The Recovering Farmer

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is That Helpful

Back in January I wrote a few pieces regarding talking which came with some interesting feedback from some of my readers. That was encouraging in a few ways. First of all it has reminded me that I need to talk more. Perhaps that is not stating it correctly as there are those that probably wish I would talk less. I need to be more open regarding the various struggles I have and have had because that helps me keep on the path I like to be on. Secondly it motivates me to think about things and write them down.

One of the calls I received was from someone I got to know a number of years ago, and have always appreciated her wit and wisdom, concerning a family member that was dealing with significant addiction issues. As she talked I listened. I must admit that I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the conversation. Because of my own addiction experiences many of the things she shared resonated with me. It reminded me of what I have put loved ones through. It reminded me of the struggles I have had in overcoming addictions.

My initial reaction was that I would listen, normalize, and validate. What else could I do? When mental health issues meet addictions, or the other way around, the problems are significant. First of all for the addict. As much as one tries different means and tricks to overcome, the allure of a “high” is always present. Knowing that in some small way it will help in overcoming the inadequacies the addict feels. The problem is that when the high goes away the inadequacies come back with a vengeance. A slippery slope indeed. So what does one fight first, the addiction or the mental illness? Or is it possible to do both?

Secondly the people who love the addict and want something better have a struggle. They try their utmost to support and help. Some days there is hope only to have the hope dissipate the next. Sometimes they feel like they have gotten through only to have the addict lash back and continue on the path of destruction. It becomes a harsh and difficult journey for them, trying desperately to understand and to help and far too often feeling guilt for not providing a solution that can help.

It has become clear to me through my own journey and the journeys of others that there is a fine line between being supportive and actually being an enabler. Sound confusing? It can be. When a person is in the depth of their addiction they need support. They need help. But what should that support look like? If the wrong kind of support is provided the addict finds that as a way to continue with their addictive behaviors. Sometimes to be truly helpful one must draw a line in the sand. There must be a deeper understanding that as much as we want to see change, change will only happen when the addict understands that that change must be made because they have a problem, not others. Only that way will the addict truly come to an understanding that change needs to happen.

At the end of our conversation I suggested to my friend that she write a letter to her brother. I shared with her that in my darkest days I had received some notes from my kids that had been and still are helpful. It is quite easy, and often convenient, to forget difficult conversations. It is also easier and more beneficial to write down your thoughts as you can take the time to ensure the message is clear and concise.

A few days later I received an update. The letter had been written and her brother was going to seek treatment for his illness. I was relieved that the suggestion I had provided had been helpful because, quite frankly, I felt helpless as she shared her story. As you find yourself struggling with relationships, for whatever reason, put pen to paper. It will help you to clarify your own thoughts and send a clear message to the recipient. Make it a good one.

“Don’t tell someone to get over it. Help them get through it.” Sue Fitzmaurice

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Making My Bed

There is a certain job in life that I have never been able to get my head wrapped around. It seems like so much work that I avoid it, never sure why. Lately I have been hearing some snide remarks from a certain someone that I live with but shall remain nameless. Subtle hints, text messages from siblings relating stories of their screwing up on the job, a colleague I work with, who also shall remain nameless, who lets me know, quite frequently, that he does that job every day. I did try one day this winter and got it done but decided it really wasn’t necessary. So I slipped back into denial.

As I walked through the Minneapolis airport earlier this week I stopped in a bookstore because the title of a book caught my eye. First though, let me explain what I was doing in that airport. During the last winter I spent copious time with a former colleague in completing a project that involved significant travel in Northern Manitoba. As we traveled those highways and byways we commiserated about not having time for a winter vacation. We are both avid golfers and chatted frequently about the upcoming summer and the golf we would enjoy. We even, somewhat tongue in cheek, talked about taking some time to watch a PGA tournament. On a whim we did go and had an enjoyable time watching big name golfers play a premier golf course in Florida.

So let me explain the dreaded job I referred to above. I HATE MAKING THE BED. Aside from the fact that I am not very good at it, although I suspect I would get better if I actually did it, it seems quite redundant. Really. You get up in the morning, you leave the bedroom, and don’t return till the evening when you just jump back in. So why bother. Because someone might see an unmade bed? First of all, why is anyone looking into my bedroom? Secondly, close the door. Way simpler than making the bed. Sorry, I digress.

