The Recovering Farmer

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas 2018

Wow. Here we are again. Is it me or is time flying by at too rapid a pace. It feels like only yesterday I was sitting here thinking about the same stuff. Christmas seems to be about reflecting on days gone by. That may be a good thing for some but for others brings about a certain sadness. I am often puzzled when a feeling of melancholy covers me like a blanket during Christmas festivities. I have shared this story before but I remember as a child being at a get together with uncles and aunts and cousins. Singing carols was always a part of the day’s festivities. During the singing I noticed a particular uncle would often have tears in his eyes. It often made me wonder. I now get that. Seems to have the same effect on me, not that I spend a lot of time with people singing carols, but even a song on the radio can elicit a similar response.

It has been said before that music provides a pathway to reflection. Maybe that’s it. Or it may be the short days, a reminder of loved ones who have passed, the hype and increase in expectations or just a feeling of loneliness exacerbated by others around us who seem particularly joyous. I suppose I could have just said “Bah Humbug” and left it at that. However, that is not my intent. Rather it is just a recognition that there are things that make us nostalgic or sad. The good news is there are also other things that provide comfort and joy. I think there is a song there.

The following poem is one I like posting this time of year. Perhaps I like it so much because it talks about the three areas I work with a lot. Stress management, conflict, and family relationships. Enjoy. Make it a good one.

Put your problems on probation
Run your troubles off the track,
Throw your worries out the window
Get the monkeys off your back.
Silence all your inner critics
With your conscience make amends,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Call a truce with those who bother you
Let all the fighting cease,
Give your differences a breather
And declare a time of peace,
Don't let angry feelings taint
The precious time you have to spend,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Like some cool refreshing water
Or a gentle summer breeze,
Like a fresh bouquet of flowers
Or the smell of autumn leaves,
It's a banquet for the spirit
Filled with family, food and friends,
So allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!
Bob Lazzar-Atwood

Monday, December 17, 2018

A New Chapter

Recently I made the comment that I need to accept who I am because if I am not who I am then who am I. That’s a mouthful and, quite frankly, gives me a headache if I think about it too much. But I think I maybe on to something new. Keep reading.

I am trying to become Twitter agile and in that vein have been on Twitter quite often. In fact I tweeted but please don’t tell anyone. That is way outside of my comfort zone. And not only did I tweet, I shared something personal. And now it is out there. Scary thought.

I did see an interesting quote as I traversed Twitter. It went like this. “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” That sounds like a novel idea to me. It seems we spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ourselves, at least I do, and when I do look I normally just get lost even worse, or when I do find myself, I don’t like what I find.

Further to that I read an interesting piece this morning. A therapist, who deals with couples struggling with infidelity in their relationship, has a novel suggestion for these couples. She suggests that there are two approaches to the problem. One is explore obvious hurts and betrayal but the other is the growth and self-discovery that can rise to the surface. She will tell these couples that their first marriage is over and that they have the opportunity to start a second marriage.

That got me to thinking more of my own story of recovery and discovery. Through my journey I have spent significant time ruminating about the past, regretting some of the decisions I made, wishing my choices had been better. It actually reminds me of a conversation I had with a feed sales person. He asked about the farm and I told him we were winding down the farm and that I had come to the conclusion that I was no longer a farmer. He looked at me and suggested that perhaps I never had been. My initial response to that was one of “how dare you”. I felt diminished and embarrassed. For a fleeting moment it felt like I was not who I am. But those feelings left quickly when I understood what he meant. It wasn’t that I was a bad farmer, although that probably would have been true, but rather he was validating and confirming the work I was doing in my mediation business and that I was good at it. It was actually encouraging. That suggested to me that some of my choices could have been better but at the same time many of my experiences have shaped who I am today.

Back to my journey. As you will have noticed in the story that I recently posted, I have learned a lot about mental health and how that pertains to me. As insidious as the illness is there are ways and means to deal with it. Having said that perhaps I need to change my approach based on some of what I talked about previously. Instead of looking for myself I need to create myself. Instead of looking back at some bad decisions in my life I need to look ahead and make good decisions for my future.

The way I see this is that if I close the chapter on the past I can begin writing a new chapter starting with the present, in essence starting a new life. It would seem to me that that could provide for a brighter future. I think this may work. So if you see me in the future and I am not who you think I am you will know I am who I am; working on a new me. And then I can say I am me and nobody else and nobody else is me. Might take a while to figure this out but I think it may be worth it. Make it a good one.

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” Deepak Chopra

Monday, December 10, 2018

Supporting Others and Ourselves

Just recently I had a dream that I was back on the farm. I was checking pigs in a bio-tech. Not sure they are still called that but in essence are a straw based shelter to house pigs. The manure pack was so deep that pigs were able to escape their confines. The shelter needed fresh bedding in the worst way. And the pigs were not heavy enough to sell which created a problem because of cash flow issues.

