The Recovering Farmer

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.