The Recovering Farmer

Monday, November 22, 2021

An Epiphany

 I had an epiphany this week. It happens and sometimes they actually make sense. Other times, not so much. Hear me out.

I often allude to how much time I spend ruminating about the past. And I do. That just simply has become part of my journey. Normally I combat that by forcing myself to go to my happy place, if one is available. But there are times when I just let it wash over me. Seems I get too tired of fighting.

There I was lying in bed thinking about something that happened in 1996. At least I think it was 1996 and, quite frankly, the year doesn’t matter but I have been told I need to add more details to my stories. So I am going with 1996. There, I got so wrapped up in details, I forgot what I was ruminating about.

Sorry, I digress. As I was lying there thinking about whatever I was thinking about and getting more upset by the minute, I had an out of body experience. (No, I was not on a drug induced trip) I found myself looking down on myself and seeing an old, grey haired man getting upset about something that happened 25 years ago. And the person getting upset, that would be me, wasn’t the old guy in bed but rather was someone 25 years younger.

That struck me. So I thought about other instances where I have become upset about the past. The person who got upset about the bully in high school wasn’t the old me, it was the 16 year old version of me. The person that got upset with a banker wasn’t the old me, it was the 40 year old me. The person getting upset with my wife (which clearly doesn’t happen) wasn’t the old me, it was the 49 year old me. I could provide countless other examples but won’t.

Before I go any further, because I can already hear some people screaming that I have clearly never been traumatized and have no understanding of what they have gone through. You’re probably right. I do understand that people experience significant trauma that an out of body experience will not fix. And, to be honest, there are a few “events” that I have experienced that I probably need to deal with as they do still cause consternation.

What struck me as I floated there looking down on the old me, or perhaps I had re-entered my body by then, was that the old guy lying there wasn’t upset about these things anymore. I clearly needed to change my perspective and leave those things in the past. When I started thinking about things that had upset me as the old me in the last week or month my list was quite short and certainly not ruminatable. (That’s not a word but I will use it anyway)

What happens when I ruminate about the past? Resentment is quick to pay a visit. I start having regrets. I get angry. And what does that accomplish? Nothing positive. It sucks the energy right out of me. It makes it difficult to function.

As I was mulling this over, it occurred to me that most of the people I get angry about, the old me and the young me, probably have no idea. In essence they are controlling my mind, my feelings and my emotions. Just another reason I need to let go and gain back control of my own mind. It will make for a happier old me.

Scars tell us where we have been but should not dictate where we are going. If I focus on that perhaps I can avoid future out of body experiences. Although, when I think back, it was a learning experience. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Do I Laugh or Do I Cry?

A few weeks ago, I told you that Michael Landsberg had stated that if someone hasn’t had serious depression, they have no idea what it is like. Well, to be sure, he has continued on that rant for the better part of a week.

And what he is upset about makes sense to me. It appears that in his Twitter feed many have suggested everyone has experienced depression. His concern being, statements like that minimize struggles that many have and that contributes to those dealing with serious depression not stepping out, seeking help and getting better. In essence they end up feeling diminished, feeling that they shouldn’t feel the way they do.

And that can happen. After an interview I did recently I received a phone call from a listener. She said what had really resonated with her is when we had talked about making sure we never minimized our own struggle because someone else was worse off than us, or we needed to just get over it, or being told that everyone experiences trauma or depression and anxiety, or being told that it could have been worse. Perhaps. But it sure could have been better as well.

We should never, ever minimize our own struggles. Sure, there may be times when we look inward and realize that we are catastrophizing our feelings and that things may not be as bad as they feel. When we understand that we can proactively deal with them.

Other times, however, we can identify that the struggles are real, are deeply rooted and valid even if you make an effort to be fun and make others laugh. Even if others don’t notice if you are not doing well. Even if you manage to have a good day. Even if life appears to be good and you don’t know why you are not feeling it. Even if you are not at your lowest. Even if you are good at pretending there is nothing wrong. Even if you haven’t sought professional help.

Trying to minimize our struggles can create further issues. It can lead to us shutting down our emotions just to survive. Emotions are an integral part of who we are. We need emotional health to live life to the fullest. But emotions can also be messy, complicated, and confusing. We literally don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I know that my preference is always to feel happy, calm and good. But I also know that the journey I am on does not always allow for that. In fact, at times it becomes down right discouraging to not feel those emotions more often. Instead, I often feel sadness, fear, and anger. These emotions can get in the way to finding contentment.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when crying can be downright therapeutic. It helps in relieving pain. It does soothe the soul. Dare I say, even anger can be therapeutic, to a degree. But for the most part we want to feel happy, we want a calmness and a contentment. And if we are struggling it is difficult to do those things that help in finding, at minimum, satisfaction in life. It is hard connecting with others, being part of the community, doing things we would normally enjoy, or simply taking part in life.