I often dream but seldom do I remember what dreams were about when I get up. These dreams about the farm happen quite regularly but I can normally identify the trigger. The morning after the dream, I just mentioned, I was puzzled about why I had that dream. I had been preparing for presentations on stress management, which includes anecdotal examples of my journey, but that does not usually trigger those dreams. And then I remembered, the day before I had met the banker that was involved with our farm through much of our financial struggles. It actually made me smile. You have to understand that in spite of the job he needed to do he was also a tremendous support. Takes a great deal of skill to be able to do what he did.

When I think back I know there were other service providers to my farm that were probably the first ones that I unloaded on. Whether the aforementioned banker, or feed salesmen, or truck drivers, they probably knew more about my story initially than my wife and kids. Some of my venting was probably disguised as voicing frustration about interest rates or feed prices or other issues I was dealing with that were outside of my control. Some of the more seasoned ones recognized the symptoms and if nothing else at least listened, normalized and validated my concerns.

Just recently I facilitated a workshop for service providers. The participants were working with grain producers in Alberta, in an area that has seen three years of challenges due to weather issues. The workshop is designed to help these service providers in identifying stress in their clients and to be able to respond when these clients start “dumping” on them. The stories that were shared that day spoke to the difficult situations they often found themselves in.

There is another side to this story. A number of years ago I met with a psychologist as my mental health seemed to be deteriorating. He was well aware that my work at the time was primarily dealing with farmers struggling through financial issues. He told me it was obvious that my emotional gas tank was empty. We talked about the effect my work was having on my own mental health. He suggested that the negative energy I dealt with in my work was impacting my own resilience, whether I was aware of it or not.

Obviously when dealing with these stressful situations in our clients we need the tools to be able to deal with that and still be able to do our job. Potentially that often puts us into a very difficult position. These may be clients we have grown to know over time, they may be part of our community, or they may be clients who are being put in untenable situations by the very organizations that we work for. That creates unpleasant scenarios for us.

It then also becomes imperative that we understand what this does to our own emotions. How it creates stress on ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. If we have that awareness we can be proactive in taking care of our own health, to maintain a work/life balance and to make sure we live life as best possible. What do you do to look after yourself? Think about it. Make it a good one.

“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another and ourselves.” Jack Kornfield

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Telling My Story

Wow. What an interesting two weeks. If someone would have told me two months ago how this would go I might have approached these weeks with some trepidation. But, perhaps, that is just how life is. We never know what’s around the corner so we push through and accept what life gives us.

In 2010 I was asked to share my story of anxiety and depression. I did start talking about it and seems that I continue to talk about it. Normally I share bits of my journey in presentations or workshops that address stress management information. It becomes relatively easy then to pull in pieces of my story to throw in life experiences into theory to make sense of it.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity share and present to a group in Alberta. The afternoon included a workshop for people dealing with farmers or as I like calling them, service providers. In the evening the County hosted a dinner for their rate payers. I was given the opportunity to share my story and participate on a panel of “experts” on stress management. What a great opportunity and learning experience. I always maintain that we learn so much from sharing stories and experiences.

As I waited at the airport for my flight to Edmonton I wandered into a bookstore. One of the first books that caught my eye was one written by Chris Anderson entitled Ted Talks, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. That may possibly be the most interesting and helpful book I have ever bought. I read that all the way to Edmonton and when I got to my hotel I began to rejig my presentations.

Through the process of preparing for Alberta I also knew that the following week I was presenting at the AgEx conference in Winnipeg. Although, in typical fashion, when I agreed to that I gave little to no thought of what I was committing to. The difference on this one was that I was part of a panel and so my role was to only tell my story and I had eighteen minutes to tell it. As the time came closer and after reading the book I had an inkling that I might be in for a challenge. So instead of freewheeling it, like I normally would, I decided to write out the entire presentation and just read it. That part actually goes against everything I read in the book but I also recognized my limitations.

As I reflected on and wrote out my story I also became keenly aware that I was drilling deeper into my past than I had before. There were pieces that brought out emotions that I had not expected. So I had a feeling that presenting this in front of 200 people could well overwhelm me. I was not wrong. It turned out to be the most difficult presentation I have ever made. I found myself significantly outside my comfort zone.

