“The view from my farm is beautiful but at that time there was no 'wow' about it – everything was just dull and grey.” Chris. Farmer, Waikato.
My depression set in when I moved from a really stressful situation and at the same time made the switch from dairy to dry stock. I’d moved to this farm where I really wanted to be – and I couldn’t figure out why the wheels fell off at that point because I had left the constant pressure behind. I couldn’t see the depression while the stress levels were so high, but when the feelings were still there once the pressure was off, I knew I needed to get some help.
My way through
I saw a counsellor for about 18 months and that was really good because they don't take it on board as much as a friend might. My GP also prescribed medication, and that gave me a bit of breathing space to see that it doesn't have to be quite like that – life is not all grey.
One of JK’s challenges in The Journal is to find something you've lost interest in and force yourself into it. So I forced myself to start riding motorbikes again for recreation. One day on a ride I looked at the sunset and thought 'wow' and then I realised that it was the first time I'd seen colour for a while.
That moment was pivotal because it was the first time some of the colour of life came back in. Over months I got more flashes and then one day it got to a tipping point where there were more beautiful sunsets than dark days. I realised again why people could appreciate the sunset.
Cut yourself some slack – I had to convince myself that if I didn't really look after me I wasn't going to be there for anyone else. Check whether you’ve had enough rest, get back to the basics of life like stopping to enjoy your food – and accept that what you are going through is tough. Don't give up – there’ll be someone out there that you'll connect with.
“It's so easy to isolate yourself when you’re a farmer. You can just stay with your own thoughts all the time.” Warwick. Farmer, Waikato.
My depression first set in after I'd had heart surgery. I had real concerns about my health and my ability to keep farming. After that I fell into a bit of a hole – I was feeling very low. People talk about "the black dog" or "the black hole" – for me it wasn't like that but I didn't want to communicate with people, I didn't want to be around people.
It’s so easy to isolate yourself when you’re a farmer and that was probably the biggest negative about farming for me. You can just stay with your own thoughts all the time. I’m very happy with my own company and I think that made it both easier and harder – it’s a fine line between being on your own and being totally isolated.
My way through
For me, I think the big advantage I had when I first became depressed was that I was still working full time. There was always something that had to be done. Otherwise I might have stayed in bed all day. I don't think I could have got through it without my wife Joyce. She was extremely supportive, kept things going, pushed me to keep going – which was very important, she didn’t mollycoddle me.
We made some hard decisions during my depression about how we were going to manage the farm. We made changes to our lifestyle. Part of us finding a way through was keeping our business at a manageable size.
Getting off the farm regularly is really important to me – we’ve bought a caravan so that I can get away to a different environment. Doing exercise that’s away from what I normally do helps me stay well too - not going down to the farm and seeing all the work I have to do.
“Talking to people who would understand really helped.” Joyce. Farmer, Waikato.
Joyce supported her husband Warwick through his depression.
I'd be the first to admit I didn't cope very well. Sometimes I wanted to give him a good swift kick and sometimes I wanted to say "dear dear". And that was very subjective – it depended on how I was feeling. We still had dependent children at the time so life had to carry on, even if he wasn't 100%. And especially in our own business, seven days a week.
I didn’t know how best to help him - there was a real fear we may not be able to stay in farming. We got through recovery from the surgery and he was reasonably physically well but his head had gone to another place and that was even more scary.
Our way through
Talking to people who would understand really helped. There were about half a dozen people we could talk to – people who either had some experience of depression themselves or who knew us well enough for us to be able to say anything to.
It's really important to remember to take care of yourself, the supporter, too. Supporting someone through depression can be tough on family.
We’ve changed our family lifestyle so we all stay well. Number one: Get enough sleep! Also, adequate diet, exercise to smell the roses (not to dig more fence post holes); a sense of family/whānau/other people in your life and a sense of something greater than yourself. Reduce your baseline of stress so you've got space to deal with whatever life's curve balls bring. We've learned that if you can tick most of these boxes most of the time you'll stay mentally well.