As we navigate this journey lets make sure we don’t minimize the struggles of others or ourselves. Let’s make sure that we are supportive and understanding of others and ourselves. Let’s make sure we never give up in finding emotional health. And ultimately let’s do our best to find a ray of light at every opportunity. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Doing the Dance

Over the years, as I have talked about “recovering”, I often allude to the fact that the equanimity piece in recovery has been challenging for me. Just to remind us, equanimity means to have an evenness of temper even when under stress. I seem to always be under stress, whether real or perceived, which leaves me feeling anxious. And I often suggest that my anxiety manifests itself in road rage. Perhaps calling it road rage is overstating it a tad. We have all seen videos of that person whose road rage has taken them over the top, ending in assaults and criminal charges. I am not there, yet.

Over the course of the last eighteen months, I have been working from home and as a result, I have done very little driving. And with all things pandemic I wondered where my equanimity would be at should I find myself driving more.

Well, to be sure, I found out one morning this week. Due to circumstances, I needed to drive my wife to work. No problem. Just a thirty-minute drive on some of the busiest roads around Winnipeg during rush hour. The ultimate test.

So what is up with people following me mere inches from my bumper? Slam on the brakes to no avail. Slow down so they can pass. They slow down but stay right there. Blood pressure rising. Hear a comment from the passenger side about my speed. Look down, don’t see an issue. Why are there two semis driving side by side below the freaking speed limit? Come on, let me by already. And then there’s another driver right on my butt again thinking he needs to get where he is going before me. But I can’t move because of the semis. Give me a break.

Then I was reminded of what someone once told me. They suggested that driving was like dancing on a crowded dance floor. You move with the flow. Sometimes you move in front of others and at times you let others by. But keep listening to the music and enjoy the dance.

Well, let me tell you. As a young Mennonite it was a sin to dance. As I got older, I needed liquid courage to dance and found out quickly that I have two left feet. And after taking some dance lessons there seemed to be mutual agreement in this household that, perhaps, dancing wasn’t necessary. Or was that only me thinking that? I am sure I will find out when she reads this. Whatever the case, trying to improve my thoughts about other drivers by comparing it to dancing was not working.

As I ventured home it hit me. I was particularly impatient, seemingly in a rush to get home. A rush to get back to my office to do what? So I changed my thinking. I looked at my travels as an opportunity to face another day of “virtual” everything by taking a deep breath, cranking up the radio and enjoying the solitude of my ride. It was rather interesting how quickly the antics of other drivers just simply didn’t matter.

You see, I seem to have this attitude that when you drive faster than 110 you’re an idiot and when you drive slower than 110 you’re an idiot. And maybe, just maybe, I am the idiot. Whatever the case, its clear my recovery is still a work in progress. I need to work on this. Now if everyone would just get out of my way it would be a lot easier. Just saying. Make it a good one.


Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Who Really Gets It

 I saw a tweet recently where Michael Landsberg, a well-known sportscaster who speaks openly about his own journey with depression, suggested that if someone hasn’t had serious depression, they have no idea what it is like. To me that makes sense. But how can we then help those who are struggling if we haven’t experienced anything similar?

Over the years I have heard some horror stories of people who did reach out for support only to be kneecapped. The farmer who invited his pastor over and was told that the reason he was struggling was because he wasn’t working hard enough. Or the sexual abuse survivor who sought pastoral care and he lamented that they were having a difficult time understanding why women took sexual assault so seriously. Or the farmer who went to see a psychologist and the psychologist said he should go on medication because he couldn’t afford the psychologist. And the friend who went to see a counselor and was told that he needed to get past the fact that he had had cancer, after all it had gone into remission.

When I hear these stories I not only cringe, I find myself getting angry. Is that really where we are at? Not only minimizing but literally telling others that there is no reason for their struggles. Surely there is more to offer those that are struggling.

What happens when someone wants to talk to me? How do I react? Do I know how to listen? Do I respond in such a way that the other person comes away from the conversation feeling better? It has been said that the best communicators listen more than they talk. Boy, do I have a lot to learn.

Dr. Ralph Roughten has written some good thoughts on listening. Let me share a few of his them.

“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice you have not done what I have asked.”

“When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are  trampling on my feelings.”

“When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem you have failed me, strange as that may seem.”

“Listen! All I asked was that you listen – not talk or do. Just hear me.”

I get it. As humans it is in us to try to come up with answers. When someone confides in us, we feel the need to have the best advice possible. But that is seldom what others are looking for when they seek to unload their burdens.

I know there are times when I just don’t get it. Someone talks to me about an issue and because of my lack of experience or lack of training I find it difficult to understand. But there should be nothing standing in my way to share the other’s feeling, to help carry the load.

