The Recovering Farmer

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

 I find it rather interesting that I have yet to see any thoughts or discussions on social media regarding new years resolutions. Normally people are reflecting on the year past and looking ahead wondering where they can do better. Lose some weight, exercise more, quit smoking, make more money, or spend more time with family, to name but a few.

Perhaps with the year we have had there are many that secretly would like to start, rather than quit, smoking or drinking or any sundry activities that would help us cope with what we are experiencing. Although it has been years since I quit smoking, just thinking about it now makes me want to light up.

I often say that new years resolutions end in failure, so I do not make any. My way of thinking on this is that we think in our minds that January 1 brings about a new year and so that seems like an appropriate time to starting or stopping something we have long wanted to.

However, when we wake up on New Years morning the world is still the same. Still the same face that looks back at you from the mirror. The same sights outside my window. The same wants, fears and needs running rampant in my brain. It quickly becomes evident that nothing is different leaving one less than enthused to carry through with any resolutions.

Perhaps most of us are somewhat shell shocked with what we have experienced this year, continue to experience, and really have no idea when the pandemic will ease up and allow for a somewhat normal life. This past year has brought about an abundance of metaphors, analogies and descriptors that tell a story of a world in crisis.

My favorite one is when someone suggests that saying “hindsight is 2020” will never have quite the same meaning. In the past when we recalled events in our lives and lamented about how we could have done better we often heard others respond by saying hindsight is 20/20, referring of course to 20/20 meaning perfect vision.

From now on the term “hindsight is 2020” will likely refer to something being, how do I say this as nicely as I can, CRAP.

Let me share with you a thought. Let me use another analogy. The rear-view mirror on my car is small. How successful are we in moving forward if we only look at that small mirror? Even the warning “objects maybe be closer than they appear” holds some truth. Sometimes the past seems to be sneaking up on us and come close enough to create worry but ultimately need not be a problem unless we are backing up.

However, when we look forward, we have a significantly larger view through the windshield. To keep moving forward use the windshield, accept the future for all it has to offer. We may fail and we may think that failure defines us. Rather we must use the understanding and knowledge of the failures to build a foundation from which you can grow and flourish and maintain perspective.

So no, I am not making any resolutions other than, as soon as possible, I am getting the vaccination. Perhaps I will grow horns or some other silly side effect. So be it. If that’s what it takes, I will live with it. And that may be when I say, “hindsight truly is 2020”. Happy New Years. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Oh Zoom All You Faithful

 There is probably a few more songs we could tweak to make them more appropriate for this Christmas. For example, Zoom they told me Pa rum pum pum pum, or It’s the Most Wonderful Zoom of the Year or Jingle Bell Zoom. I best stop.

I suppose this Christmas will go down as no other. It is the time of year when families and friends get together, to celebrate the season. However, this year is clearly different. There are many, if not all of us, who will be spending the season in much different ways than what we are accustomed to.

Normally this time of year provides an opportunity for connection. Whether with family, friends, church or community, connection happens. Aside from the havoc wreaked by Covid there are many other reasons why this time of year will be heart wrenching for many. A loved one passed on, relationships that have been broken, financial stress, ongoing health concerns. And connection provides an opportunity to support and be supported.

It has been said before that music provides a pathway to reflection. I recall in Christmas’ past an uncle who often had tears in his eyes when carols were sung. Never knew why.  I have come to an understanding of that. I have experienced the same. Through that I have come to the realization that Christmas is a time of reflection. What was and what might have been.

Clearly this this year more time will be spent in reflection, at least if we adhere to the rules. As I know from experience it is easy to dredge up negatives from the past. That really serves no valuable purpose. Instead let’s reflect on the good memories we have and look forward to next year when things will, hopefully, be different and more memories will be made. Make it a “zoom” one AND make it a good one.


Memories are a special house
We build inside ourselves
Where love and laughter linger,
Where all our past life dwells.
On holidays like Christmas
We can draw upon the store,
Reliving happy times
And feeling all that warmth once more.
Wherever we may travel,
This house is always there
To help to blend the old and new,
To build on . . . grow . . . and share.
This house can never get too full,
Just grow from floor to floor,
Because the joy of memories
Is always making more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Great Equalizer

 It seems that when it comes to mental health and gratitude, I am of two minds. And at times my thoughts appear to be somewhat contradictory and at times my two minds argue about it.

Some time ago a friend sent me an email in which were listed seven things that upset him. The language used was of concern to me and so I reached out. When he answered he was just out and about so could not really talk. I quickly suggested to him that I had read his list and thought it would be helpful to now list seven things that he was grateful for. I also said he should call me back when he had a chance to talk.

A day went by and as I had not heard from him, I called him again. When he answered I said I had expected a call back and was concerned about his well being. I found out rather quickly that he was quite upset with me. He felt that suggesting he list positives or things to be grateful for was minimizing what he was feeling about the negatives in his life. I did not say it to him, his emotions were obviously quite raw, but thought that was the point.

I look at gratitude as being the great equalizer. I find it a little too easy to slip into a mindset where my focus is on the things that have gone wrong in my life, the areas where I screwed up, and events that happened where I felt I had been treated unfairly. As that happens, I sink into the abyss of anxiety and anger with depression lurking and waiting to rear its ugly head. However, if I am proactive, self-aware of where my emotions are headed, I can stave off that slide into darkness. At least sometimes.

We must also be aware that gratitude may not be the answer and may at times exacerbate our feelings of despair. Earlier this summer, when I found myself in a dark place, I consciously tried to list all the things I was grateful for. Trust me, the list was long, much longer than the list of negatives. But then I found myself slipping further into depression. When I realized how many things I had to be thankful for it made so much less sense that I was feeling down. I found myself getting more depressed because I was depressed and didn’t think I should be. It filled me with shame and self-loathing.

We have to be mindful that depression and anxiety are a sickness. Suggesting that gratitude will fix that is like suggesting gratitude will fix your broken leg. When we tell people with depression to count their blessings, we run the risk of perpetuating the stigma of mental illness.

Listing the things that are upsetting you at any given time is a good exercise. First and foremost, it puts it out there. In essence you have verbalized them and that takes away their power. And when you revisit that list later that day or the next, they may not be as upsetting as you felt. Simply put when our emotions are raw it is easy to stew about things. When our minds are clearer these issues do not bear the same amount of pain.

I don’t expect that a gratitude intervention will help me feel less depressed or anxious. However, when I spend time in being grateful for the good things in life, I find just a little more incentive to be more intentional with my mental health. My gratitude list tells me there is hope and there is relief and that I have something to work towards, one day at a time. It can be the great equalizer.

Contradictory? Maybe. Confusing? Probably. I found a new word this week. Doublethink. Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them. I am going with that. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Don’t You Quit

 I often wonder how strong I really am. I don’t mean physically. I know I am not strong physically. I am talking mentally and emotionally. Seems over the years I have resorted to various unhealthy forms of coping when life seemed overwhelming. That would suggest that I am not strong and have certain weaknesses.

Most of us have become Covid weary and been that way for months. Now with Christmas approaching and news that restrictions will be in place into the new year dashing hopes of getting together with others, that weariness increases.

We have all heard that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I often have serious questions about that. At first blush it makes sense. After all we all have challenges in life. We have experiences that we would rather not have. Many of us have experienced some type of trauma. And, often times, we learn from these experiences, we grow, we do become stronger.  But not always.

I am not convinced that all of life events make us stronger. Some events, some experiences, some trauma will test the very core of our strength and will leave us weakened. And when we get knee-capped by something that weakens us we must find ways to recover and heal, understanding that we may never reattain our former strength.

I chatted recently with an elderly lady who has shown amazing strength and resilience through adversity and pain. As we addressed her latest challenge, I made a comment about that strength. She looked at me with a weary gaze and said she was getting tired of being strong. Ongoing challenges, pain, and frustration had left her tired.

