The Recovering Farmer

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.