A further thought from Dr. Roughten says it best..

“But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.”

So simple yet so difficult. Listen more, understand more, love more. Make it a good one.

P.S. As I was writing this the Kyle Beach and Chicago Blackhawks situation came to light. For those who need a better understanding of the impact of others not hearing or believing your story please watch the interview between Kyle and Rick Westhead on TSN.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

Each time I get introduced to a group I will be presenting to; I find myself cringing. I hear things about me I wonder if they are actually true. And each time I swear I need to get my website changed. When my son “built” my webpage he felt it should be positive, build me up, make me look good. To suggest I am a motivational speaker seems a touch hypocritical because I can’t get myself motivated so how could I possibly motivate others. To suggest I am a humorist sounds good but what is that? It also states that I allegedly have had a hole in one. That part is true. In fact, got my second one earlier this year. So does that make me an expert, does that enhance my chances of having people reach out to retain my services? Perhaps its my Imposter Syndrome kicking in. Then again, that is nothing new.

Recently I was involved in an interview where I was asked what my lived experiences taught me about the power of humour when it comes to talking about mental wellness. After all, the interviewer said, your website describes you as a humorist. There you go. The good news was it was not a live interview, so I had some time to reflect on that.

Per the definition, a humorist is a writer or speaker who tells stories about funny situations or experiences. Okay, that makes sense. Furthermore, a serious speaker, or writer, will use humour to relieve tension. And we all know discussion around mental health can create tension as people try to understand where they fit.

There are times when humour is not healthy. I am reminded, on occasion, that my attempts at humour are not appropriate in certain circumstances. I have been guilty of using humour as a cover for avoiding painful emotions. For me, laughter has been a disguise for feelings of hurt, fear, anger or disappointment. I have used humour to put myself down which comes across as a defense mechanism for low self-esteem. I certainly have been guilty of using humour to fool people. Hey, laugh at this because that way you won’t notice what really is going on with me.

However, laughter can be a powerful antidote for stress, pain and conflict. Based on research nothing works faster to bring your emotions back into balance than a good laugh. It lightens our burdens, it inspires us and builds connections with others.

As I have alluded to before, my mornings can be particularly difficult. It’s the time of day when I normally question my existence, feel my mood being subdued and wonder about my purpose in life. Over the course of this last summer, I have been blessed with friends that share my passion of golf. And for the majority of the mornings over the last six months we have spent time together, thinking we are better golfers than we really are, but also sharing many a belly laugh.

And I am thankful for that. It has helped me in finding better balance in my life. It has helped me in enjoying life just a little bit more. Those laughs literally and figuratively have made my day. And for that I am grateful.

So we need to find more opportunities to laugh. And if they are not there, create them. As the proverb says, if you are too busy to laugh, you are to busy. Young kids will laugh up to 400 times a day. As adults that can drop to as low as 12. We need to work together on increasing that. Not as a defense mechanism or a cover up, but rather as a life enhancer. Trust me, it works. Make it a good one.

“Some of you are unaware of just how amazing you really are. The way you make people laugh, lift others up, or spread some extra love. You do this even though you are struggling too, and I think it makes you such a beautiful human being.”  Unknown

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Coming Out of the Closet

I knew that would get your attention. And no, it is not what you think. You see, we have these preconceived notions about certain words or phrases, but I will leave that for another day.

I will, on occasion, refer to my secret life, a life in a closet. I was a closet smoker because smoking was a sin and a big no-no in the home I grew up in. I was a closet drinker for years. Again, a big no-no for more than religious reasons. When it became more of a crutch, I did not want people to know how much I drank. I was in the closet with my mental health issues because of the stigma attached to it.

I suspect most of us have closets we hide in. There are things we live with or experience that we often feel others wouldn’t get or understand.

I have a notion that with the ongoing and increasing awareness around mental health there are those that would like to talk about it but still struggle due to the stigma, mired in a secret life hiding in the closet. Why? Because we are filled with guilt, because we feel shame, because our self-esteem cannot take another blow. So we keep it a secret. We hope to wake up tomorrow and have the issue resolved.

We are also convinced that no one will believe us. I come from a generation where people with mental health issues, didn’t. Where people with financial struggles, didn’t. Where people with relational issues, didn’t. Clearly any struggles we had were because we did not work hard enough, or we did not pray enough, or our faith was not strong enough. So we stayed in the closet with any real or perceived issues.

Talking about things that are keeping us in our closet takes courage. The word most used to describe the ability to open up is vulnerability. I have used it lots but, for interest’s sake, I looked it up in the dictionary and realized that perhaps I had never fully understood the meaning. I always assumed it simply meant that we let our guard down, to be open and honest. But there is more to the definition, something a little more nefarious.

