thanked me for having broached the topic in a candid and forthright manner. He reiterated the importance of talking about suicide and the mental anguish that leads up to that final step. He was thankful because of his own journey but also suggested that the discussion had been helpful to better understand the deaths of some family and friends.

So again I need to stress the importance for talking. First of all it raises the awareness of depression and suicide. As we have all heard there is a stigma attached to mental health issues, a stigma that that needs to be removed so that we can live in a world where people who are fighting the fight have a way to find help, to find a way out from the pain they so often live with.

It is also important that people with mental health issues are reminded that they are not alone. A reminder that there is hope, there is relief. A reminder that talking helps. That talking is the first step for healing and recovery, a first step in the journey out from under the clouds.

For me it is also a reminder to listen. Perhaps you find it difficult to listen when someone else shares about their pain. Sometimes we are quick to jump in, be judgemental, diagnose the problem, or try to “fix” it. There is only one requirement. Listen. Listen. Listen. Through lending an ear you are being supportive, you are showing you care. Through being attentive you are normalizing and validating what the other is feeling. And by listening you are helping the other in their journey, the journey to recovery.

I know from experience that having the ability to verbalize my thoughts is helpful in dealing with the turmoil that often are just out of control thoughts. I have been very fortunate to have family and friends with whom I have been able to share, family and friends that took the time to listen and support me on my journey. So this January 25, as we remind ourselves about all things mental health, make it your goal to not just talk about it but also to listen. Make it a good one.

“The most important thing I found, is to let somebody’s voice be heard”. Clara Hughes