If I had to choose a year to talk about mental health, 2019 would be that year.
I’m not alone in saying that 2019 has been tough; just on our little farm we have dealt with flooding, prevent planted ground, market instability, trade wars, a packing plant fire that crashed the cattle market, and the general inability to accomplish tasks on the farm because of wet weather. And now we are facing a delayed, drawn out harvest.
I write about these things not for sympathy, but to provide insight into this year.
We can see physical challenges on the farm, but we can’t “see” the mental challenges. My dad says this has been the hardest year in his 53 years of farming. And he has seen a lot, from the crash in the 1980’s to the hog market bottom in the 1990’s.
Young farmer pressure
As young farmers in 2019, we face more debt and less leverage than more seasoned farmers. But we also face the pressure of making the farm successful for another generation. I hesitated to write about MY mental health, but if my story helps one person out there I’ll be satisfied.
Let’s start with planting season, a time I usually love. We may have a delay here and there, but nothing like this year. We mudded in crops for 2.5 months. I packed a large helping of anxiety with me every day. Every acre, every minute, I wondered how much I could get done before the next rain, while simultaneously trying to not bury the planter in the mud.
As farmers, we plant crops. That’s what we do; and I didn’t even get that simple task done this year. Planting bled into hay season, and by early June I wasn’t sleeping at night. The stress finally reared its ugly head in a physical manner as I baled hay; after several days of headaches and chest tightness in the tractor, I finally decided to get checked out. In typical farmer fashion, I waited until it rained to make the appointment.
As I explained my symptoms to the nurse practitioner, I learned I wasn’t the first farmer she’d seen that week. In fact, I was the fifth, and we’re all under 45, dealing with issues like little sleep, chest pain, panic attacks, and anxiety. My tests were fine; she concluded that I had some situational anxiety.
It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one having a hard time this year. Beside a friend or two, I didn’t even talk to my parents about my struggles until after I went to the doctor. As their daughter, I didn’t want them to worry about me. As their business partner, I didn’t want them to know I was under stress. I wanted them to have confidence in me that I can manage the business on my own, and I thought they would think less of me if they knew I was struggling.
In retrospect, I should have communicated with them before because they have always been a great support system.
I look back on 2019 as a time of struggle, growth, and resilience in my life and on our farm. Here are some tips that helped me manage a tough year:
1. Put out the fires first. Prioritize what needs done.
2. Focus on what you can do, forget about what is out of your control.
3. Communicate. Don’t be afraid to talk with parents/children/business partners about management struggles but also joys.
4. Focus on mental health. Go to the doctor for help. Sleep more, say no to people or organizations that cause stress.
5. Focus on physical health. For me, this meant joining Weight Watchers and losing some weight. (By the way, it works if you stick to the plan!)
6. Make it a priority to forget about work. Fishing is a great escape for me.
A vulnerable place
Writing about my personal struggles puts in me a vulnerable place. But, in those depths of vulnerability, I’ve become a better person. As a result of farm magazines covering mental health, it is now a topic we discuss within our family. It has brought me closer to my dad, and I’ve learned that even he, this mountain of a man and successful farmer, experienced some mental struggles in his younger days.
We must keep working hard, making those tough decisions, and continue managing margins to the best of our abilities.
We should also make it a priority to take care of ourselves, no matter what Mother Nature throws our way.