Since becoming an accidental farmer by way of marrying a farmer (non-accidentally, as it was), I've not only learned more about this farming way of life, I've learned a lot more about me. For years, I prided myself on being "strong-willed and independent" (read also "determined and stubborn"). I prefer to wear the former, but so often the latter fits me better.
Not that being strong-willed and independent is bad; it can be good, and it can be good on the farm. I've learned to do things, drive things, feed things, haul things and mend things that, being just stubborn enough to keep trying after failing, has allowed me both small and large victories, and a place of value in our operation.
Then there is the flip side, the side of the coin where, sometimes, this life on the farm, away from the rest of the world, can be a little too independent and a lot too far removed. It's a life you don't completely understand until you've lived it. The stress from crops failing or animals dying or family division or insurance woes, or any number of other things, can be hard to bear and, at times, hard to share. But, share we must.
A little over a year ago, I stumbled in the door of an online community through #AgTwitter that has become like family. I've made friends around the world who I would never have met otherwise. Some I've had the chance to meet in real life, and some I never will, but nonetheless, they are family. Like any family, not everyone always agrees or does things the same, but there is a tie that binds us together; and when one is hurting or lost, we all feel hurt and lost.
This past month, our ag family lost a shining star, and I lost one of my best friends to suicide.
It rocked me. It rocked us all. The sad reality is that we are losing too many friends and farmers this way, and it's time to talk more. Share more. Do more. Love more. It's time to end the stigma of mental illness and know that it's OK not to be OK, but it's not OK to pretend it isn't a problem.
I wish I had answers. I don't. I have lots of questions, though, and a strong desire to learn more how to help and listen, and do anything and everything I can to not lose another friend this way. I'm not naïve enough to think every person can be saved, but I'm just stubborn enough to believe it's worth trying. I hope others will join the fight. We are not meant to be an island. We are better together.
If you are battling feelings of suicide or need resources to help people in your life you see struggling, you can visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org), or call 800-273-8255. In Canada, The Do More Ag Foundation (www.domore.ag), is tackling this issue head-on by promoting the mental well-being of producers by promoting awareness, breaking stigmas and building a ground-up foundation of support.
Meredith Bernard writes about farm life on her website (thisfarmwife.com) and is active on Twitter @thisfarmwife.
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