As I look back on that day I find myself feeling various emotions. Yes, I felt vulnerable but that’s okay. I was quite emotional before, during and after. That’s okay too. The response from people was incredible which was awesome. And, as per usual, the part I liked best was others coming to validate what I had said, share their own experiences, or ask for help for others that were traveling a similar journey as my own. I like it. Reiterated what I have said for years. TALK ABOUT IT. Make it a good one.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” C. S. Lewis

Friday, November 30, 2018

My Story

(Presentation to Farm Management Canada's AgEx conference)

Some time ago my sister heard an interview I had done on radio. She phoned me and asked what it meant to be a recovering farmer. Although I had been referring to myself as that, I really didn’t have a clear answer for her. It got me thinking. So I checked the definition of recovering and the Encarta dictionary defines it as “returning to a previous state of health, prosperity, and equanimity”. Equanimity is a big word so I checked that as well. It means to “have an evenness of temper even when under stress”. That explains why I am still in recovery mode.

My task today is to tell you about my journey through the labyrinth of stress, depression and anxiety. In 2003 together with my brother Bob I was operating a family farm in western Manitoba, I was president of Manitoba Pork Marketing, Chairman of Dynamic Pork, and an active mediator with the Manitoba Farm Mediation Board. The hog industry was in a continuous downward spiral so my farm, the organizations I was involved in, and its members were experiencing significant challenges.

During a mediation meeting in the fall of 2003 I suddenly felt my heart do some interesting palpitations, felt a shortness of breath and thought I would pass out. It passed relatively quickly. It started happening on a more frequent basis to the point where early in 2004 I did seek help from a doctor. The doctor explained that I was experiencing anxiety and depression and needed to go on medication. With little to no thought about the intricacies of mental illness I went on meds. That was the beginning of my recovery, discovery not so much.

Combined with my mental health issues and ongoing and increasing stress my behaviours started changing. Of particular note was an increase in expectations for myself and for others. I could do nothing right and neither could anyone else in my life. Internally my self-esteem reached new lows and externally my relationships with others, particularly those close to me, suffered.

My coping mechanisms were not particularly helpful. I found out that alcohol does an amazing job easing anxiety. Unfortunately as alcohol leaves the body it increases anxiety. So the only way to combat that is to drink more, which I did. And if it wasn’t a self-medicated fog it was finding other means of escaping. I found the hog barn to be a sanctuary. Away from people, away from my phone, away from my family, and perhaps, even an attempt to escape from myself.

Was I suicidal at any time? No, but I certainly had thoughts of dying because in my twisted way of thinking there would be some benefit. I could escape my mental pain, my wife and kids would be better off financially, and the world would be better off without me. It makes sense to me when someone says; “I am not afraid of dying, I am afraid of living”.

Suicide is no stranger to most of us. In August of 2015 I received a call that shook me to the core. Someone I knew had died by suicide. I grew up and was friends with her husband. She was a wife and a mother. The family shared how in that short week following her death they had gained a much better understanding of mental illness. The family was very clear that their mother had fought a courageous fight with mental illness and had lost, similar to someone that had fought a fight against cancer and lost. When I left that funeral I had a number of emotions run through me. I felt encouraged to understand that I along with many others were fighting courageous fights and not experiencing something to be ashamed and embarrassed about. I felt a tinge of envy that Heather had escaped the pain. But I also felt an incredible fear, afraid that some morning I might wake up and just not be able to face another day.

In 2005 I was on a motorcycle trip with my brother. I had been off of my meds for a few months and was functioning quite well or so I thought. On the last day of the trip as we were nearing home I witnessed him crash his bike. Ironically that morning before we hit the road (no pun intended) we made the decision to sell the farm. Unfortunately the relief that decision brought was short-lived. When he had his accident my responsibilities increased significantly. As he lay in the hospital in a coma I needed to take over his portion of the work and life overwhelmed me. As an aside he did make a full recovery although I sometimes suggest to him that he did not hit his head quite hard enough.

As the stresses of life consumed me I knew I needed help. Rose and I decided that instead of going on meds I should try talk therapy. I had a session with a psychologist who was not impressed that I would sell the family farm and at the end of the appointment said I needed to go back on meds because I could not afford him. I tried a community mental health worker who really tried but after 2 sessions let me know that she didn’t think she could help me any further. I went back on meds.

I was always convinced that should we be able to sell the farm my depression and anxiety would also end. In 2007 when we were able to sell the farm and move on I discovered rather quickly that that was not the end of my journey.

As part of the farm wind down and an opportunity to enhance my conflict management work I applied to the MFRSL as a volunteer. In retrospect and entirely unintentional, that was the beginning of the discovery part of my journey. First and foremost, through the training I learned so much about mental health and how that related to my situation. Secondly I was contracted to facilitate workshops on Men and Depression which provided another source of discovery, through research and through meeting and talking to others.

As part of my preparation I felt that I needed to talk to Rose and my kids to gain a perspective of their thoughts and feelings regarding my issues with depression. I had always thought that I was hiding my illness but found out rather different. Rose related how I had changed into a different person, a far cry from the person she had married. My kids talked about crying themselves to sleep because of their concern over their father and our financial issues. I had no idea and perhaps it was better at the time because I suspect had I known the guilt might well have pushed me over the edge.