So whether we experience something that leaves us vulnerable or whether ongoing adversity leaves us weary the challenge is to be aware. Be aware of changes to your body, to your mind and to your emotions. Be aware when life is challenging you. Recognize the symptoms.

The following poem is one that has encouraged me in difficult times. I have committed it to memory and will often recite it to myself. It was written by John Greenleaf Whittier who was an advocate for the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s. He experienced his own journey with mental illness. Hopefully it can encourage you as well. Make it a good one.

Never Quit
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, 
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill, 
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 in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit –
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
                                                     John Greenleaf Whittier

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

 I recently saw a quote by Arlene Dickenson that goes as follows; “The most important conversation you can have is what you tell yourself about yourself.”

As the stressors of life overwhelm us it is common to struggle with our internal voice which ultimately exacerbates many of the issues we face.

A few days ago I talked to my sister. We were chatting about the restrictions and what we were doing to cope. It was clear we both new some good coping strategies but had to admit we were not using them. She then began berating herself for not being better.

In response to my dithering on to much exposure to news and social media, a cousin sent me a text and in her words she said, “I’ve slapped my hands a couple of times when I’ve read too much and its causing emotional anxiety”.

Hey, I get it. It’s okay to get frustrated. We all do. We yearn for good news stories which are difficult to come by in our current situation. Most times we come away feeling worse because the bad news stories far outweigh the good news stories.

As that happens, we struggle to find and achieve equilibrium. We know it is possible, we have found our way through other significant stressors, but this one feels different.

How we treat ourselves becomes incredibly important. We need to learn to not complicate or compound our state of mind.

At times we fall into a state of self-pity, defined as “the self-indulgent belief that your life is harder and sadder than everyone else's”. That says it all.

It is easy to fall into that miserable state of mind. My favorite (tongue in cheek) is the feedback loop. 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 . . . . . And around I go.

As humans we have an intense desire to be understood by others particularly during periods of distress? We never outgrow that. Our pain and anxiety reduces the more others understand and care. Our physical and mental health improves when others show they understand, when they reach out to help.

In the same way we need to better understand ourselves. We need to be kinder to “me”. We need to be able to reach out and help “me”.

Try something different. Use self-compassion. The dictionary defines compassion as “having sympathy for the suffering of others, often including a desire to help”. In the same way that caring for others, wanting to help, is a good thing, using that concept on ourselves also works. It is an important tool in overcoming the anger, the frustrations, and the anxieties we often feel.

Next time you are berating yourself or slapping your hands or feeling down because you feel you messed up again use self-awareness to bring yourself back to the present. Give yourself a moment to have a conversation with yourself. Show some self-compassion. And instead of being too hard on yourself, be kind. Build yourself up and see how that changes your outlook, your perspective on you and on life. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

39 Years I Think

Just in case you care my wife and I celebrate our anniversary this week. A whopping 39 years, I think, of married bliss, or so I have been told. Okay, celebrating is somewhat overstated. How do you really celebrate when the world is in lockdown? Perhaps I am overcomplicating it. I suppose a celebration could actually involve agreeing on a TV show we both want to watch. There really is nothing left to be said as at this point whatever hasn’t been said probably is best left unsaid.

Here is our conversation from last night.

She: What are you doing tomorrow?

Me: Same as today.

She: What was that?

Me: The same as I did yesterday.

She: Doesn’t sound like you are doing much.

Me: I have never worked so hard and not done anything.

 I sometimes tease my wife that for the last I think 39 years, she has tried to get me to change but now complains I am not the man she married.

Over the years, 39 I think, there were certain things I refused to do. For example. I could not handle the idea of making our bed. Aside from the fact that I wasn’t very good at 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.

Long story short, almost 4 years ago I started making our bed because of something I read that suggested doing something like that first thing in the morning provided a feeling of encouragement of having accomplished something. It is kind of interesting how that turned out. I 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?

The downside to that was that my wife seemed to think that was impetus enough for her to push other changes. Ever since we got married, 39 years ago I think, 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 walk out should that happen.

I really thought my wife understood this. Unfortunately, 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 faced this summer. As much as making the bed 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 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 some time in 2021. 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 and then go back and stroke it out. Or I may add something to her list that I have already done and stroke it out just so she knows I do things around here, hoping she doesn’t take me for granted. Perhaps that is what led to my fall from grace.

Back to this summer. One morning I received an email that came close to changing 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. Normally an email from her that early is a cheerful “good morning” or a quiet “you up yet”. But not that day.

She sent me a list of things that needed to get done around the house. A “honey do” list. Quite literally it was paralyzing. I literally couldn’t do anything. Wasn’t even sure how I could carry on. I was thinking about packing my suitcase and hitting the road. Then I saw the last item on her list. She suggested I should have a nap. That saved the day. She called my bluff and I blinked. And to think, all because I started making the bed.

So yes. We have been married for 39 years, I think. But then again who is counting. So because I can’t buy flowers and we can’t go out for dinner and we are socially distancing I will use this forum to wish her a happy anniversary. And to anyone who will wish us another 39 years, please don’t. Make it a good one.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Adding to the Noise

 One of the more frequent questions I have been asked of late is how the pandemic has impacted my/our stress levels. At first I really did not think it was adding to my stress. But as time goes on and the future is looking somewhat bleak there are a million different thoughts that are coming at me at warp speeds adding to my anxieties.

I know. Following anything or anyone on social media these days provides a plethora of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. And due to some morbid curiosity I go back, hoping to find something I agree with to find salve for the soul. And I find something but before I settle down something else pops up that makes me shake in anger or fear or frustration, adding fuel to my anxieties.

I don’t have to remind you that our life prior to the pandemic could be stressful at times. And at times those, what we now call normal stressors, would overwhelm us. Covid has added another layer. A stressor that won’t go away.

So we have the ongoing debacle called an election down south, we have anti-maskers flaunting public health orders, there is a thought of not being able to celebrate Christmas in a normal way, there are rumours of vaccines, there are conspiracy theories on whether the pandemic is real or, in fact, brought on us by governments with ulterior motives (that one still baffles me), wondering what will happen to us if we get the virus, worried about families or friends that may be vulnerable, stories of Covid camps camouflaged as glorified concentration camps, personal care homes under siege, a drug that cures but is not being allowed to be used because big pharma wouldn’t make as much money and the list goes on. (I bet that’s the longest sentence you have ever seen)

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 stress 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 values, our own wants, needs and fears.

 I have this thing called a Fitbit. At first I thought it would be a great idea to track my exercise, check on my heartbeat, see how many calories I am burning and remind me EVERY HOUR ON THE HOUR that I need to walk. It will vibrate and when I check, it tells me to “feed it”. It’s a constant reminder to do better. It seems that I never measure up so I turned off the notifications. I did not want to be reminded.

Perhaps that is what we need to do with the news, Facebook, Twitter and all other sources that are feeding us. Turn off the notifications. I know, if you don’t keep up you are uninformed. But let me suggest that when you do check every time you get a notification you are misinformed.

A key stress management tool is to recognize when something adds to our mental distress and be proactive of reducing our exposure to that. It simply means to turn off the notifications and cut out a lot of the noise. Be mindful, breath and rest assured that our world will move beyond the pandemic at its own time. In the meantime rise above the noise, be kind to yourself and stay safe. Now go give someone a virtual hug. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

“Virtually” Everything


Yikes. Covid numbers keep increasing and more people are dying. What a sobering thing to wake up to. Makes me worried what the future holds for us. What I do know is that the reality of a pandemic will be with us for some time to come meaning the way our lives our different now has become a new norm. For many that new norm has been a life of “virtual” everything.

