The Recovering Farmer

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.