The kickoff to the workshops happened to be a call in show on a local radio station. Now understand that as part of the workshops I had agreed to tell my story but had never really considered the implications of opening up. Two minutes in the host looked at me and suggested I start telling my story. The moment of truth hit. You know that feeling where your life flashes before your eyes? Talk about a WTF moment. I knew I could either shut up and look totally idiotic or begin talking. I began talking. I cannot emphasize enough how much talking about it has helped me, whether with my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others. Unfortunately just talking about it is not always enough.

There still are periods where I do become lost in the labyrinth and finding my way back can be challenging. Earlier this year my family noticed that I was headed off the rails again and made it clear that I needed to seek help again.

At this point you need to understand that since 2003 I had countless doctor appointments, seen 1 psychiatrist, 2 psychologists, a community mental health worker, a counsellor, and a therapist. Please do not take this the wrong way. Aside from the psychologist I mentioned earlier the others really tried but as with many other things in life we sometimes have to seek out the second, third, or even fourth opinion. The point being, NEVER GIVE UP.

This last June I found myself going to a naturopath appointment not holding out much hope. Just thought it would be more of the same but hey, I wanted to placate the family right. Sounds like I may have had the wrong attitude. That appointment was a game changer. For the first time ever someone connected dots for me. And maybe it wasn’t the first time someone connected dots for me, but it certainly was the first time it all made sense to me. There was no instant fix that day. Rather it was just the clear understanding of the intricacies of my mental health that gave me the extra push I needed to continue my journey in a new way.

My recovery has been far from linear. At the outset I used the word labyrinth. The Encarta dictionary defines labyrinth as “a place with a lot of crisscrossing or complicated passages, tunnels, or paths in which it would be easy to become lost”.

So I am not sitting here today to tell you that I became sick and have been healed. Rather I am telling you that I still live in that labyrinth. But I am also telling you that because of a deeper understanding and utilizing what I have learned it is much easier to travel that journey and not become lost.

Yesterday morning as I drank my coffee and caught up with news I read an article forewarning of wacky weather this winter. I need to quote this here as it actually provided a chuckle. The article said that; "For Brandon specifically. . . . We’re probably going to have some cold periods; maybe even a few outbreaks of bitter cold at some points during the winter, but also some milder periods as well." Sounds more normal than wacky to me.

That is the analogy I like to use with my mental health. There are times, whether for an hour or a day, when anxiety pays a visit or my mood is subdued. But I know like the weather in Manitoba it won’t last. I also know that these ups and downs will happen in the future. But like the forecast previously mentioned that is normal.

So through awareness, acceptance, and an effort to be more intentional I can weather those fluctuations. Utilizing and sticking with the things that help when I do experience a bad spell I can rest assured it isn’t forever. That gives me the ability to experience life as best possible. That lets me be who I am because if I am not who I am then who am I.

Back to my attempt at returning to a previous state of health, prosperity and equanimity. I have just told you about my mental health. Physically I will never be able to run a marathon but that’s okay, I never could before either. I blew my retirement in the 90’s so my wife tells me I have to work till noon the day of my funeral. I am okay with that as well. Early in life I started with nothing and I have most of it left. Equanimity? Therein lies my next project. You see, all my stress in life manifests itself in road rage and with the amount of time I spend on the road I best deal with that or I may need the help of a good mediator. The recovery continues.

John Greenleaf Whittier was an advocate for the abolition of slavery back in the mid 1800’s. He experienced significant mental health issues and wrote the following poem which I would like to leave with you today.

Don't Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Making Room

We seem to be living in a chaotic world and as such life has this way of throwing challenges at us that can be difficult to understand and deal with. It begs the question; is the world actually more chaotic or has our world shrunk and through various means, in particular digital media, we have a firsthand glimpse of what is happening around the globe? Perhaps it does not matter.

Aside from news we have a plethora of choices when it comes to what’s on TV. Back in the days of farmer TV we had a choice of two and a half channels. Some of you younger folks are scratching your heads about that one. You see, we had a TV with antennas sticking up, commonly known as rabbit ears, and if we pointed them in just the right direction we could pick up 2 channels. For those that were innovative some tinfoil on those antennas would actually give us a fuzzy version of a third channel. My apologies, I digress.

With hundreds of channels now available combined with Netflix and Cravetv the choices are endless. Crime shows, cooking shows, music channels, 24 hour news, series, and documentaries to name but a few. So you choose a series and you binge watch. You can easily lose yourself in some of these shows. My wife and I have talked about how some shows with high intensity have the ability to increase anxieties. Not sure that is healthy.