To be vulnerable is also the susceptibility to an emotional attack, to be open to criticism and to potentially be emotionally wounded. That makes it sound scary and I suspect that’s why many avoid being vulnerable. Its bad enough that we experience mental illness and often question our value. Our self-esteem is fragile so by opening up and being vulnerable we run the risk of having our values questioned and risk our self-esteem taking another blow. So it feels safer to stay in the closet.

The good news is that vulnerability breeds vulnerability. I found it interesting that when I started openly talking about my journey others opened up to me as well. This week I received a phone call from someone who, because they had read some of my blogs and because they had watched some of my interviews, felt empowered to also open up, to become vulnerable. And that is how we journey through the labyrinth of mental health. We learn from each other, we lean on each other and together we can come out of the closet and live a better, healthier life.

There is a new reality. That reality is that one out of three people suffer from mental illness. That reality is that as strong as we think we are there are issues that will kneecap the best of us. That reality is we need to find someone that we can talk to. That reality is we need support. That reality is that we live a secret life and want release. And coming out of the closet is a freeing, life giving experience. So open that door, come on out and let’s talk. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Make Life Changes Before Life Changes

 In one of my last posts, I talked about narratives that we construct when something happens to us. I find that the case with most any life events. When someone doesn’t respond to an email, when someone disagrees with something we say, when someone says something that we find offensive, or when our world view is threatened. So to relieve the angst, or to soothe our souls, we construct a narrative to help us cope.

The problem comes when we hang on to these narratives for any length of time. It may well be that we have hung onto them so long that we don’t even realize anymore that they exist. And yet they, in essence, now dictate and control how we respond to anything and everything. Perhaps it’s an addiction issue that is blamed on the way we were brought up. Perhaps it’s an anger issue because at some point in my life I was fired from a job. Or it may be resentment because I was mistreated. We don’t realize that our thoughts and actions are created by our own, arbitrary narratives. We don’t see the world as it is but rather the way we are.

And as I suggested earlier, we have a tendency to gravitate towards others that have similar narratives or values that we do. Through history that is how churches, community clubs, friendship circles, and various other groups were formed. It felt good to get together with these like-minded people.

But in the same way this is how often the groups mentioned above run into issues and split up. Disagreements arise, people change their views or their narratives and then seek something else. They don’t fit the normal paradigm and they push for change. That leads to tensions which leads to conflict which leads to changes. That change feels uncomfortable so there is an evolution in the group which leads to new groups being formed as members seek out others who are more like them. In essence people who love the same things love each other and people who hate the same things love each other. And far to often, these groups tend to hate each other.

That’s the big picture. On a smaller scale these same truths hold true in our personal relationships. There is a certain magic when two souls meet and find compatibility. We bring children into the world and love and care deeply. We build a ring of friends that we share joys and sorrows with. We end up with colleagues that bring further happiness to our lives.

But then the narratives of the past bubble to the surface, upend our equilibrium and send relationships into a tailspin. We wake up one morning and realize that what once was good no longer is. We realize that relationships we thought were forever no longer are. We realize that emptiness abounds.

If anything, this pandemic and all of its insidiousness has done just that. It is entirely heartbreaking to see how relationships are torn, how the differences in opinions on masking, vaccinations and lockdowns are creating conflicts and tensions. What is even more disturbing is that most people are so entrenched in what they think is right or wrong that there is no effort being made to curb the discontent. Figuratively, and in some cases literally, many have found the hill to die on.

It becomes more than discouraging to watch the news, to scroll through social media, and to hear the more outspoken speak. Surely there must be more to life and relationships than what we are experiencing now. I suspect that someday this pandemic will pass. (If it doesn’t, I suppose all of this is redundant) And when it does pass what will our relationships look like? It would seem that we could do a lot better now. Because if we don’t what will be left when the smoke settles, will probably just be smoke. Make life changes before life changes. Make it a good one.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Telling Stories

 The story is told of a doctor that met with a group of his peers that met regularly to discuss challenges they faced with their patients. On this particular evening the doctor presented a story of one of his patients that had died due to a strange illness that he had not been able to diagnose and all methods of trying to find solutions had failed. His peers were quite helpful in discussing various ideas that could have worked to save the patient. Suddenly the doctor got up to leave. When asked where he was going, he informed them that the patient was still alive and due to the discussion, he now knew what was needed.

This week is mental illness awareness week. How better to create awareness then to share stories? We can read the statistics, we can learn the theory, we can see the posts on social media but to really be aware stories will help us learn. Stories will help us relate. And stories will help us on our journeys.

I had the opportunity this week to interview Allan Kehler (www.allankehler.com), a mental health advocate in Saskatchewan. I found it remarkable how his journey mirrored my own. How do I know that? We compared stories. We chatted about our journeys and the tools we use to stay mentally well.

