The Recovering Farmer

Monday, November 29, 2021

40 Years and Counting

 Its interesting how grandkids can really bring a sense of reality with many of the things they say. Just recently my grandson told me I was really old. And from his perspective, I get that.

A few years ago, our neighbors from Wawanesa were at our house for my wife’s birthday. Back in the day, that neighbor and I shared many a chuckle together, told stories and at times commiserated about life. His wife happened to be my grade 7 teacher. As we were chatting, my grandson walked up. I introduced him to these folks and told him that she had been my grade 7 teacher. He got this look of confusion and some horror on his face and asked how she could still alive.

A lot of the thoughts around our age is perspective. Clearly as a grade 7 student my teacher would have been way older than I. However, in later years, as neighbors we were practically the same age.

I fully understand that I am getting older. There are certain, not so subtle, reminders. When I look in the mirror in the morning and see my father looking back at me. When my back goes out more often than I do. When I struggle to stay awake after 8:00 in the evening. When any type of physical exertion leaves me breathless and in pain. I suspect I could list numerous other complaints, but I would rather try to be in denial.

It happens to be our anniversary this week. And if I have done the math correctly, it has been 40 years. That is a lot of years. And nothing brings me back to reality quicker than seeing a picture of my parents on their 40th anniversary. They were old and so I suppose that means I am old as well.

One day this last month I picked my wife up from work. As we were driving home, we were catching up on the day that had been. Suddenly she became rather serious and said she needed to share something with me. Of course, and this comes with age as well, I was concerned. As serious as she seemed I knew the news must be serious as well. She looked at me and said that another boyfriend she had before we met, had died.

Why in the world would that even matter to me? It took a minute and then the truth of the matter hit. That was boyfriend number 4 who had met their demise far too young. So, as you can well imagine, that got me thinking. (I also did wonder how she even knew he had died but am leaving that one alone)

I really wondered how I had dodged the bullet, pun intended. Or have I? Why had the others died? I knew I needed to investigate this further but wasn’t sure I wanted to know the truth. I was much more concerned whether I was still a work in progress for her and if I needed to sleep with one eye open.

As with age, anniversaries and other life events, we are constantly reminded of the fact that we are getting older. But as I am reminded often, getting old beats the alternative. And it does. In a recent conversation with another aging person, we talked about the importance of gratitude, talked about looking forward rather than back. We agreed that there should be less regrets as spending time in regret just sucks the energy out of our emotions and our relationships.

My wife assures me I can rest easy, she is not looking for my early demise. So it is what it is. It has been 40 years. I may be getting older but have so much to be thankful for. Here is looking forward to a few more years of building on the many relationships I am fortunate to have. Make it a good one.

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.