Over the last two weeks I have spent significant time with someone that is experiencing debilitating anxiety. Although she has experienced anxiety in the past this last go around is new for her and left her reeling. She does not understand why this is happening. It is concerning and, of course, those concerns just add to her anxiety.

We talked about what anxiety feels like. When I mentioned to her that a client once compared anxiety to a squirrel she was curious. I challenged her to imagine a squirrel. Very active. Quite noisy. Flits from place to place. Never runs in a straight line. Hops from tree to tree. Quite agile. Can be intrusive. Always on the lookout. Never a dull moment. I wonder, do they ever sleep? I asked her how that compared to her thoughts when she experienced anxiety at its worst. She got it. It made sense to her.

We then talked about the workings of anxiety. She told me how a naturopath had told her that an actual wave of anxiety only lasts 90 seconds. The doctor had told her if it lasted longer it was only because she was “throwing gasoline on the fire”. I thought back to when I started having panic attacks, but didn’t know it, and the explanation made sense.

So the challenge becomes to control our thoughts. We need to tame the squirrel. But how? I have some ideas. It is virtually impossible to push anxious thoughts out of your head. What is much easier is trying really hard to think of happy thoughts. So we have to make room in our heads to store some good thoughts that we quickly use when needed. Take the time to write down a few of the things in life that really make you happy. Then refer back to that list regularly till they are ingrained in your brain. That way they are easily accessible. Perhaps this is easier said than done. But with practice it can work. Trust me. I know. It works for me. Make it a good one.

“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” Jodi Picoult

Friday, November 9, 2018

If Only

Technology is a marvelous thing. When I look back to when I worked on the fields as a teenager and compare equipment and technology to today’s it, quite frankly, is mind boggling. What we had back then would be considered archaic in today’s world.

These technological advances have the potential to come with a cost. Financial costs obviously, but it can also take a toll on our mental health. Why? We live with the assumption that having a choice gives us freedom. It does but also comes with some added stress. With the technology available today the onus is on each one of us to make choices that work, that provide for efficiencies, and that add to the bottom line.

As I reflected on the equipment we used on our farm I was also reminded of other choices that producers now have which were not available back in the day. For example there is marketing choice. Farmers can deliver their product to a buyer of their choice. Along with that there are also a myriad of pricing options available. The choices can be overwhelming and yet have had a positive impact on farming. As the numerous and complex options are contemplated various factors play into making decisions. And at times better decisions could have been made and then one becomes spooked and it becomes more difficult to make a decision. Just in case.

Perhaps I have put too much of a negative spin on choices we have. We love choice, right? Yes we do, till we make a wrong choice. Then we are left with thoughts of; if only I had chosen different, if only I had listened, if only I would have known, if only. . . . ! Before the days of choices, if something went wrong, we could blame the world. With multiple and numerous choices, when a wrong choice is made, we blame ourselves.

So it needs to be a learning process, to educate and get better. We must be willing to dust ourselves off, stand up, and try again. Use the understanding and knowledge of the failure to build a foundation from which you can grow and flourish and maintain perspective. The key is not to be spooked by failure but rather to have a willingness to fail again, because if we don’t take risks, if we don’t step outside of our comfort zone, we will not become better. And, most important of all, we must forgive ourselves for the wrong decisions we will invariably make. Without forgiveness we will continue to beat ourselves up which inevitably will lead to more failures.

As we blame ourselves for mistakes a change happens to our thinking and our actions. Our expectations change, not just for ourselves but for others as well. When that happens relationships suffer, stress increases, and conflict ensues.

Take comfort in the fact that we make decisions on the best available information at the time. Very few of the most successful people throughout history did so without making mistakes. When a wrong choice is made we must live with those decisions and learn from them. That way we can keep our focus on the future, a future bright with potential and promise. Make it a good one.

“Give yourself a break. Stop beating yourself up! Everyone makes mistakes, has setbacks and failures. You don’t come with a book on how to get it right all the time. You will fail sometimes, not because you planned to, but simply because you’re human. Failure is a part of creating a great life.” Les Brown

Monday, October 29, 2018


In my preparations for different work engagements coming up I have been doing a lot of thinking about who I am. Perhaps you find that weird, I am thinking about who I am in preparation for workshops on stress and anxiety. It makes sense. Really. As I suggest in my promotional material my knowledge comes more from personal experiences than theory or book knowledge. So as my journey continues I constantly seek to understand who I am so as some small way I can help others.

The epiphany I have had lately is that I should be more accepting of who I am. In simple terms I need to quit wishing I was somebody else. Okay, maybe not somebody else but somebody different. Because if I am not who I am then who am I? That in itself just adds to the confusion. The point being that I am who I am and I have to accept that.