He shared his experience of a significant turning point in his journey. The day one of his professors called him into his office because he had noticed that Allan was struggling. He offered a listening ear. And just in the way that the questions were asked, Allan felt the freedom to begin talking.

 It reminded of a significant turning point in my journey. Several years ago, when I was in a dark place, a neighbor dropped by. He clearly sensed that I was not in a good place. He asked me how I was doing, not in the usual greeting we often use, but in a personal way that clearly opened the door for me to start talking. I verbalized many of the thoughts that were running rampant in my head. And in the most helpful way, my neighbor sat and listened. He didn’t try to rationalize my thoughts, he didn’t try to provide answers, but rather he listened quietly and normalized and validated what he was hearing. He provided the encouragement for me to move forward. He provided a light in the dark place I was in.

This conversation, this sharing of stories just reminded me again the importance of “talking about it”. The ability to put a voice to our pain provides a path forward to feeling free. The ability to verbalize our stinking thinking gets us out of our heads and into life. Once we get those anxious, ruminating thoughts out we can face our future with much more clarity.

And rest assured. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 1 in 3 people are facing mental health challenges. So as Allan said, and I have experienced, when we start sharing our story, we quickly find out that we are not the only one that is struggling, not the only one that is experiencing challenges.

There is also a reminder here for the 2 out of 3 people not experiencing mental health challenges. Reach out to others. Ask the right questions. Be prepared to listen. Don’t be judgemental. Just be there. Be supportive. Provide that listening ear. You may be surprised at the help you can be so that 3 out of 3 of us can live life as it was meant to be. As the picture on my wall says, “the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it”. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Can We All Just Get Along

With everything that has been going on pandemic wise, our society is becoming more and more fractured. As case counts grow and further public health measures are implemented tensions increase. We are past the point of a brewing conflict and have reached the point of significant visceral outrage and outcry. And that is not limited to one side of the debate but is coming from all directions.

And it is not limited to just issues around the pandemic. Much of what I observe has been around since, forever. I mean really, if memory serves me right Cain and Abel had a dispute that saw Abel meet his demise. All because God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. I know, I am making it sound trivial. I would imagine that anyone who feels slighted by God when they are trying their best would be rather perturbed. Although I do sense even today that there are those who feel they know who and what God would favor most. Its particularly interesting when both sides of a debate claim God’s direction. And although I might have an opinion on that I am leaving it alone.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain about conflict. After all I make my living by helping others resolve conflict. And as I have seen countless times, the longer that parties are embroiled in conflict the more difficult it becomes to find resolution. I used to be quite na├»ve and think that any and all conflicts should be resolvable. But I have found through time that that may not always be the case.

People have a tendency to become entrenched in their ideas and opinions. And as such they will stand on their point to their dying day. We see that all around us. Most obvious now is the vaccine debate. I saw it recently in an email discussion on theology. We just had an election where I saw more than enough of that. We can add to that list with climate change, indigenous reconciliation, and numerous other social issues. We even see it in our relationships. (My wife and I are planning some renovations so trust me. I know what I am speaking about.)

I read recently that when something happens to us, we construct a narrative to explain that something, to help make sense of it. As the author says, “Our narratives are sticky, clinging to our minds and hanging to our identities like tight, wet clothes. We carry them with us and define ourselves by them”. He goes on to suggest that we have a tendency then to seek other like-minded people to match our own narratives. They become our friends and allies. And anyone that dares contradict that narrative is clearly evil. (The book is called Everything is F**ked by Mark Manson. Although some of the language might be offensive it has some really good thoughts that help me understand life just a little better.)

Often reality can be so complex that equally valid observations from differing perspectives can appear contradictory. When that happens, we tend to become defensive, which happens when we are presented with an unbearable idea, an idea that does not fit our narrative. Defensiveness is a behavioral response to a perceived threat or attack to one’s face or self-esteem, so we want to save face. And to save face we push back.

Although there are no easy answers let me leave you with one thought. As long as we believe that the “other” side is evil we will not make any progress in resolving anything. As a golfing buddy suggested on the golf course this week; “Can we all just get along”. We must remember that “Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process.” Make it a good one.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Eradicating Stigma

 Perhaps “eradicating” is a strong word. We hear it being used when we talk about the Covid virus. I have heard it used in other instances when something bad or evil needs to be gotten rid of. We have all heard about reducing or lessening stigma. By definition, eradicate means to “destroy completely, put an end to it”. I like that approach. In essence, search and destroy.

A few months ago, I received an email from an organization, I had not heard of before, asking whether I would participate as an interviewee in a live Facebook event. The email had hardly landed in my inbox before I responded with a resounding yes, because that’s who I am. On sober second thought I thought it might be prudent to look into this organization.

