The Recovering Farmer

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