Continuously questioning who we are has significant negative effects on our mental health. It messes with relationships. It impacts our ability to work. It can become all consuming. And then what happens? It becomes our everything and we cannot experience anything. That reminds me of a quote that goes as follows. “Inside each successful person is a neurotic hoping to succeed before they are found out.” I can certainly relate to that.

Additionally we need to re-examine our expectations. I have discovered that unrealistic expectations often lead to future resentment and we know what resentment does. It throws us into that feedback loop from hell. Where we get down on ourselves for being a failure but then become upset because we didn’t want to get down on ourselves but then we did and now that just adds to our mental pain. Not helpful at all.

So we need to change our focus. We need to accept who we are and what we have. Reminds me of the serenity prayer; God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. . .”. As we do that we will experience an inner peace that will then help in building on the foundation of everything we are. If we find our minds wandering to what we think could be different think of the second line in the Serenity prayer. “courage to change the things I can. . . “. Know your limitations. Understand that some things are outside of our control or as the prayer goes, “wisdom to know the difference”. Trust me, when we are able to carry through with that we will truly be accepting of who we are. Life will be better.

In no way am I suggesting that there are not areas where we can grow and become better at who we are. I am merely saying that if we start from a base of acceptance we have a much better chance of attaining peace of mind and the ability to improve our mental health. As I have written about before we need to be intentional with ourselves. That simply means you are purposeful in word and action. It means you engage in life by making thoughtful and meaningful choices. It is worth the effort. Make it a good one.

“When you find no solution to a problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.” Unknown

Monday, October 22, 2018

Making it Work

Being in business with family can and will provide for a variety of challenges. Maintaining familial relationships while dealing with the vagaries of business are not easy and require skills many of us don’t come by naturally. Far too often this leads to an escalation of destructive conflict, and when that happens nobody wins.

For the most part life begins with a parent/child relationship. Typically this is a time when parents try to influence and mold kids in learning about life, how to survive and thrive. At times, particularly during the teenage years, the parent/child relationship goes through significant tensions where kids are seeking their own independence while parents are concerned and try to maintain control. It can become a juggling act to provide a child with roots but also wings.

As children mature into young adults, work with their parents, and ultimately become involved in the family business a significant paradigm shift must occur. There needs to be a shift from the parent/child relationship to a time of working together in harmony, as partners with a keen awareness and understanding of each other.

As I work with families in dealing with and understanding their differences I see a variety of approaches. Some feel they can fight their way to an understanding, not going to happen, while others are more proactive and begin the conversation at an early stage to ensure harmonious relationships to weather challenges as they arise.

Obviously there are various advantages and disadvantages to families working together in business. It is important to identify what they are in a clear, concise and honest conversation prior to formalizing the relationship as this allows for the establishment of policies which will address future conflicts in the most effective way.

Aside from personality differences, attitudes, perceptions, communication styles, and conflict management styles that there are in any business relationships, the family business relationship has added challenges that come into play. There are generational differences that create potential conflict. It is quite interesting to observe a difference of values and priorities between my generation (Baby Boomer) and that of my kids (Generation Y).

The previous example exemplifies the conflict that can occur. It’s not that one party is right and the other wrong, but rather differences that need to be addressed and talked about so that there is full understanding of how the business will operate in that culture of differences. . Tensions arise when people are not aware of these differences and conflict becomes destructive and destroys families and businesses. Having policies in place that address each person’s values provides for the opportunity to build on the strengths each person brings to table.

So how can we make it work? There are many families that have succeeded in accomplishing a family first/business first model. It requires awareness, effective communication strategies, and ongoing conversations. Most of all it requires a desire to build on relationships that worked at the parent/child level and now have evolved into partnerships. Perhaps easier said than done but doable nonetheless. Make it a good one.

“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” Don Miguel Ruiz

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Cry for Help

As I prepare for some presentations and workshops this fall/winter, I have spent some time thinking about people who are dealing with mental health issues but don’t seem to have the ability to seek help. For years there has been increased chatter about talking. Bell puts on a “let’s talk” campaign every February. I have written countless blogs on talking, listening, and seeking help. There have been discussions around breaking down the stigma. And just about when you think it is helping another acquaintance dies by suicide.

I am also being reminded how service providers, whether that is salesmen, lenders, grain buyers, and countless others, are often on the front lines and bear the brunt of a customer or client’s stress, manifested in frustrations and anger. In my conversations with them they have shared how they feel lost when these situations arise and are never sure how best to address them.

And there are those who live and are in business with those dealing with mental health issues. So often they are caught in the middle. They understand that there may be problems but don’t know to what extent nor the seriousness of what maybe going on. Perhaps it is something that they have become accustomed to or something new that will pass. And even when the realization hits that this may be more serious there is uncertainty with how to react.

