I had the opportunity to be on a women in agriculture panel today with a local radio station. It turned out to be myself, my cousin and a close friend as the panelists. Agriculture is a small world! During this discussion we talked about farm-related issues like crop prices, healthcare and how people are reacting to COVID. One topic that I’m glad was brought up was mental health. For the past couple years farmers and their families have been facing monumental stress as bills pile up and crops don’t produce. It is literally life or death in so many situations.
What I thought would be a quick discussion about where to find help for mental health turned into a great piece of radio that I hope helps people. Out of the blue I talked about my depression, anxiety and PTSD and how I overcame them. My cousin talked about her current, gut-wrenching situation where she struggles with depression and my friend talked about how she purposely goes and helps farmers to give them a break. As I sat listening to my cousin & friend talk I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. Sharing our stories not only helps us, it helps other people. I’m so proud of this panel and how we were completely honest live on-air. The moderator of the panel even admitted to struggling the past months, which I don’t think would have happened a year ago. I didn’t anticipate talking about my mental health on air, but I’m glad that I did.
One of the things I mentioned was, “It looks good from the road” mentality. You know what I’m talking about. You drive past a house or a farm and everything is perfect. The flowers are perfect, the lawn is perfect, the barns are painted perfectly and there sits a shiny new tractor. You think to yourself, “well they have it all together. Wish I was them.” Little do you know that behind the scenes the family is a wreck, but they put up a good act. Mentioning this on air reminded me of a blog post I did two years ago, almost to the date, that I’d like to share again titled, ‘Looks Good from the Road’.
Be well friends!
Entry from September, 2018
In 2018, it is no secret that there has been a sharp increase in death by suicide. Suicide doesn’t discriminate. Famous people, poor people, rich people, farmers, bankers. The list goes on. I live and work in the food & agriculture industry and times are really tough right now out in the countryside. The number of farmers & ranchers dying by suicide or considering suicide is astounding. Suicide rates increased by 25% from 1999 to 2016. Nearly 45,000 Americans took their own life in 2016. I can only imagine that the rate has gone up in 2018.
People are afraid of saying that they suffer from depression or anxiety.
I know that at the height of my ‘stuff’ from the assault, all I wanted was for nobody to know that I was a complete wreck and suffering. I did not want to appear weak. I wanted to appear that I had it all together. I could handle anything, including being raped and not miss a beat. In my mind I could show how strong I was by going about my life as if everything were fantastic and then ‘some day’, when I was healed from the trauma, I would tell people about being raped. Then, my coworkers and friends would exclaim, “Wow, we had no clue you were going through that! You didn’t miss a beat! You are so strong! You can do anything!”
How utterly sad.
I cared so much about what other people thought of me, especially my friends, family & coworkers that I was willing to put my own health on the line. I was willing to not meet this disease of mental illness head on because I was afraid people would talk. I was afraid they would talk about how weak I was, how I’m not all I’m cracked up to be, how they would snicker, how they would talk about my family. All those things swirled in my head for years. I was afraid of dealing with the real me and being found out.
I had always prided myself on being a hard worker and having accomplishments, but I couldn’t work myself out of depression and anxiety. In fact, the more I worked at ignoring it the worse it became. Depression and anxiety became like stalkers in my life and I couldn’t shake them. I tried everything – work more, socialize more, drink more, travel more. Nothing worked and I couldn’t shake the twins of depression & anxiety until they finally knocked me down and helped me realize that they weren’t kidding and that I had to deal with them before I ruined my life.
Struggling with mental illness is nothing new for me. After I learned more about depression several years ago, I realized that I have probably had other depressive states of time in high school and college. You just didn’t talk about it. I distinctly remember being in college after my Grandma passed away and my sister’s boyfriend died in a car crash and how I struggled. I actually looked at seeking help and even called Lutheran Social Services to check out pricing. But, I didn’t go. I couldn’t go. I was the president at my sorority. I had finally reached the pinnacle of my college career. I was not going to let severe depression tarnish that. So, I dropped most of my classes that quarter and drank…a lot. I didn’t tell people that I dropped most of my classes because I was failing and the drinking was no big deal because, well, college. I never got the help I needed.
I wish I had.
Fast forward 7 years and I have a panic attack in the middle of traffic on I35 from seemingly out of the blue. It was like a wave crashed me down. I was so overwhelmed, but did I pull my car over? Heck no. I was delivering something back home so I cried a bit and got the work done. It took me a few weeks to realize that this was not okay and that I should maybe go talk to someone. The crying needed to stop. I decided that it was time to be an adult and utilize my medical insurance.
The day I went to the mental health clinic will forever be burned into my mind.
“What was I doing? I’m one of those people now.”
I remember checking in and the receptionist telling me to fill out a pile of paperwork. I looked around for a chair and immediately felt dread because I obviously did not belong here. I mean come on, I wasn’t like these people. I was fine and just had a little hiccup along the way. I’m not mentally ill. I just need to exercise more (or something like that).
