The Recovering Farmer

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