Yesterday I had a virtual chat with a friend and former colleague. I was somewhat late for chat due to another appointment. When she asked me about the appointment, I said I had been golfing. She looked somewhat confused as she asked whether golf courses were still open. I went on to tell her I had actually golfed St Andrews, a golf course in Scotland. That just deepened her confusion. I had to explain that I had played virtual golf.

Since March, all my work has been done virtually. With the change in weather my favorite pastime now must be done virtually. Seeing our kids and grandkids is done virtually. With what is going on in my wife’s workplace, I suspect our relationship may go virtual. (Not saying anything more about that) This virtual everything is leaving me feeling virtually empty.

To a degree I am thankful for modern technology such as computers and wifi. Can you imagine living through a pandemic, with all the restrictions if we did not have that? I know, at times it is frustrating, but it does allow for a semblance of human connection.

But it does come with some challenges. When I chatted with my therapist about doing my work virtually, she related how therapists had to cut back on their patient load because meeting virtually was much harder on their own mental health. That gave me reason for pause. It made sense. It depletes our emotional gas tank.

In addition to that, confirmed by two conversations I had with others that deal with difficult situations, meeting virtually in our work from home, means we do not have the same ability to debrief after difficult conversations, something that has the ability to replenish our emotional gas tank.

I reflected on my work the day prior to that appointment. I dealt with two mediation files, both with some particular challenges. They both turned out rather well which, in the past, would have provided a certain satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment. Normally it would have energized me but not that day. Instead I switched off my computer, left my office, eyeing my bed on the way by, and plunked myself in front of the TV feeling “meh”.

So, the lesson is clear. We need to be aware of the effect this pandemic, this new virtual everything is having on our own mental health. We need to shift our expectations. And as we do that, we need to find new ways of filling our emotional gas tanks because we know that just the realities and unknowns of Covid, never mind all our other stressors, has the potential of draining those tanks real quick.

Connection is a core human need. So, in a world of virtually everything, we need to find different and unique ways to connect. Instead of shying away from making that phone call or Zoom get together, we have to increase our efforts to ensure connection. We need to be more intentional about staying healthy, both physically and mentally. For now, perhaps, a virtual hug would do it. Now I just have to figure out how to get a virtual haircut. Make it a good one.

Friday, October 30, 2020

What Was I Thinking


Recently my wife and I chatted about our uniquely different ways of thinking. We were finishing up with our socially distanced dinner and out of the blue, without any context, she made a comment. I gave her a puzzled look and asked her what she was talking about. To her it was obvious, she was adding more to a story she had told me half an hour before.

She then went on to explain her way of thinking. She compared it to a boat skimming across the water, literally moving rapidly from one spot to another. That made sense to me. Her brain was going at an incredible pace, from one thought to another, never lingering too long, and often circling back.

That got me thinking about my thinking. In keeping with the analogy of water and water vessels I suggested that my thinking was more in the line of a submarine. I come across a thought and do a deep dive. As I dive into the murky waters moving in any direction, other than down, is a slow, tedious process. So I sink into the darkness and conjure up things that border on the ridiculous. In addition, when I do surface, I often can’t remember where I was.

Case in point. In the follow-up to our “thinking” conversation, she asked me what I had been thinking. I gave her a blank stare, said I had no idea, only remembered I had been very angry at someone. So you know, if you’re thinking what I am thinking you probably need help.

Our brains have an innate way of playing tricks on us. (Out of curiosity I looked up the word innate and was surprised to find the following definition; “coming directly from the mind rather than being acquired by experience or from external sources”. That kind of makes my point right there. So instead of writing anything else I could leave it at that. But I won’t)

Over the last weeks, as I was struggling with identifying what could be causing my depressed mood and increased anxiety, I kept telling myself that I needed to change my thinking. I needed to exercise positive thinking, find things I was grateful for (more on that another time). In simple words, get rid of my stinking thinking. But I found that difficult.

Then I was reminded of our “fight or flight” stress response. I read something, somewhere, but can’t find it so I may be making this up. Without going into medical terminology, which I don’t know anyway, and without being to technical let me explain.

Our brains have natural, built in stress responses. So, for example, when you drive down an icy road, the vehicle begins to skid sideways and hitting the ditch is inevitable, a particular part of the brain goes into an aroused state and the stress response kicks in. When the smoke, or in this case snow and ice, clears our brains have the ability to revert back to normal in short order.

However, when a stressor becomes chronic our brain begins to function differently as well. It goes into a heightened state where it is constantly in a fight or flight state. That is when anxiety increases with the potential for a slide into depression. Our behaviors change. We are more likely to become irritated. Physical aches and pains increase. In short we become more reactive to seemingly minor events.

You may be thinking, Friesen, you went through this when you were farming. And you are right, I did. What I have come to understand is that the pandemic we are in has done the same thing to me. It has become a chronic stressor. And as such I need to deal with those stressors no differently than I have in the past. And that is why the appointment with my therapist was crucially important for me. It reminded me of “winning” in the past and provided me the encouragement to win again. Make it a good one.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Another New Chapter

We do live in interesting times and, I suspect, most of us would have various adjectives we could add to that. What started out as something novel, pardon the pun, has become a tedious and, at times, frightening new reality. As winter sets in and a second wave of the pandemic appears to have arrived, certain anxieties set in.

Many felt, and I wrote about it back in May, that they were hitting the wall. Sure, there was some excitement to being at home. Because of my wife working in a high-risk environment and myself being vulnerable to the virus due to certain health issues, we prepared our house so we could live together, separately. It provided for some interesting conversations. That novelty wore off real quick. Particularly when in the last week my office also became my bedroom.

I thought I was doing okay. I had the opportunity to golf which provided for some exercise but also human connection. I kept at my work although it was all done virtually. Because it was summer the deck provided for occasional “socially distanced” get togethers with friends and family. 

Through time I noticed that my mood seemed to go downhill. There was an increase of anxiety. My writing had stopped. It seemed that any task, large or small, gave me anxiety. 

But I was okay, at least so I thought. Then when the weather turned cold and the closing of the golf course was inevitable, I came face to face with the reality that I would need to reset, begin to take back control of my mental health. In essence, start a new chapter. 

In spite of being fully aware of my downward slide, I was resistant to being proactive. I allowed myself to fall into a state of mind that had the potential to not end well. I made a few attempts to determine what was going on but could not really identify the issues, so I let it be. Things that had often dragged me down in the past were of no concern. 

A few weeks ago, I came face to face with an increasing anxiety and felt myself slipping into depression. I hated it. I knew something had to be done. So, with the encouragement of my wife I made an appointment with my naturopath, who I now refer to as my therapist. 

I felt somewhat silly going to see her. I knew all too well the tools I needed to recover from what was ailing me. I also knew all too well that I had those tools. But off I went. 

We chatted about the new reality of meeting with clients virtually, avoiding shopping, not going out to eat, and seldom, if ever getting together with friends. We talked about the unknowns, what this winter might look like. 

And then she connected some more dots for me, she really is good at that. She provided insight as to why this downward spiral might be somewhat different than others. She reminded me of “tools” that had worked in the past, ones I had been neglecting. She mentioned use of my SAD lamp. She talked about exercise. She asked about my protein intake. She reminded me of how writing is helpful. 

I left that appointment with a certain relief, having identified some new issues that were draining my emotional gas tank but also reminding me of my power within to recover. As much as I had felt my mental health deteriorating, I did nothing about it. Hoped I would wake up the next day and all would be well. Unfortunately, that does not work for me. I need to be proactive in taking care of myself. So here goes. A new chapter, again. In the coming weeks I will share more about what I have learned. Till then, make it a good one.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Rest of the Story

“Good LORD, that was one of the most grotesque journeys I have ever chosen to follow to the end. Is it over? I hope it's over. My heart and stomach go out to you.”

