The Recovering Farmer

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.