So the title of the book was Make Your Bed written by Admiral William H. McRaven. Seeing I was in a strange airport and no one would recognize me I grabbed the book just to pique my curiosity. In retrospect I must have been feeling some guilt to even be curious. Below the title was a short sentence that said, “Little things that can change your life. . . and maybe the world. That really caught my eye. Making the bed has the potential to change the world? I read the first paragraph and that was all I needed.

As a self-employed person working out of a home office I sometimes find it difficult to focus on the work I need to get done. If I have a meeting to go to it is simple. You get up, get ready, and go. However if I spend time at home, read office, it can be challenging to focus on a certain task and to finish that or any task. It is quite easy to get distracted by other, more mundane things that need to be done. So the concept outlined in the first sentence of the first paragraph made sense. “If you want to change the world…start off by making your bed.” Simply put, if you start the day by completing that task the rest of the day will follow suit.

So here I am on day 2 of making my bed. It actually feels good. The interesting part of this story is that when that certain person I live with came home from work and went into the bedroom to change she didn’t even notice. It doesn’t matter. For now I will make the bed in the mornings because I do want to change my life and, if possible, the world. Make it a good one.

“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step.” Naeem Callaway

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Adding to the Noise

If nothing else the recent inauguration of the American President has given us more than enough examples of conflict. Okay, in reality not the inauguration itself but certainly the events leading up to it and Trump’s actions since. The election debates, the protests, the marches, the backlash from some, and endorsements from others. It appears the issues are black and white from either side of the political spectrum.

One side propagates Christianity as the reason for the changes while the other side claims it is anything but Christian. There are terrorist attacks, there is the shooting of innocent people, there is the threat of war, there are millions fleeing from their countries seeking a safe haven, and on it goes. And with all that comes a broad spectrum of ideologies and beliefs. With Fox news being the source for the right and, based on them, all other media being a source for the left. As they say, if you don’t read the paper or watch news you are uninformed. And if you do read the paper and watch news you are misinformed.

There are many different beliefs, diverse cultures, and political diversity. So what is our response? Depends on who is asking. So an event occurs that goes against everything we believe in. It only makes sense to lash out, add insult to injury, lambast the establishment, and insult the other side. Or does it? Don’t get me wrong. There are atrocities happening all around us, whether on the other side of the world or closer to home. But it seems to me that the response is somewhat counterproductive. It appears that we are just adding to the noise.

In a macro sense that is conflict at its worst. In a smaller way that paints a picture of many of our own personal conflict experiences. A conflict as defined by the Encarta dictionary is “a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people’. Conflict is a normal occurrence in our lives that has the ability to destroy relationships. Similar to macro conflict, individuals involved in interpersonal conflict often have this ability to add fuel to the fire and to lash back, to become angry and lose any sense of what is right and what is wrong. We have a tendency to add to the noise.

Wouldn’t we live in a good world if we all got along? Wouldn’t we live in a perfect world if all our beliefs were the same? The reality is that we don’t but it would seem to me that there could be a different approach to dealing with a difference of opinion. (Please understand that this is coming from someone who does not necessarily practice what he preaches.)

Why does it seem inherent in many of us to become defensive and angry when presented with an opinion or an idea that we do not agree with? Invariably conflict is the result of assumptions. As these assumptions take root we become defensive because we are presented with an unbearable idea, one that, whether we are aware of it or not, makes us unacceptable to ourselves. It feels like an attack on our self-esteem and so we react to try and save face.

Perhaps we are uninformed. Perhaps our preconceived notions or assumptions misinform us to the reality of the conflict we are involved in. If we would take the time to build understanding, of ourselves and of others, we could become informed and deal with differences in a proactive way for the betterment of ourselves and others. We could rise above the noise and truly make a difference. Make it a good one.

“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.” Wayne Dyer

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Few More Thoughts

A few days have passed since the Bell Let’s Talk day. It was quite refreshing to see the response that it received. The concern I always have with these types of promotion about an issue is I often wonder about the day after, the week after, or the months to come. We are reminded to talk, we are enthused and engaged over the reminder but then we have a tendency to move on. I don’t mean to be critical but rather challenge us all to remember in the days to come.