I found this comment on my FB page this morning, written by my niece. I have not laughed that hard, at 6:30 in the morning, for a very long time, if ever.

Yesterday I had my follow-up appointment with the doctor. He looked in my eye and seemed pleased with what he saw. Instant relief washed over me as he said that surgery would not be required, all that was required was a touch up with his laser.

I have a hunch that he rather enjoys the “lasering” part of his job. When he started pulling the trigger on his laser it reminded me of my two year old grandson when he plays a video game. Any semblance of shooting certain targets seem to disappear, just hold down the trigger and enjoy. The only thing missing were the sound effects. I did survive and it was better than surgery.

After I posted about my experience, I found myself somewhat puzzled why I would write what I did. Partially it may have been because I felt that others might enjoy the descriptive narrative of my experience. Perhaps it was to find some humour in the pain I was feeling. And maybe, just maybe, I might find some therapeutic value in writing about it.

As I wrote what I did, I also felt that I was putting something out there that was minor compared to the challenges that many others are facing. A family member who is fighting a losing battle with cancer, friends who are experiencing relational challenges, a relative who is dealing with the death of her husband due to Covid 19, friends that have lost jobs for all the wrong reasons, friends who have and are experiencing health issues that have kept them from enjoying life for much longer than the week or two that I am experiencing.

What I did learn from this experience is the importance of supporting others. I truly appreciated the messages of support I received through emails, text messages, comments on FB and phone calls. Although that was not what I was looking for, it helped me get through the last 10 days.

It reminded me to be less consumed with my own issues and more open to supporting others. It reminded me how a few words of encouragement can be so helpful. It reminded me that even if I feel alone, I am not. It reminded me of the importance to check in with others. It also reminded me of how much pain something as small as a needle can cause.

As the gas bubble in my eye slowly dissipates I am looking forward to getting back at it. Yesterday I sent an email to my golfing partners informing them of my imminent return. Although they seemed pleased with my prognosis they appeared hesitant to have me back under the guise of not wanting me to jeopardize my eye. I suspect as long as I am not there they take turns winning and know that when I come back, winning won’t be as easy for them. But I will be back and for that I am grateful. Make it a good one.

“I appreciate people checking up on me. I appreciate a quick message. I appreciate those who ask if I’m okay. I appreciate every single person in my life who has tried to brighten my days. It’s the little things that matter the most.” Unknown⠀

Monday, June 8, 2020

One Eye Blind

I find myself flat on my back at the eye doctor. My eyes are frantically flitting from side to side as the doctor and his assistant prepare for the procedure. I try not to think about what is about to happen to me. But then he reaches across my face and grabs a needle. I see the needle come closer to my eye. I hear him tell me it may sting a little. You think? You’re about to stick a needle in my eye and it may sting?

With some loosening of restrictions, my wife and I went on a ride with our convertible on a warm, sunny Saturday. When we got home that evening I noticed a shadow pop up in my eye every time I blinked. I had a sinking feeling as I realized that I was probably dealing with a detached retina.

12 years ago I experienced a detached retina. As I have done with other challenges in life, including my mental health issues, I kind of jump in to accept the challenge being totally unaware of the consequences. And soon find out that the journey can be quite difficult.

Back then I had surgery on my left eye. Quite frankly, the surgery isn’t that bad. But, then again, I am asleep so don’t really notice. It’s the week or two after that may well have me needing therapy, both physical and mental, for years to come.

After the initial needle, which I found out was “a touch of freezing”, the doctor leaves the room only to come back in a few minutes with a much larger needle. He then asks me to train my eye on his shoulder and try to lie very still as he pushes the larger needle into my eye. He reassures me that it might be a little uncomfortable. Uncomfortable? You think? As the needle enters my eye, the eye moves each time his hand moves, throwing it out of sync with the other eye. Quite literally one eye was looking at him and the other eye was looking for him.

The last step of a retinal detachment surgery is to fill the eye ball with a gas bubble. You then spend the next week or two lying flat on your stomach which, supposedly, keeps the bubble pushing up against the retina as it heals.

If you are still with me I challenge you to go lay on your stomach, facing downward, to see how long you can hold out. It has to be the most uncomfortable position to hold for a few minutes, never mind a week.

I have read enough books and watched enough shows where people get tortured for whatever reason. I think pulling finger nails, waterboarding, electric shock treatments and sundry other methods could be done away with. Strap me to a board, on my stomach, facing downward and I would snap like a dry twig, give up more information than needed within an hour, maximum two.

Numerous decades ago we put a man on the moon, last week we saw the lift off of a rocket headed to the space station, hurtling through space at 25,000 kms/hr. and hooking up with the space station traveling at the same speed, with nary an issue. We have technology like autonomous vehicles, GPS, and computers that can perform tasks no human ever could. But for some strange reason we can’t seem to find a humane way to recover from retinal detachment surgery.

He tells me that the sound will be worse than the pain. I can’t even describe it using proper English without the use of numerous four letter words. The worst is that I can see all of this happening inside of my eye. I see the liquid in my eye start disappearing and being replaced by a blue gas. The sound I hear is similar to the sound of someone trying to slurp the last milkshake out of a glass with a straw. I may never be the same.

The retinal detachment I had 12 years ago came with some complications. It ended up being three surgeries and when all was said and done I had reduced vision in that eye. Through the years I have had cataract surgery, laser surgery, retinal detachment surgery and now have to use eye drops on a daily basis for glaucoma. So I am kind of used to having my eyes poked and prodded. But lying on my stomach? I cannot get used to that.

After he has sucked out the liquid and successfully filled my eye with gas he tells me to come back and see him in three days. With any luck, and he tells me there is a 50/50 chance of this working, the retina will have flattened and then he can spot weld, his words, the rupture with a laser and all will be good. If not we will need to do surgery.

Three days later I find myself in a small room. The sign on the door warns people that there is a laser in use. He plants my face up against a harness and tells me to hold still. He then fixes a magnifying glass between my eyelids, shines a bright light into my eye and calmly says I probably won’t like him much after he is done. He lines up a laser and the fun begins. I see a yellow light flashing and then a noise as he pulls the trigger and pain hits. He asks me if I am okay but all I can do is moan. I guess that tells him I am doing just fine because another jolt hits. Somewhere around the fifth one I lose count.

When he finishes he tells me to go home and keep my head down for another four days. What scares me most is his final words. He may have to do surgery after all. I stare at him in a dumbfounded way. But he is busy, he needs to move on to the next patient. He tells me there is an epidemic of detachments happening. So I am left to wait and wonder. Not sure I am physically or mentally ready for another round of torture. But what do I know.

I do wonder why this couldn’t have happened a few months ago. After all I was isolating at home because of Covid 19. But no, just as restrictions were being lifted, just as I was getting into the swing of things (pun intended) with my golf game, my life changes direction. I know things could be worse but let me, just for a fleeting moment, wallow in a touch of self-pity. I will survive. I will be back on the course soon. As best possible, I am making it a good one.

“It’s okay if you don’t feel grateful in this moment, even if you know you have a lot to be grateful for. Let yourself feel whatever you feel. It will be a lot easier to focus on your blessings after you let the pain run through you.” Lori Deschene

Monday, June 1, 2020

My Rear View Mirror

I had an epiphany this week. In fact I may call it a vision. Perhaps you are thinking I am headed over the abyss, that I have officially lost it. If so, I have some golfing buddies who may well agree with you.

I received an email from someone who was clearly frustrated, feeling hopeless because of life experiences and thinking his life had been a total waste. He felt that as much as he had tried, given his all, it had all been for naught.

I felt somewhat lost as to how I could help. In essence I could listen, normalize and validate his feelings. I could put on my counselling hat and try to help him through his struggles. Another option was to let him know that what he was feeling was not reality and that he needed to buck up, quit feeling sorry for himself, and move on.

