I went back on anxiety medication 12 days ago. To be specific, I started taking Lexapro, which was the med that I took when I was dealing with a bad bout of anxiety in middle school. So, when I got the prescription to begin taking the stuff again for the first time in 10 years, it was like catching up with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in, well, 10 years.
It’s been 12 days of learning and adjusting. First of all, I learned that I have to take it right away in the morning because I now have far more energy than I am used to having. It’s a completely different experience compared to the last med I was on, Paxil, where I could sleep 10 hours a night and it still wasn’t enough (granted, this was in college).
I even do the dishes without being prompted now, and picked berries after evening milking last week.
However, if I don’t take it right when I get up, I’ll be up all night. If I completely miss a pill, I’ll feel funny in the afternoon.
I’m also adjusting to how many people, some of them fellow farmers, are coming to me to talk about their own struggles with anxiety and other forms of mental illness. Many of them are too stubborn or ashamed to seek help or admit that they might need to find better living through chemistry and pharmaceuticals. If they do open up to a family member, friend, or neighbor, their struggles are often written off by saying “that’s farming” or “suck it up”.
GUYS. Cows getting sick, having calves at inopportune times, machines breaking, and bad weather is part of farming. Not being able to wake up in the morning, constant despair, and lashing out at loved ones over a kicky cow is not farming. Those are signs that you need to seek help, and I firmly believe that our own stubborn, selfish pride towards treating our own mental struggles as well as those around us is a huge contributor toward farming becoming a high-suicide profession.
As farmers, we’re often the first ones at the farm gate when our neighbors are in trouble. It’s in our nature to help. We clean up when a tornado blows their barn away, take in their animals after a fire, help with harvest when a loved one gets sick or dies, and come to the door with a hot dish and a hug. Why is it that when our neighbors are struggling with something that isn’t outwardly as obvious that we are so quick to brush it off and tell them to put on their big boy or big girl pants and deal with it? That’s not neighborly, that’s not kind, and that is most definitely not farming.
Telling them “that’s farming”, “suck it up, “grow a pair”, etc. only drives those we care for into further despair because it tears them down instead of building them up with the strength they so desperately need. Offer to help them with whatever task may be looming large at the moment. Offer to drive them to the doctor, take them out for coffee, or just listen. Sometimes all they need to know is that you’re there and you care for them.
I have been overwhelmed with all the support I’ve received from friends and family, and slightly overwhelmed with the stories I have heard from people that I had no idea were dealing with mental illness. That is all the more reason to be kind and caring, because there are people who may have it all together on the outside but are falling apart on the inside. (It’s also important to keep in mind that what you see on social media and DHIA newsletters are highlight reels because most people don’t share the bad stuff.) I will continue to advocate for mental health awareness in agriculture until this way of life is no longer an inherent risk for suicide.
In closing, saying things like “suck it up, buttercup” is not farming. Now, being a good neighbor and offering to help even when the battle isn’t as visible? That’s farming.