I found a place in the corner of the waiting room and started working on the paperwork. I kept on saying to myself, “you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”
When the form asked me to be honest about certain aspects of my life on a scale of 1-5, I knew I couldn’t lie anymore. Do you find enjoyment in life? How often do you feel tired or hopeless? Trouble staying asleep or sleeping too much? With tears in my eyes I filled in those little dots and realized that I found little joy in anything and was hopeless. I was tired all the time and would much rather stay in my apartment curled up on the couch. I knew at that moment that I needed help because I didn’t want to live like this. I was exhausted.
I got called in to see a therapist and I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is I kind of balled up in my chair and was not very communicative. I was scared & ashamed of being there, but I knew I needed help. So, I did months of talk therapy and got put on a low dose of antidepressants.
I would go on and off of antidepressants over the years. In fact, I was actually looking at going off of them right before my assault. I felt that I was in a really good place and that I could go off of them for the foreseeable future. Then October 19, 2014 happened and I have yet to come off of them. Who knows how long I will be on them. It doesn’t bother me any more talking about being on medication for my mental health. If I get an infection of some sort I take an antibiotic, so taking medicine for my mental health should be no big deal. I take my antidepressants every day like I take my Zyrtec for allergies. No big deal.
Mental illness is a nasty beast. Nasty. Someone can appear to have it all going for them; money, material objects, perfect marriage, perfect kids, great career, etc. Trust me, more times than not it is all a show because we are so darn concerned about what other people think. On the inside of the perfect house, or on the inside of the soul there are burned-out, scared people who are barely staying alive.
Out here in farm country my Dad has a saying, “Looks good from the road”. What does that mean? Well, you drive by a sprawling farm site and the house is big, the lawn is meticulously mowed, the buildings are well-kept, there is nothing out of place. The same can be said for houses in town. Everything looks perfect from the curb. Perfect garden, perfect kids, perfect car. Perfect. Except it is not. It has to be perfect, otherwise people will talk. Then stuff hits the fan and something bad happens that blows your cover and you realize that they have problems like everyone else.
Looks good from the road.
I’m done with caring how my farm looks from the road (I’m referring to my life, not the actual farm…my Dad would freak out). A few years ago maybe my life did look good to others. I thought it was pretty darn great. I thought I had life by the tail. Then the assault happened, depression, anxiety, PTSD and I couldn’t keep up appearances anymore. Now if you look at my life, it isn’t perfect and maybe looks only marginal from the road. There are weeds popping up, things need to be painted and there is a hypothetical broken down vehicle in my yard. The yard (my life) is a work in progress and I’m not really caring what others think. Somebody might drive by my life right now and wonder what in the world happened. She looked like she had it all together. She looked good from the road.
I’m happy that I am living honestly now and don’t care nearly as much what people think. I want to not care at all about what others think, but that is a near impossibility, so I’m going with not caring as much as I can. I’m living my life out loud and honestly. I have depression. I have anxiety. I have PTSD. I am alive and darn happy to be here.
Have I ever felt suicidal? Thankfully, no. I’ve been asked that question a lot since my assault. I am so thankful that I have never had those thoughts. Hopeless? Yes, but I somehow knew that sometime, somewhere I would see the light and start to get better. I just didn’t know when or how.
So what can you do to help those with mental illness?
Don’t assume that you don’t know anybody with depression or anxiety. I can almost guarantee that you know somebody. If you start to notice a friend or family member withdrawing from normal activities or writing something out of character on social media, make sure to check in with them privately. Tell them you are concerned about them and that you are there to listen.
We always say, “if you ever need anything or anyone to talk to just let me know”. We need to turn the tables on that and check in with people.
It is so hard to ask for help. So very hard. We won’t do it. We can’t do it. We think that we can fix it ourselves.
A question often asked is “Why did they kill themselves? They never said anything to me, so I thought everything was fine?”
We really need to pay more attention to those around us. Don’t assume things are okay. Be compassionate. It’s called being a caring human being. I’m not saying that you need to go around asking if everyone is okay, but pay attention to those closest to you. If somebody wants to talk, listen. Truly listen. Don’t offer advice, just listen.
When you are commenting that someone’s life looks good from the road, why don’t you drive up the driveway and see how things are going. You checking in could be just what that person needed.
At the end of our lives it isn’t going to matter what the guys at the coffee shop or the ladies at book club thought about us or our choices. They won’t be there and I won’t care if they thought I was fat, crazy or whatever else people care about. All that matters is that you are right with God. His judgement is the only one that matters. Maybe instead of judging people so much, we should actually help people live their best lives? What a concept. Live like Jesus.
We need love, connection and purpose in our lives. We also need to take care of ourselves and be honest with ourselves. Be kind to one another, friends. Everyone is struggling with something. Everyone.