The email I received was from the Stigma Free Society, a mental health organization, operating out of Vancouver, BC. That certainly piqued my interest. Their goal is to create a world free of stigma through awareness, understanding and acceptance of ourselves and others. What I find particularly interesting is how they share personal stories of experiences or journeys that are often stigmatized, to provide real life examples. (www.stigmafreesociety.com )

I have always loved the story telling approach in addressing stress, anxiety and depression. Perhaps that is overstating it just a tad. I should say I have loved that approach ever since I started telling my story. I am a staunch believer in learning from one another. Any journey with mental illness is filled with various twists and turns. I often refer to it as a labyrinth. A labyrinth is defined as “a place with a lot of crisscrossing or complicated passages, tunnels or paths in which it would be easy to become lost.” So if you are in a labyrinth you either need a good GPS, a map or someone to talk you through finding your own way. And you will always find the best directions come from someone who has been down that road.

And then as I was mulling this over my wife, who was looking at her phone rather than the Netflix show she had picked, pipes up with something she just saw on social media. She was reading about human libraries. At first blush that sounded bizarre but then she went on to explain.

The concept is simple enough. Instead of reading a book, you “borrow” a person. That person then tells you their story, on the topic you have chosen, and answers questions you might have regarding the topic. (visit https://humanlibrary.org to get more details)

It took a minute but then the sheer brilliance of this concept kicked in. I thought of the huge potential this could have in our world. It seems that each day that goes by the world becomes more divided. Wouldn’t this be a great way to unjudged people and begin a journey of understanding?

Can you imagine being able to talk to a person that was walking a similar journey as you? If you could talk to someone dealing with anxiety or depression? If you could hear their story and ask questions, questions you have regarding your own journey? If we could, as the Stigma Free Society strives for, create awareness, develop an understanding of each other, and foster an acceptance of ourselves and others? Me thinks the world would become a better place. Let’s go for it. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I Can Do This

 

The last eighteen months have been something many of us have not experienced before. It has been a challenge to survive. It has been life changing. It has taught us a lot, some positive and some not so positive. In some cases, it has left us reeling.

Not only that, its not over yet. If someone had told me in March of 2020 that I would be sitting here, eighteen months later, writing about this, I truly would have been mortified. At the time, most of us thought that in a month, maybe two and at the most three, we would be done with the virus. Clearly that was not to be. We continue the battle.

Add to the regular challenge of working from home, masking up to go out, not being able to get together with friends or families, we now have a major divide happening in whether to get vaccinated or not. There are demonstrations and protests. Social media is alive and well in presenting the ideas and beliefs of each individual. Google has even made some people smarter than doctors and scientists. Its true. I saw it on Facebook.

Added to this is the noise of the recent election. And honestly most of it was noise and nothing but noise. As it turns out it accomplished little at best. Uppermost on many minds was whether politicians running for office were vaccinated or not. Many were loathe to admit it. Political platforms were built on it.

I admit it. I am vaccinated. Interesting. That wasn’t at all hard to admit. Then again I am not looking for votes. Not only that I can tell you all about my side effects. I am convinced that getting vaccinated improved my golf game and I did the research. Okay, I just made that up. But hear me out. Since my second vaccination I have golfed better than at any point in my life. I have come to realize that the vaccine has done something magical to my internal GPS. I am hitting the ball better and closer to my targets. In fact, I even had a hole in one. Coincidental? I think not. Fight me.

My apologies. I digress. Seriously the pandemic has left us all weary. We have tried to remain strong, but it really is getting us down. I recently spoke to an elderly lady who was dealing with other issues aside from the pandemic. I told her how I admired the strength she had. She looked at me with weary eyes and suggested she was so tired of being strong.

I suppose that echoes many of our own thoughts. We are getting tired of being strong. I have said before, if we knew of an exact date of when this would be over, life would be easier. We would be working towards that date, knowing it was going to end. But like other experiences we don’t know when it will be over. It’s a big unknown and unknowns can have the ability to drag us down.

So let me just simply leave you with a poem I have shared before. It remains one of my favorites. It was written by John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was an advocate for the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s. He experienced his own journey with mental illness. The poem encourages me as I hope it will you. 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.

Friday, September 17, 2021

I Am Not Dead, Yet

 

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from someone I used to work with occasionally, chatted with about our individual challenges in navigating life, and someone who reads the stuff I write. We caught up on work, some new stuff happening in the world of agriculture, and the ongoing challenges of farming. Towards the end of our conversation, he finally came out with it. He said he had been looking for new blogs but there were none. So, he had to check to see if I was dead. I assured him I wasn’t dead. Yet.

Perhaps I have been experiencing writer’s block. Although I have no idea what that means, it does sound better than saying I am brain dead. Perhaps it’s the pandemic. Everything else is being blamed on it so why not. It’s been eighteen months since this strange, diabolical virus wreaked havoc on everyone, except, of course, those that don’t believe in it, but that’s another whole story.

