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.