Then there is the perspective of the one living in that crisis. It may be an ongoing problem or something new that has developed and uncertainty prevails. Perhaps it is the stigma attached to mental health, maybe it’s the feeling that it will pass, and maybe it is frustration at knowing that one is slipping, again, into a darkness that we recognize and would like to avoid.

Earlier this summer I read an article about the inability to see when a person may be drowning. To a degree we visualize what we have seen on TV, a person crying for help, waving their arms in desperation, or various other signs of struggling. The article explained that when a person is drowning they are physiologically unable to cry for help as they are too busy trying to breath. As for flagging down help, the victim is utilizing their arms to try to stay afloat and so flagging for help goes beyond instinct and seldom happens. In essence a drowning person cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements to attract attention.

As I read that I could not help but draw a parallel to people living with mental health issues. There are those who are in so deep they are totally incapable of crying for help. For them it is a struggle just to “stay above water”. Those that are crying for help are often perceived to be ones in waist deep water, continuously talk about their state of mind, and their feelings are often diminished. They are not taken seriously.

In keeping with the drowning analogy, the question for many is how can we help a drowning person when we are not a lifeguard. Perhaps in our own minds we struggle with swimming and so rescuing a drowning person is out of the question.

Perhaps we don’t have the expertise to help someone who is overwhelmed with stress, someone in crisis, or someone that is living with depression or anxiety. Perhaps we struggle ourselves to cope, to deal with mental health challenges. At times like this we can be a support. We can validate and normalize what the other is telling us. And most of all we can point that person in the right direction. Help them find the life guard. There is hope and there is relief. 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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Comparing Stories

The story is told of a doctor that met with a group of his peers that met regularly to discuss challenges they faced with their patients. On this particular evening the doctor presented a story of one of his patients that had died due to a strange illness that he had not been able to diagnose and all methods of trying to find solutions had failed. His peers were quite helpful in discussing various ideas that could have worked to save the patient. Suddenly the doctor got up to leave. When asked where he was going he informed them that the patient was still alive and due to the discussion he now knew what was needed.

As you all know by now I am an avid golfer and as such tend to read lots of articles pertaining to this sport. I am often intrigued when a player is interviewed and they talk about some of their struggles and the way they have the ability to fix those little idiosyncrasies that tend to mess with their game. They spend a lot of time practicing and will often share tips with their fellow golfers. Always found that rather ironic because helping a fellow competitor means they will improve and lessen your own chances of winning. But clearly that is a way to learn.

In the past, when I have written about talking and listening, I have done it in the context of mental health. I know how valuable that has been for me and for others. This go around I am approaching this from a different angle. I am affiliated with a company that promotes the concept of peer groups, similar to the group that the doctor attended. Groups where participants can compare stories, talk about what went right, what went wrong, what works and what doesn’t work. This becomes an important learning tool as farmers need all things available to survive and succeed.

This is just a small example of how “talking about it” can be helpful. We have a tendency to withdraw and isolate ourselves when we face challenges in life. That in itself is quite counterproductive. The more we open up to others the more we find small nuggets of helpful information. From innovative ideas on farming to helpful tips on managing conflict or stress, talking and sharing will improve your outlook on your business, your relationships, and your life. It is rather interesting how we learn from each other. So take the time to share with others. What you take home from that conversation could be a life changer.

This year brought another round of challenges. Last fall had been dry, not much snow in the winter, record breaking heat and drought this summer, and then an early thrust into what should be fall but feels more like early winter. The best made plans did not work out. So as this year draws to a close we wonder what might have been, what would have worked better. Our inner critic likes to remind us of where we went amiss, where we came up short. We have a tendency to look at others, who by all outward appearances seemed to fare better than us. But did they? Have a conversation.

Whether its work related or going on a holiday, we can always use input from others. Their experiences may well help us in doing better. Perhaps I will need to take this to heart myself. I have actually admitted to some that I seem to be addicted to golf which may create some issues when the season comes to an end. I may need a support group. Perhaps therapy. A story best left for another day. In the meantime I need to find some help with my putting. Perhaps I can gain some tips from others that play the game. Who knows, I may shoot par yet. Then again, there is always next year. Make it a good one.

“Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from people who didn’t intend to give them.” Unknown

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Naturopath?

Here we go again. I just checked and it is now going on 5 months since I last posted something on the Recovering Farmer blogpost. When this project began in 2010 I was quite faithful in making sure I wrote something on a weekly basis. That lasted till early 2015 when the writing became more sporadic. I rededicated myself to writing in late 2015 but never seemed to get in the groove. Quite frankly I have missed these weekly musings but never found the intestinal fortitude to really get back at it, in spite of trying on more than one occasion.