But part of me also deeply understood what he was experiencing. In my darkest days I have reflected on my journey and also felt that many years were wasted. Then feelings of regret take over and I play the woulda, shoulda, coulda game.

Shortly after talking with him I came across a quote that provided the epiphany. The quote went as follows; “Don’t stumble over something behind you”. For a fleeting moment I had a vision. Looking back I saw a picture of devastation. It looked messy. But when I looked ahead I saw a clear path, the sun was shining, the grass was green, it looked tranquil.

It passed relatively quickly but it got me thinking, thinking about recovering. I remembered the definition of “recover”. It means to return to a previous state of health, prosperity and equanimity. Sometime ago I had a conversation with a friend and asked her for her definition. (My apologies to her, I am using this without her permission) “I would say that a recovering farmer is someone who worked tirelessly through blood, sweat, and tears to produce nourishment for the world in spite of the fact that neither markets, nor individuals, pay tribute to their toil. To recover from farming is to let go of all one’s losses…..while not forgetting their contributions.”

Although that is in the context of farming I believe it also holds true for other areas of life. I know for myself I particularly appreciate the last part of her definition. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of letting go of losses but never forgetting our contributions.

Let me use another analogy. The rear view mirror on my car is small. How successful are we in moving forward if we only look at that small mirror? Even the warning “objects maybe be closer than they appear” holds some truth. Sometimes the past seems to be sneaking up on us and come close enough to create worry but ultimately need not be a problem, unless we are backing up. However when we look forward we have a significantly larger view through the windshield.

To keep moving forward use the windshield, accept the future for all it has to offer. We may fail and we may think we wasted part or all of our life. 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 our failures. Without forgiveness we will continue to beat ourselves up which inevitably will lead to more failures. Make it a good one.

“Scars remind us of where we have been but don’t have to dictate where we are going.” Joe Mantegna

Friday, May 22, 2020

Hitting the Wall

Shortly after I wrote my thoughts on blame a few weeks ago, I read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled Manitobans are hitting the pandemic 'wall' by Bob Cox.

In the article he compares our Covid 19 fight with running a marathon. In simple terms he refers to marathon runners “hitting a wall” at just over the half way point of the race. It is then that fatigue overtakes effort and negative thoughts begin. Simply continuing takes a monumental effort.

His thought, and I completely concur, is that most of us are feeling overwhelmed with our race against Covid and want to change the way we have been forced to live for the last 2 months. I see it in my grandkids, in my kids and definitely in myself. Lack of normalcy, very little socialization and being cooped up at home is taking its toll.

The writer then refers to research on the dilemma we find ourselves in. That research mentions two key elements for survival. Humour, which is always good even if it becomes morbid at times, and blaming. Apparently it is healthy if we find scapegoats and vent by blaming others for our predicament.

It is tough for me to agree with that in spite of it being “researched”. To blame means we think someone else is wrong and the only means to fix that wrong is up to the other person. With the situation we are in me thinks we may have to wait a long time for someone else to fix what is wrong so that we can be happier.

Often times I will click on an article just to read reader’s comments. With political articles the comments can be anywhere from vile to funny. With this particular article I found that most commenters disagreed with “blaming” being a healthy way to vent.

I get that we should be honest about our feelings and yes, there are times when that honesty made lead us to vent and blame others for our state of mind. But I feel there are better ways to deal proactively with negative thoughts and emotions.

In the last article I posted, I wrote that we need to connect with others but also connect with ourselves. Although the comment about connecting with ourselves gave me pause I did not expand on that. Then a reader responded by suggesting that self-connection is be an important tool. Here are her words; “I like what you said about connecting with yourself. Often we are "off" and don't know it or we make ourselves busy to distract from it”.

We never outgrow our need for real human connection. I think that has become crystal clear over the last few months as our connection with others has been limited. Being seen and heard particularly when we are in distress greatly reduces our anxieties. When others are aware of our feelings, are non-judgemental and want to help us, we feel better.

But just as important is connecting with ourselves just as we would connect with others who are struggling. We have a tendency to judge ourselves, wonder whether we are making right choices, and often blame ourselves when we feel down. By becoming more mindful, being self-aware and understanding we can develop a self-connection that will keep us from hitting the wall and finishing the race. Make it a good one.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Roller Coaster

I find myself feeling like I am on a roller coaster, my emotions all over the map. At times frightened about the reality we are in to feeling the warmth of the sun washing away those fears and providing a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

As an avid golfer I was happy to learn that the golf courses were opening this week. Golf has a therapeutic effect on me. So after a drawn out winter topped by self-isolation for the last seven weeks I was relieved to know that I would soon be out enjoying a round.

On the other hand we heard this week of the passing of my wife’s cousin due to Covid. That came as a shock as he had been in the ICU but came out and appeared he was recovering. What frightens me is that when I first heard he had the virus I made the comment that if Johnny can survive this I have a chance as well. Aside from the sadness, his passing now has me reflecting on my own mortality.

Along with those extremes there are all kinds of other unknowns in between that find my thoughts racing from positive news to negative news. There are times when it is difficult to function. My work easily overwhelms. Normal spring time chores like yard work, that were enjoyable in the past, now feel daunting.

Not only is it normal to have such a range of emotions, it’s also okay. We simply need to find the ability to talk about it and be real in our conversations. Talking about it helps. Verbalizing how we feel forces us to hear our own thoughts. Often hearing our thoughts out loud adds a different perspective.

Late last week I found my anxiety levels elevated. My son noticed that I seemed “off” and commented about it. I started talking about my anxiety levels and as I talked and heard myself I came to a quick understanding that my anxiety was rooted in my thinking and not in reality. It helped me change my thought patterns and, quite quickly, changed my emotional state.

Last night my son looked at me and said that I seemed to be in a better place. As a side note I obviously wear my emotions so they can be seen by others. Perhaps I need to work on that.

As I thought about his comment I looked back to what I had done during the day. I remembered I had done some outside work, I had chatted with two of my neighbors (at least 6 feet apart), and I saw others out and about. There were golfers going by on the golf course. I must have had a sense of moving back towards normal.

This week is mental health week and so it is a good time to become more aware of our own mental health. Perhaps if we take some time to reflect we will come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. In spite of isolation we need to reach out and connect with others. As we make those connections we will find that our mental health improves. It just simply feels good.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with our thinking. What will tomorrow, or next week, or next month bring? Live today for all its worth. Don’t let the fear of the future control today. Connect with others. Connect with yourself. And enjoy the day. Make it a good one.

“Today, just take time to smell the roses, enjoy those little things about your life, your family, spouse, friends, job. Forget about the thorns—the pains and problems they cause you—and enjoy life.” Bernard Kelvin Clive

Thursday, April 30, 2020

I Blame Myself

There is another component to playing the blame game. In my last post I talked about our tendency to blame others when things go wrong particularly if you throw stress and anxiety into the mix. I talked about taking the third person approach in trying to recognize what our mental health may be contributing to a conflict.

It is imperative to also ensure that we don’t go blaming ourselves. I admit that when I realize that my own emotions or cognitive distortions have created tensions in relationships I have a tendency to beat myself up. That in itself is not healthy either.

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 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.

Mark Manson, in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a “bleep”, 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 Manson 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”.

Many people feel that self-criticism is healthy, it helps us do better. As a result we often say things about, and to ourselves that diminish who we are. Think about it. Do you think that if you used that same tone and words with others they would feel encouraged? I think not. We would be much more compassionate with others.

According to the Dictionary, compassion is defined as having “sympathy (empathy) for the suffering of others, often including a desire to help”. We know that caring for and wanting to help others is a good thing. It feels good. And we all know when others care about us, when they want to help us, it feels good.