This last week my brother, who is significantly older than me, came up with an idea. His goal was to write a thousand words a day until he dies, which is twenty years if he meets his expectations. That got me thinking. As writing has always helped my mental health, and I have not been writing for months, and my mental health seems to be deteriorating, I suggested to him that I would join him on his quest with a few modifications. My expectations for my life expectancy is somewhat lower than his and I will limit my writings to six hundred words per day. Seems that that is the limit to my attention span. (If readers take note my blogs for the most part have been right around that)

As I looked back to my last blog, I see some irony here. It is titled Never Stop Talking About It. Well, it seems, I did stop talking about it. And as I reflect more on my life since January of this year, I sense a correlating issue. I stopped talking about it and my mental health has suffered because of it.

As I look back a little further, I see another blog I wrote called Adding To The Noise. A challenge, of sorts, to be cognizant of over exposure to social media and news. Be aware of the negative effect this barrage of information can have on our mental health.

I have a hunch that one of the reasons I have been less than motivated to write is because I don’t practice what I preach. Between the upcoming federal election and the ongoing debacle of the pandemic the information out there is mind boggling. It literally gives me a headache. For no specific reason I seem to be drawn to ongoing debates about various issues. But then I find my equanimity disappear real quick.

It seems that our world is becoming more and more divided. I see family relationships being broken. I see a lot of anger from all sides, and sometimes there are more than two sides, causing division. I can’t help but wonder where it will end.

I suppose as a mediator I should have some sage advice on this. But I don’t. Perhaps that is a sign that I am too opinionated as well. It was Bertrand Russel that said; “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves and wiser people are so full of doubt”. Hopefully I can find a way to be wiser, to understand all sides of the debate and to engage in meaningful dialogue. Because, quite frankly, that is the only way. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Never Stop Talking About It

 To think the last time I “talked” about this our world was significantly different than it is today. We traveled about freely, got together with anyone we felt like getting together with, we went shopping and ate out at restaurants, gave people hugs and many other fun things. We were unaware of what was about to happen. But happen it did.

 It is that time of year again. The annual Bell Let’s Talk day. I like this yearly reminder that Bell puts on to bring awareness to the issue of mental health and the importance of talking about it. As much as awareness of mental health has grown over the years it is important to keep growing that awareness particularly with the year we have just experienced. Clearly the lifestyle we have had to adapt to has had a significant impact on our mental health.

Over the years I have related stories of friends, family members and clients who have shared their stories with me. This year I will draw from my own memory bank, a story I think about often and will refer to in my presentations as it truly epitomizes the importance of talking.

In 2005 I was on a motorcycle trip with my brother. Although I had been struggling with my mental health for some time, I had been off my meds for a few months and was functioning quite well, or so I thought. On the last day of the trip, as we were nearing home, I witnessed him crash his bike. Ironically that morning, before we hit the road, we chatted about our farm, the stress of ongoing challenges and the effect it was having on my mental health. We decided there and then that we needed to move forward on selling. Unfortunately, the relief that decision brought was short-lived.  When he had his accident, my responsibilities increased significantly. As he lay in the hospital, I needed to take over his portion of the work and life overwhelmed me.

A couple of days after the accident, I was at the farm when my neighbor dropped in. He asked me how I was doing. I was about to answer him the way most of us answer when asked that question. Whether we are doing okay or not we tend to just say “okay” or “not to bad”.

For some reason that day I started talking about what was really going on. My neighbor listened. He showed curiosity rather than judgement. He did nothing else except show caring as only a friend could do. Ultimately, he normalized and validated what I was feeling. That gave me the opportunity to verbalize all the negative thoughts running rampant in my head. That provided intense relief and provided the encouragement to carry on.

That fall I went on to seek further professional help. It was the beginning of my journey of discovery. But I always look back at that morning with my neighbor as a turning point, a turning point in the quest for a better, healthier life.

There are also those that may not need a reminder to talk about it. Perhaps their mental health is good. For those I will throw out a challenge. There are people around you that are hurting. Be prepared to reach out and check in. Be prepared to listen. Be prepared to acknowledge. You do not have to provide answers. You do not have to be an expert. Just listen. Listen, normalize and validate. Simply provide support.

Many feel that talking about it is a sign of weakness. We need to get past that stigma and together we can. The Bell Lets Talk day is a good reminder. From that reminder we must make sure we are tough enough to talk about it all year long. Make it a good one.

Friday, January 22, 2021

In Training

 I suppose when one quits learning one is dead. And there are times when one needs a refresher. Over the last 2 weeks I have been in training.  