Over the years I have had my struggles with finding motivation, whether to work, play, and at times, even to live. I have often slipped into old ways, found ways to make my life much more difficult than it need be. Sure, I have sought the help of professionals, but never seemed to find what I was looking for. And so, as often happens, I would simply keep muddling along, surviving as best I could.

Earlier this year my wife and kids noticed that I was not in a good place and challenged me to seek help. Perhaps their frustrations had got to the point where mine were, convinced that there had to be something out there that could help. In my state of feeling guilt at having put them through this again, I promised I would try. I had tried a psychiatrist, a few psychologists, community mental health workers, a therapist, and even a counsellor. Nothing seemed to work for me. (Note. Not a criticism of these professionals but rather a commentary that different things work for different people or circumstances.)

So in an effort to placate them, as I had literally given up, I agreed to an appointment with a naturopath. As I journeyed to the appointment I just felt that this was another effort in futility. I suspected I would have a chat with the doctor, get some supplements, and be told to eat less of what I was eating and eat more of everything I really did not care for. I even prepared my answers to some questions I just knew the doctor would ask.

I was rather surprised at how the appointment went, not at all like I had envisioned. I call it a game changer. For the first time ever someone connected the dots for me, made sense of everything that had never made sense to me in the past. In the weeks to come I will write more about some of the things we chatted about that resonated with me and helped me connect dots.

I have come to the understanding that I may never be what I would like to be. Perhaps my expectations are too high. I have come to understand that having high expectations can lead to future resentment. Perhaps I have to be more accepting of who I am. Perhaps I am somewhat different than who I think I am or who I would like to be. I have come to understand what truly is going on in my brain. Perhaps I need to focus on working with that understanding. Be more willing to accept who I am.

For years I would attempt to make changes, fool myself into thinking I have overcome, and then slip back into a mindset that never worked in the past. What I have learned is that I must be intentional, intentional in taking care of my body and mind, intentional in how I approach change, intentional in how I address challenges that arise. I want to strive to be intentional in writing because I know that helps me and, in some small way, it may help others. Make it a good one.

“When you find no solution to a problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.” Unknown

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quit Trying

Truth be told it is the time of year when I longingly look out the window and wish for spring. The time change came rather unexpectedly but was welcomed nevertheless. The time change, particularly in spring, means a change in perspective, a change of heart, and new things to come. As per usual there began a great debate. Should we change our clocks? Of course we should, and don’t get me going on that. I love the “later” sunsets. It does provide new hope.

As we enter this time of year I seem to be more interested in watching golf on TV. I suspect it is because of my own desire to be out there. It makes me look out at the golf course and dream of swinging the clubs, achieving new heights, of parring the course.

This past Sunday I found myself watching golf AGAIN, even after our kids and grandkids showed up, probably because that is simply who I am. As in a few Sundays of the past, the golfers on the leader board starting disappearing come Sunday. Yes, I know, Tiger is back, but, believe it or not, this has nothing to do with him. Rather it is to do with a comment made by Johnny Miller who, by the way, I do not like as a golf commentator. When mentioning golfers that fall off the leaderboard on Sundays he said they need to “quit trying”.

That made so much sense. “Quit trying”. I have been involved in a few golf tournaments in the past and I always found it interesting that before and after those particular tournaments I could play my usual game, just above or just below my average score. However, come tournament time it seemed I could manufacture the most bizarre shots. It often left me scratching my head, questioning the very essence of the game and my participation in that game.

When I heard Miller’s comment on Sunday a light went on. Let me explain. For the first two days golfers just simply go out and swing the club naturally, using muscle memory. They know which club to use for each shot, what works and what doesn’t. They think of nothing else except what has always worked. Then when they find themselves in contention everything changes. They start trying. They second guess what has always worked. They may become overly cautious. Their body tightens up. Adrenaline output peaks. And things start falling to pieces. Why? Because they started trying.

Some time ago I mentioned to a friend and mentor that I had a particularly challenging situation I needed to deal with in my work and that I needed to make sure I performed at the best of my ability. His response came quickly. He challenged me. He was curious what I did when involved in other situations. Did I not try? Did I not give it my best? He went on to explain that we all are good at what we do. A lot of what we are good at comes naturally and when we suggest we need to make sure we are on our “A” game we set ourselves up for failure.

That makes so much sense. We have so much in us that helps us conquer each day, each situation, each challenge. When something bigger comes along we gear up, we try harder, we second guess what has worked in the past, we become anxious, we change strategies, and we end up blowing it. All of us have that inner spirit that has and will keep pushing us through the “game” of life. Take advantage of your inner abilities, your inner strength, and go out there and play the round of your life. Just quit trying. It will come naturally. Make it a good one.

“What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.” Unknown