We need to practice self-compassion. The theory is quite simple. Do you know that as humans we have an innate desire to be understood by others particularly during periods of distress? We never outgrow that. Our pain and anxiety reduces the more others understand and care. Our physical health improves when others show they care, when they show they understand, when they reach out to help.

Using that same principle on ourselves is just as important, it helps in countering negative thoughts and social isolation. It helps us in softening our attitudes about ourselves. You will find that the response is similar to when someone treats you with compassion. It can begin a journey of self-discovery, seeing ourselves as worthy of kindness and respect. Make it a good one.

“Believing in our hearts that who we are is enough is the key to a more satisfying and balanced life.” Ellen Sue Stern

Friday, April 24, 2020

Who Can I Blame

I made some comments a few weeks ago that I was encouraged with the way most people were cooperating in this time of pandemic. I saw leaders of our country and provinces make incredible efforts to work on doing what was needed to “flatten the curve”. I saw a softening of partisanship. It felt like a global effort to keep people safe and alive.

Overtime I sense a shift in attitudes. Perhaps it has been too stressful a time in isolation. Maybe many of us are frightened to the point of panic. Or maybe we have become immune to what could happen and now want our freedom back. A few weeks ago this all felt surreal. But now that we have been immersed in this for an extended period of time it is feeling more real and that leaves us with a feeling of discomfort, a big unknown.

So it appears that many of us, including government leaders, are looking to place blame. Blame for the virus, blame for the deaths of thousands, blame for financial struggles and blame for the inconvenience of life among others.

To what end? Why is it that as humans we seem to have this innate desire to place blame? Add increased stress and anxiety to the mix and you have the potential for a volatile situation. My expectations for others increase proportionately to my anxiety levels. When I feel my depression rearing its ugly head it’s like no one around me can do anything right. When my mood changes, my outlook on life changes.

David Burns, in his book Feeling Good, talks about ten cognitive distortions that people with mental illness may experience. He talks about “catastrophizing”, how we have the tendency to “exaggerate the importance of things” particularly as it concerns our own shortcomings or someone else’s imperfections. We get to the point where we assume our negative emotions truly reflect reality because that is how we are feeling. And as that happens, tensions increase and conflict ensues.

I have had to learn to be proactive when this happens. I use what I call the third person approach. When I first began using this technique I would, after the fact, review the tensions or conflict from a third person perspective. I found it much easier to characterize my attitude, communication style, and conflict management style through the lens of a third person. It was easier to recognize who I was and how my emotional state contributed to the issue.

So as we continue to experience the fears and anxieties of our current reality, in addition to our normal stressors, it is important to recognize when our increased anxieties or fears might be causing cognitive distortions, when our own inner turmoil creates tension with the most important people around us.

Next time you feel irritation and frustration with the people around you, remove yourself and view the situation from the third person perspective. You may be surprised to find that it is your own personal stress in life that is creating these feelings of frustration, anger and the desire to lay blame. With awareness and practice you will find that incorporating the third person approach into your coping skills, will help you gain a new perspective and a deeper appreciation of your relationships. Try it. You may like it. Make it a good one.

“. . . research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would”. Douglas LaBier

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Tale of Two Brains

I find that as we move further into the Covid 19 experience my anxiety levels increase on a daily basis. Not entirely sure why but, based on my conversations with others, I am not alone. Perhaps it can be likened to the financial situation many find themselves in. We get by as long as the paychecks arrive but when one gets missed it creates problems. Perhaps that is the way many of us are with our mental health. We get by but just barely. And then when something like Covid 19 happens with all its glory we tumble over the abyss.

I recently chatted with a client and asked him if anxiety was a person or thing how he would describe it. With little hesitation he answered “a squirrel”. I found that intriguing. As we delved into it further the concept really made sense to me. 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?

Now compare that to anxiety. Many people I talk to describe how anxiety creates a myriad of thoughts running through their minds. And just as you deal with one thought another one comes rushing in. Scurrying about in your gray matter, jumping from one thought to another. Puts you on edge. We become spooked. Never knowing what lies around the next corner. It is intrusive and if it sleeps it is with one eye open.

I could go into some detail about the way our brain works. However the brain is complicated. Allow me to simplify it for you. Let me be bold enough to suggest we have two brains, the thinking brain and the feeling brain. (this has not been medically proven)

The thinking brain tends to be conscientious, accurate, impartial, and methodical. It has the ability to reason through options. The feeling brain, on the other hand, is somewhat of a drama queen. It is impulsive, inaccurate, and irrational. It represents our emotions and arrives at conclusions quickly. Sounds like a squirrel.

I am of the opinion that when I experience this added anxiety on a daily basis it is my feeling brain that is in control. As I have my morning coffee and read news headlines or look at social media the feeling brain takes over. It jumps to conclusions that are often inaccurate. As that happens my thoughts become irrational. And then it flits from crisis to crisis and convinces me that the world is doomed and that I will die.

After my usual hour or two in this state my thinking brain slowly begins to emerge. Perhaps it was sleeping in. As it comes to life, perhaps it’s the coffee, I begin to think of all the good things I am experiencing. It helps me focus on the work I need to do. It helps me be proactive about the activities I can partake in which will provide purpose for life. It will help me focus on the positives happening both globally and closer to home.

Based on my thoughts today I believe some of my biggest challenges come from things completely outside of our control. And no matter how hard I try, I can do nothing about it regardless of what my feeling brain is telling me. So I need to try hard to put those aside. If I manage to use my thinking brain I can put aside those uncontrollables and find my list of stressors becoming much shorter and easier to deal with.

Whether we are the praying type or not, the serenity prayer can be helpful. It talks about serenity, courage and wisdom. I particularly like the wisdom part. Having the wisdom to know what I can change and what I can’t is significantly important for our mental health. Takes practice, but it can be done. Make it a good one.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Friday, April 10, 2020

Let It Be

I awoke this morning with an interesting epiphany. Hardly before the coffee had kicked in I went on Facebook to post what I had discovered, something I rarely do. I expressed gratitude for the friends I have. I realized that I had now hung out with myself for four weeks. I have talked to myself and argued with myself. I had come to the understanding that I probably don’t make for a good friend so felt thankful that there were still those that considered me a friend.

Truth be told, most of that was said with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. But, perhaps, that was an early indication of what my day would be like. I knew that this isolation was getting to me. As I reflected on it I realized I had not driven my car, not been off our street for over two weeks.

In my perusal of news headlines one of the first articles I read was about a working group that was planning for a worst case scenario. A time when doctors might have to decide who gets a ventilator and who is expendable. That felt like a death knell for me, being the age I am and my less than stellar health.

I knew there was work I needed to get done. But I felt exhausted. I had a good sleep but did not feel rested. I have experienced that at other times in my life. To me it has become simple. Overwhelming stress is incredibly tiring. Constant rumination about what was, what is and what will be creates fatigue. It can be more tiring than actually do hard physical work.

Finally, in desperation, I hopped in my car and went for a drive. No destination, just wanting to get out, get away. And as happens I listened to music. First a song by the Rolling Stones with a good beat which made me crank the volume. Next a song by Nazareth that my wife and I enjoyed back in our dating days. Then a song that I felt was so timely. The Beatles’ Let It Be.

It is quite interesting to read about the inspiration Paul McCartney had when he wrote the lyrics. It seems that he was having some struggles in his personal life. He was lonely. The story goes that he had a dream one night where his mother appeared and said to him “Let it be”. He took a lot of solace from that message. He found comfort and in those simple words he found the message; “be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow, and it will work out okay”.

I found my spirits rising as I sang along. Those three words, let it be, gave me comfort. They helped me come back to the present. Find the center. Breathe. Take control of my thoughts. I got home and felt renewed energy to carry on with life.