After my post on thursday I received a note from someone whose partner has dealt with depression for years, stuck in a place that was obviously dark and lonely. In his words, “after 4-5 years, many psychiatrists/ psychologists, numerous medication attempts, (my wife) finally was able to break out of her cocoon that held her captive”. That reiterates the difficulties and frustrations many experience when they do seek help. The good news is that there is help, there is hope, and there is relief.

He also mentioned something else which has troubled me for some time. In his words “I find that people that have never struggled with or lived with someone struggling with depression/anxiety, find it almost impossible to identify with those dealing with it. Many think you can just snap out of it or just decide not be depressed”. Those words really resonate with me. In spite of my own experiences, being aware of the debilitating effect mental illness can have, and having been frustrated with some people’s response, I suspect I have been guilty of that as well, thinking that a person showing signs of depression should just move on.

Further to that is the fact that many try to hide their mental health issues. I am reminded of an interview I did numerous years ago when I first “came out of the closet” regarding my own mental health challenges. The reporter wrote to the effect that outwardly I had shown every sign of being a success yet inwardly I had been drowning in a black hole. We tend to cover up for various reasons. The stigma, the response we get from some, and the fact that we wish things could be different. Maybe, just maybe, if I act like nothing is wrong then nothing is wrong. And sometimes it is simply easier to pretend everything is okay rather than to explain why we are not okay.

So all of us need to continue with the Let’s Talk challenge. For those not living with mental health illness be ever mindful of those that are. Be ready to engage in conversations. Do what you can to listen and support. Don’t be judgemental but rather show curiosity, a curiosity that shows support through the questions you may have. Engage in a conversation that helps the other in their journey to recovery. Not just for the few days around January 25th, but for the entire year to come.

For those that are on the journey seek out your support system. Be willing to talk. Be willing to share. And don’t give up when the person you talk to is not able to understand. The more we talk, the more others will understand. The more we talk the more we will find ourselves being able to seek help, to move towards recovery, to move towards discovery. A discovery of life that takes us beyond the hopelessness and darkness that mental illness brings. And most of all be patient. It takes time to find the best way to heal. Be patient knowing there is hope, there is relief, and there is healing. Make it a good one.

“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.” unknown

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Talking and Listening

I ran into an interesting situation this week. I found out that people could not send me emails because my email box was full. In all my years of using emails I had never had that happen before. Turns out that I have been saving too many emails and thus needed to do some purging. As I scrolled through and deleted emails I came across emails I had exchanged two years ago. I noticed a sadness in a few of them. With a sense of dread I quickly understood why.

It was two years ago that two family friends died by suicide. Although I had often thought of the two families impacted by this it seemed to me that I had carried on with life with hardly missing a beat. Reading those emails and reflecting back was a stark reminder of those among us that have been suffering. Many suffering in silence, seeking a way out of those dark moments, moments when life itself is questioned, when the pain seems to overtake and overwhelm.

Ironically enough this stark reminder and reflection happened as we approach the Bell Let’s Talk day. It got me thinking. I thought back to a workshop I facilitated last fall where the topic of suicide was part of the discussion. I thought of the gentleman that got up to share at the end and thanked me for having broached the topic in a candid and forthright manner. He reiterated the importance of talking about suicide and the mental anguish that leads up to that final step. He was thankful because of his own journey but also suggested that the discussion had been helpful to better understand the deaths of some family and friends.

So again I need to stress the importance for talking. First of all it raises the awareness of depression and suicide. As we have all heard there is a stigma attached to mental health issues, a stigma that that needs to be removed so that we can live in a world where people who are fighting the fight have a way to find help, to find a way out from the pain they so often live with.

It is also important that people with mental health issues are reminded that they are not alone. A reminder that there is hope, there is relief. A reminder that talking helps. That talking is the first step for healing and recovery, a first step in the journey out from under the clouds.

For me it is also a reminder to listen. Perhaps you find it difficult to listen when someone else shares about their pain. Sometimes we are quick to jump in, be judgemental, diagnose the problem, or try to “fix” it. There is only one requirement. Listen. Listen. Listen. Through lending an ear you are being supportive, you are showing you care. Through being attentive you are normalizing and validating what the other is feeling. And by listening you are helping the other in their journey, the journey to recovery.

