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