I still wonder about the irony, the timing, hearing that song at that time. If you really think about it, it happens often in life. We have moments where we get subtle messages. Messages that give us pause. Messages that give us clarity. It’s a matter of hearing those messages. And when life is getting to us, when we are caught up in isolation not knowing what the future holds, we need to “let it be”. Make it a good one.

“You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared, or anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a ‘negative person.’ It makes you human.” Lori Deschene

Monday, April 6, 2020

A New Equilibrium

I have now entered week number four in isolation. At the outset I was almost looking forward to it. Thought my time would be filled with boredom and Netflix, not necessarily in that order. It has been anything but that. Partially due to work that continues by video and telephone conferencing but also because I have ventured into activities that I would normally not do.

Someone suggested at the outset that there is a simple definition for introvert. If you get excited at the thought of spending two weeks by yourself watching TV you are probably an introvert. That makes sense to me.

This time of isolation has also provided ample opportunity to think. I admit that often the thoughts I think lead me down a dark path. So in an effort to avoid that I try to observe and think about the positives I see.

My social media and email inbox are rife with jokes that are coming out of this. Although they can get tedious and, at times, in poor taste, I need to laugh more than I do. I have been told that kids laugh up to four hundred times in a day and as adults that drops to as low as ten or twelve. Simple message is that I need to laugh more.

I called this piece A New Equilibrium. As I like to do with “big” words I checked the definition of equilibrium in the Encarta dictionary. One of the definitions is “a mental state of calmness and composure”. I like the sounds of that because right now I struggle to feel calmness and composure. I search for news that will bring me reassurance that life will be okay.

Through all the negativity of Covid 19 I have seen some significant positives. There is a huge support for our front line medical workers. I see politicians who historically have been quite partisan become non-partisan. I see communities rally together to support those that are not able to help themselves. I have had people call me to check in that never did before. Their excuse is that they are checking on the elderly. I will take that if it means having conversations. I see myself doing things never having been considered before. I have seen myself step outside of my comfort zone all in an effort to survive. It has worked.

Recently there was an article in the Free Press, which I didn’t read but I liked the headline; “ As World Slows, Mother Earth Takes a Breath”. I suspect the article focuses on our environment which is good but not a debate I want to get into now. I think that headline also contains a message for life in general.

As our world slows around us, as we do what we can to survive, let’s not forget about what we have learned during this time. There is more to life than the rat race we were in. Let’s use this time to step back, breathe, readjust our priorities and remember all those precious things, including life itself, that can so quickly be taken from us. My hope is that when the world returns to some semblance of equilibrium many of the positive things we see and do now will remain. Make it a good one.

“When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open. And in that breaking open, we uncover our true nature.” Wayne Muller

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

It seems that when I respond to various people these days I talk about “interesting times”. Perhaps that best described it a month ago but at this point there are numerous other adjectives that could be used. All I know is that everything feels surreal. Feels like a bad dream, something you can wake up from and go back to normal. Someone suggested the other day that when we changed our clocks from Standard Time we inadvertently went to the twilight zone. That’s what it feels like.

What I do know is that “normal” as we knew it may not happen for a long time, if at all. Don’t get me wrong. I am not being a fatalist here just suggesting that the new normal could be significantly different than the old normal.

I am self-employed and as such am working from home. A new normal for me is to meet clients and have meetings by videoconference or telephone. So far so good although I am of the strong belief that meeting in person still is the optimum way of having discussions particularly when conflict is involved. However everyone is keenly aware of the situation and does their best to work within the parameters we have.

My wife works in the medical community and goes off to work daily, never sure of what she will face and what she is vulnerable to. It is scary for her. To add to the anxiety of that I have reached that magical age of 60, have a compromised respiratory system and so at higher risk should I contract the virus. So my office is transforming into a bedroom as well. Just in case. Something just doesn’t feel right.

In essence nothing feels right. Along with that each morning brings on additional anxiety. As much as I/we are doing okay it’s the big unknown that brings uncomfortable feelings. If we knew that this would end June 1 or July 1 we would have something to look forward to, an end game. But the big unknown just has this pervasive way of adding more stress and anxiety.

Reading the news and going on social media does nothing to alleviate concerns. I did read one meme this morning which made a lot of sense. It simply said “don’t believe everything you think”. That gave me pause because as many of us experience, we fall into this trap of believing all these thoughts running rampant in our heads. As that happens we begin to worry, letting our minds paint a picture of what we DON’T want to have happen. It begins a vicious and debilitating cycle. It takes a monumental effort to not do that.

Gets me back to one of the basics often talked about. Do things that bring anxiety under control, at least for a bit. I have now gone on a bike ride a few days in a row. That felt good except for my sore butt and that too shall pass. Pulled out my guitar this weekend and did some jamming with my son. Okay, jamming might be overstating it, but we had fun. My fingers are screaming and that too shall pass.

And, of course, no pun intended, in the dark of the night when anxiety loves to mess with my mind, I play golf. Pick a course and play a few holes. As difficult as it maybe we need to find our happy place. For me riding my bike or playing guitar momentarily provided respite from the ongoing worries of Covid 19.So far so good, one day at a time. Make it a good one.

“Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You’re strong. You got this. Take it day by day.” Karen Salmansohn

Friday, March 13, 2020

Human Connection

There is some irony in writing about human connection considering what the world is experiencing with COVID-19. At the same time it is important that we remember to “connect” with others. Isolation breeds loneliness and loneliness is not healthy for the soul.

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

Because he was born inside the fence of this most notorious of all North Korean camps, Shin, the main character, has no concept of a world beyond the electrified barb wire fence, a world where people live free of the terrors that he is subjected to. One day he is partnered up with a fellow prisoner who has lived on the “outside”. As their bond grows Shin begins to hear about and understand that there is a world outside the fence.

That friendship changed Shin’s life. Where, before he had been wary and distrustful of everybody, he now allowed himself to trust one person. As the author states in the book; “Shin was no longer a creature of his captors”. In a sense that one relationship, that one connection, provided some freedom for him. He began to think “outside the box”.

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

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

Just recently I heard a speaker state that we are the loneliest society in history. We have the ability to connect in so many ways,but are we really connecting?

Connection is a core human need. It is having shared experience, relatable feelings and similar ideas. The stress prevalent in agriculture creates a damaged ability to connect with others because we isolate ourselves and try to hide. Authenticity is required for connection and social media increases our ability to construct a fa├žade of our lives which often is not reality.

If we build on relationships, when we share with each other, when we talk, we gain the freedom we so desperately strive for. We can think outside the box. We discover a world we knew could exist but couldn’t see because of the box we had put ourselves into. We find new direction, new identity, and a new purpose. Make it a good one.

“Never forget where you’ve been. Never lose sight of where you’re going. And never take for granted the people who travel the journey with you.” Susan Gale

Friday, March 6, 2020

What To Do

I have had the opportunity to talk to various groups this winter about the link between stress and farm business management. As much as farming used to be much simpler farmers now have an abundance of decisions to make. Increasing stress has the ability to cloud a logical approach to these decisions.

Technology is marvelous. 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. I suppose that ages me but then again technology changes so rapidly that even what we had a few years ago now seems archaic.

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 reflect 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

Friday, February 28, 2020

Do You Trust Me

Truth be told, I am so done with winter. It just does not want to let go of its hold on us. As I sit and think about that and some of the work I am doing with farm families I think there is a correlation we can draw here. This cold weather at the end of February could be likened to conflict. You hope it doesn’t last. It doesn’t feel right. It’s uncomfortable. And it should have been over a long time ago.

The difference of course is that with winter we depend on Mother Nature to make the ultimate decision on when spring will arrive. It is totally outside of our control. However, with conflict we have choices. We can choose, as best possible, to ignore it and hope it goes away or we can be proactive and deal with it. Often conflict within working families develops over time and has the potential to eat away at relationships. When that happens families suffer and businesses suffer.

