Farmers are used to adversity. We are used to our livelihoods, and our families effected by forces beyond our control.
We watch as our entire crop is destroyed in a ten-minute storm. We grieve powerless, as disease rips through our herd. And we have seen our food stores burnt to the ground during times of conflict. We watch market prices tank when global production is good, we pray for rain, for markets, for health and for safety. And, on a daily basis we pray for an understanding of who we are and what we do.
Under the pressure of a global pandemic it is suddenly as if the entire world knows a little of what it is to be a farmer. We are perhaps at once the most connected and disconnected as we will ever be, we are a world experiencing fear, failure, grief, anxiety, and hope. And we are experiencing it together and all too often, alone.
As humans we are not meant to be isolated, it is in our nature, our DNA, and our souls to be social. We are driven by chemical feedback loops to find a tribe, to contribute, to love, and to be loved.
My first true experience with isolation, and with all the feelings above came in 2016. I stood frozen in place to the bay window, watching as a hailstorm with monsoon winds ripped through right at the beginning of harvest. In a matter of minutes, I watched as large hail stones beat the ground, branches were torn from trees and rivers of water ran down the lane. Even though I could not at that moment see any of our fields I knew that our crops would be shelled out, beaten down, underwater and destroyed. For the first time in my life I understood how little control I had as a grain farmer over some of the factors I needed to be successful.
I grew up in Calgary AB and had a ten-year career in the Canadian Film Industry before trading film sets for tractor cabs and moving to a grain farm in rural Saskatchewan. That storm did more than just effect our balance sheets that year, it affected my wellbeing, my sense of self-worth and left me feeling completely and utterly isolated. In that moment I felt as though I had failed as a farmer, failed as a wife and as a Mom. I felt like I couldn’t provide for my family and that my only worth was in my life insurance policy. I felt as though I was digging my own grave to follow my dreams.
I know that many of you can relate to the thoughts and emotions I have just described. Being overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, feeling like a failure, worrying about paying the bills and putting food on your families table. These emotions and challenges are not unique to agriculture or farmers. COVID-19 has placed us all in circumstances and scenarios where we have no control. While we have different backgrounds and personal battles, we all share this same struggle. Our futures have never felt so uncertain, and we are spending our days often in solitude grieving the lives we once took for granted.
I used to keep everything inside, I thought that if I were to talk about my feelings and my struggles it would mean that I was weak, that I wasn’t capable, it would mean that I was less of a farmer, a wife and less of a Mom. What I have learnt is that we all struggle. The old mentality of ‘cowboying up?’ doesn’t actually do anyone any good, in fact it usually causes more problems. Acknowledging that I needed help, that I needed to talk to others that understood what I was going through was one of the scariest and bravest things I have ever done. Needing help is not about showing weakness, it is in fact about being brave. Brave enough to accept yourself in that moment, to refuse to let something destroy you, and to find what you need to take care of yourself, and in turn take care of your loved ones.
Two years ago, I sat in a conference room with about 400 farmers. We were tasked with standing up when a question asked applied to us. The first question was “have you ever lost a family member or a friend to death by suicide?” 90% of the room stood up, me included. It broke my heart.
Agriculture is not the only community and industry suffering with high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse or suffering in silence thanks to the societal stigma surrounding mental health. We are in the grips of a global pandemic the likes of which the world has never seen. We have also never been as connected and dependent globally on each other as we are at this moment.
If you are feeling something in response to world events, know that you are not alone in that feeling, and let that knowledge guide you. We are hard wired to connect with each other, to share with each other and to support each other. Now more than ever we need to remember that. We need to remember each other. We need to check in on our family, our friends, and our community members. We need to check in with our colleagues, our networks, and our online tribes and when we check in, we need to be ready to truly listen.
Please give yourself the grace to experience all of the emotions you’re feeling. The big and the small. Know that you are never alone. Never. In this moment I am standing beside you and so is everyone else around the very large and diverse world we call home. If we can share with each other, support each other, and truly listen to each other, then we can come out of this stronger and more connected than ever before.
** If you do not feel comfortable reaching out to someone you know many countries, provinces and states have helplines that you can phone into. There are also different options for online therapy, like the Better Help App.