I know from experience that having the ability to verbalize my thoughts is helpful in dealing with the turmoil that often are just out of control thoughts. I have been very fortunate to have family and friends with whom I have been able to share, family and friends that took the time to listen and support me on my journey. So this January 25, as we remind ourselves about all things mental health, make it your goal to not just talk about it but also to listen. Make it a good one.

“The most important thing I found, is to let somebody’s voice be heard”. Clara Hughes

Saturday, December 31, 2016

That’s All Folks

That sounds rather final. And it is, at least for this year. Another year has come and gone. It seems like this one went by even quicker than the last which went quicker than the year before that. Perhaps it is an age thing. Although when I think back to the outset of 2016 it feels like that is a lifetime ago. Here we are ensconced by another winter. At the end of November it appeared like the winter might be gentle. But alas, two snowfalls later we have significant snow accumulations and it appears there is more to come.

I have seen numerous mentions lately that 2016 was a horrible year. This seems a little puzzling. Why do people feel that way? Listening to the radio this morning shed some light on that. It appears that there were a significant number of well known, dare I say celebrities, that died. Interesting point. But not one that I had considered nor one that I am about to get hung up on.

What is it about famous people’s death that intrigues some? What about people that don’t have celebrity status? When I look around at family and friends that are struggling with health, passing of a loved one, dealing with loss of job, or numerous other issues I find it difficult to grieve because another celebrity died. Don’t get me wrong. It is said when anyone dies. But not anymore sad or tragic than when someone close is struggling or dying.

Sorry for the little rant. So New Years is upon us. The time when many become obsessed with making resolutions. I have said before and will say it again. I have tried and failed. I have given up. Very simply put when I wake up on January 1 life remains virtually the same. It is still winter. It is cold. We have just been through a snow storm with threats of another one on its way. The days are short. Why in the world would I want to quit anything that is helping me cope?

Here is a novel idea. We should change New Years from January 1 to July 1. Me thinks it would be so much easier to carry through with any resolution if it we did during summer rather than the dead of winter. Think about it. Eating less, drinking less, quitting smoking, quitting nicotine gum, getting in shape, all of these would be so much easier in the summer. In fact should I be prime minister that would be a policy or legislative change I would make. I bet you would all vote for me. Right?

Okay. I can only wish. So as we move into the new year I do need to make some changes. However, I refuse to call these resolutions. Rather I need to make some lifestyle changes. These are lifestyle changes I need to make so I am ready for summer when it gets here. Am I contradicting myself? Perhaps. So be it.

The good news is we get an extra second of sleep tonight. You see, the world clock has to be adjusted. Seems the earth rotation on its axis is slowing down. It has slowed down 26 seconds since 1972. Quite fascinating. What about before 1972. Nobody knows because nobody was keeping track. So there you have it. Enjoy that extra sleep. Happy New Years. Make it a good one.

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” Theodore I. Rubin

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas 2016

Here I am a day late. Christmas day was yesterday and here I am posting my annual Christmas thoughts on boxing day. It is rather strange how Christmas snuck up on me this year. I have been quite busy with work and perhaps that is why. Normally I would be relieved because days are now getting longer. Hardly even thought about that this year. I would have a certain dread about all things Christmas. Did not have time to think about that. Year end is fast approaching which just means I need to get some work done so I don’t even find that troublesome.

So before I realized it friends and family had come and gone. It was great to spend time in building relationships. And, as seems to be the norm, Christmas seems to stretch into New Years so the poem I am using again, because I love it, still has significant meaning, even a day late. Make it a good one.

Put your problems on probation
Run your troubles off the track,
Throw your worries out the window
Get the monkeys off your back.
Silence all your inner critics
With your conscience make amends,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Call a truce with those who bother you
Let all the fighting cease,
Give your differences a breather
And declare a time of peace,
Don't let angry feelings taint
The precious time you have to spend,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Like some cool refreshing water
Or a gentle summer breeze,
Like a fresh bouquet of flowers
Or the smell of autumn leaves,
It's a banquet for the spirit
Filled with family, food and friends,
So allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!
Bob Lazzar-Atwood