What is it that we, as a society, want? What are we looking for? Trust. Plain and simple. We want to trust others. Our spouses, our partners, our kids, our colleagues, people we do business with, and those that are in power, such as politicians. And equally so others want to trust us.
I like one of the definitions of trust that the Encarta Dictionary has. Trust means to “rely on somebody or something”. It goes further and states that it means “to place confidence in somebody or in somebody's good qualities, especially fairness, truth, honor, or ability. . . to allow somebody to do something, having confidence that the person will behave responsibly or properly”. It does not sound complicated but, unfortunately, can be.

Patrick Lencioni, a management consultant specializing in organizational health, talks about trust being at the very foundation of a team. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he outlines a compelling case for trust being that foundation. As he puts it, “members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors”. He goes on to explain why this is essential for teams to be effective and efficient.

That same concept can be applied in most any, if not all, relationships we have. How can any relationship thrive with the absence of trust? A lack of trust leads to break downs, break ups, conflict, and lack of commitment. It destroys relationships. It destroys teams. It destroys individuals. Like the Irish saying goes, “when mistrust comes in, love goes out.”

Being involved with others, being able to trust others, requires us to be authentic. And to be authentic requires us to become vulnerable. Open ourselves up. That in itself is a scary thought. We have a tendency to hide behind walls. We are frightened at the thought of others finding out who we really are. But when we practice this we see ourselves and others in a different light. It opens up a whole new world. Yes, at times uncomfortable, but overtime it builds that trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in others. It works. Trust me. Make it a good one.

You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.” Mandy Hale

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dealing with Loss

I suspect that when most of us hear about grief and the stages of grief we assume that is normally for people who have lost a loved one. But I think it is important to understand that these stages of grief can be experienced with other events that happen. When you Google “grief” there is often mention of the loss of a loved one but there is also reference to other events in life that can cause grief. My favorite tool, the Encarta Dictionary, defines grief as “the cause of intense, deep, and profound sorrow, especially a specific event or situation”.

I chatted recently with a friend who I quickly came to understand was going through the stages of grief without realizing it. She was involved in a situation where her job provided her with some opportunities that excited her. She saw an opportunity for financial growth. She, being one that struggles with mental health issues and often feels low levels of self-esteem, saw an opportunity to be part of a team that gave her confidence and helped her overcome her feelings of unworthiness. In moments of clarity she also understood that she had something to offer and looked forward to bigger and better things.

But then her world crashed. What she had thought was going to be an opportunity for her turned into everything but. She was shocked. She felt that she had not been listened to. She felt betrayed. Her mental health took a significant body blow. She felt lost and unsure how to move forward.

As she talked about the situation and the emotions she was going through I quickly came to understand that she was experiencing the classic five stages of grief.

1. She was clearly going through a denial stage. She talked about feeling that this really wasn’t happening, that there had been a mistake made and that she would wake up the next day and it hadn’t happened. She was using denial as a defense mechanism and to numb the body and soul to the intense emotions that she was experiencing.

2. She related how in her darkest moments there was anger, anger that appeared to be rooted in her sense of betrayal and feeling humiliated. She had trusted, she had been open and honest, she had opened her soul and now felt that it had been ripped from her.

3. She related how she felt vulnerable and helpless, a clear indication of bargaining. She was looking for ways to regain control hoping to change the outcome. Thoughts of “what if” and “if only” flooded her mind.

4. She told me of how she isolated herself. She experienced subdued moments, times where depression took over, a common after effect of intense anger. The feelings were heavy and, in her words, she felt like she was in a fog. She felt confused.

5. But there were also times when she felt she could accept and move on. That this wasn’t the end of the world but rather a starting point or an opportunity to move on. Even thinking at times it was best that this had happened.

As I outlined what I felt was happening she asked an interesting question. She wondered why they were called “stages” as in her mind stages suggested that this would be a linear process and in her experience it was anything but linear. I compared it to a word I often use with my own journey. I call it a labyrinth, “a place with a lot of crisscrossing or complicated passages, tunnels, or paths in which it would be easy to become lost” (Encarta Dictionary).

I follow up with her every so often to help her in her journey. Not that I am an expert but rather felt I could be there for her, to listen and to normalize and validate her feelings. She expressed gratitude for the support and related how her family was an incredible support and was helping her understand that what had happened wasn’t personal and that there were other opportunities awaiting her.

Why, you may ask, am I telling this story? There are many different experiences we have and often these experiences have a significant impact on our lives. They maybe financial issues, family conflicts, and broken relationships. They fill us with unwanted feelings and emotions. They literally throw us for a loop. In times like this it is important to gain an understanding of what one is going through, to seek out a support system and to talk about it. And, most importantly, to know there is hope and there is relief. Make it a good one.

“At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.”
Christine Mason Miller

Saturday, February 15, 2020

My Check Engine Light Is On

We all know that if we own any type of vehicle or equipment, regular maintenance is a good thing. In fact it’s not just a good thing, it is required if you want to ensure any kind of longevity in performance. Now a days, vehicles, tractors and sundry equipment come with any and all kinds of warning lights. My favorite is the “check engine” light that comes on frequently in the vehicles I drive. That warning light comes with its own challenges because it covers a variety of potential problems. It requires a visit to a garage where you now watch them hook up scanners and normally stand and scratch their heads because they are stumped.

When my kids started owning their cars I would often get phone calls. Dad, they would say, my car broke down. I would ask them what the problem was and they would say a warning light came on and based on their owner’s manual it was the “check engine” light. Usually I would just laugh and tell them I would be much more concerned if it wasn’t on. Obviously I had become somewhat cynical.

Just before Christmas I went for a complete physical. As the doctor went through his routine, and I knew it was coming, he asked me to drop my pants and lay sideways on the examination gurney. The dreaded prostrate check. I apologized profusely that he had to do that, notice how I cared more for him than I did for myself. He just laughed and said I should think about it as an oil change. That actually made me laugh because, as some of you know, that is something I avoid as well.

Further to my analogy, the night before going for my follow-up appointment I told my wife that I was going to find out how long I had. When I told the doctor about that comment, he laughed and said I was good for another 100,000 miles, if I didn’t speed. Initially I was happy about that but now I wonder what that really means. But I digress.

I have found that my mental health also needs maintenance. In essence my “check engine” light comes on. Unfortunately, just like I do with my vehicles, I tend to ignore it. Hope that I will wake up one day and it will have gone off.

This winter that “check engine” light has been on for a little too long so I decided to seek the help of my favorite “mechanic”, my naturopath. We chatted about how things had gone since our last appointment. As I told her about my ups and downs she informed me that I have an exquisite sensitivity to dopamine. That almost sounds exotic, like something I should cherish. As she has in the past, she connected dots for me. She reminded me of what would help in increasing my dopamine. She chastised me, gently, for not being regular enough with exercising. She suggested that I should be more diligent with using my SAD lamp.

She also suggested that when I shower in the mornings I should just have the cold water on for the last minute of the shower because that was a good way to release dopamine. I get the exercise and SAD lamp piece but the cold shower? Does not sound very appealing at all.
The point being there are numerous things that we can do to keep the “check engine” light off. It requires a certain dedication and a will to feel better even if it creates some discomfort. It also reiterates the fact that we need to occasionally seek help from a professional, someone who can help in keeping the “check engine” light off. 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.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A New Challenge

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 have been on Twitter quite often lately. Further to that I have given someone else access to my Twitter account so that she can post for me. Hopefully that means it will be somewhat more consistent than it has been. I have tried but doing so is way outside of my comfort zone.

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 helping people through conflict as well as sharing my story. 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.

As I have talked about, I have learned a lot about mental illness 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.

“Pause and remember: Every single event in your life, especially the difficult lessons, have made you smarter, stronger, and wiser than you were yesterday.” Jenni Young