Just before Christmas my son, who works with Mediation Services, sent a message to his family offering them the opportunity to take a workshop. I enthusiastically signed on because it was a workshop I had long been interested in taking. As it turns out I had not read the entire message and ended up registering for a course I had taken some 18 years ago. Furthermore, the trainer I had now was the same person who taught me those 18 years ago. He was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

Further to that the second workshop I took dealt with Mental Health literacy for farmers. As part of the In The Know program, developed by the University of Guelph, I will be co-facilitating some of these workshops in the months to come. Much of what I learned was things I had picked up over the years in other trainings and the work I do. But it also came with some new information that I can add to my arsenal.

One of the ironies in taking these workshops is how I relate principles and theories both to the work I do but also to my personal life and my relationships.

As it turns out I needed both conflict resolution and stress management tools in the last few days so the refreshers were good. It seems that at some point in life, and this becomes more challenging as I age, one must keep up with technology.

Just before Christmas I got a call saying that fibre optics was now available for internet at my house. Hey, sign me up. Faster internet and a cheaper price? Absolutely. It was relatively painless till I needed to configure, is that the right word, all my wireless gadgets. I got it figured out, just don’t ask how.

Along with that, something I had now avoided for over a year, was that my cell phone needed an upgrade. The reason I avoid this is the switch over has always been a hassle. Previously getting my email set up and transferring my data created problems. After I had picked my phone the person helping me said it would only take a few minutes. I gave my wife a sly look, thinking the fun has just begun. The phones were laid side by side, not touching and not plugged into each other. Within minutes the person gave me my phone and said it was all done. Wow, that was simple.

And then, unbeknownst to me, fibre optics meant I could switch my TV service from satellite to whatever it is when its hooked up to my internet. Again, better service at a cheaper price.

However, that requires phone calls to cancel services, unexpected disconnection charges, new remotes to figure out, finding my favorite channels on a new guide, new passwords and on and on and on. I am getting a headache just writing about it.

So all of that required all of my conflict and stress management skills. And sometimes at the same time. The refreshers on perspective checks, turning judgement to curiosity, keeping my emotions under control, utilizing self-care between phone calls and others helped me in surviving the week. Now I need to find my recliner and hopefully find the golf channel. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Different Perspective

 A few years ago our daughter got married on Prince Edward Island. A few of our friends made the trip and as such we spent a number of evenings chatting, reminiscing and just having a good time. One of the friends that was there was someone I had been in business with some forty years ago. As we chatted someone asked him why our construction company had only lasted for a year. The way he put it, he just could not see us being successful. During a week that fall, he was sick and when he came back to the job he claims we had only managed to put up 2 sheets of plywood during that week. (In certain circles I am now called “twei toffle friese”. A direct translation from German is “two sheets friesen”.) That may be closer to the truth than I care to think about.

However, that has nothing to do with my thoughts on perspective. I was reminded of that story when I received a text from that certain friend this week in which he reminded me that it was forty two years ago when the idea of a construction company was born. He went on to say how important that year had been to him in developing his abilities and confidence in accomplishing the various projects we had.

I found a great deal of irony in that. I too had found myself reflecting of late on that particular year and found myself feeling a certain amount of shame as all I could think about was how I had been young, inexperienced and immature. I obsessed about all the mistakes I had made. My perspective changed and with that change I understood what he was saying and began feeling the same way.

After I posted last week (Hindsight is 2020) I had some interesting responses. There were those who liked what I had written, there were those that commented on my thoughts regarding New Year resolutions and then there were responses that had me thinking that there was differences of opinion on thinking 2020 really being a crappy year.

Thinking I had been misunderstood, I reached out. I was curious about the responses. When I learned the intent behind the response, I realized I had not been misunderstood. People simply had a different perspective on the year that was. That helped me in changing my perspective as well.

So that got me thinking even more. I suspect that most times when we read or hear something, we interpret it based on our world view, our history and influenced by our wants, needs and fears for the future.

When I look back at events in my life, the construction company example above being one of them, I have a tendency to see the negatives. They often remind me of all that went wrong in my life. I have to learn to view these as a reminder of all that I am today. As I said in one of my responses, I have experienced numerous dark times in my life. Those experiences helped in molding and shaping who I am today.  However, in spite of how positive that may be, I hope I never have to relive those experiences.

So whether it is something someone else says or it is something I have an internal discussion about, and that happens quite often, I need to change my thinking, turning judgement to curiosity. Truly find out what the intentions were of what was said. Find out why I am so often filled with doubts and regrets. I need to understand that there are different perspectives out there and we can learn and grow from all of them.

After reanalyzing my feelings about 2020, using curiosity and not judgement, I am convinced that I never want to experience a year like 2020 again in spite of all the positives I could list. But rather than focus on the negatives I will now focus on the positives. I will endeavor to change my perspective. Make it a good one.