Despite arriving later than usual, when winter finally arrived towards the end of 2015, it definitely came with a vengeance.
While we’ve been lucky to miss out on the horrendous flooding that affected much of Scotland, the North of England and Wales either side of the New Year, we’ve still taken quite a pasting from the wild winds and driving rain that have hurtled in over the Solway Firth. The lovely green fields that we were enjoying thanks to a mild October and November are looking a little more damp and dirty now, but the sheep have taken it all in their stride, which is good.
It’s only February 1st and the country has already battled the effects of Storms Abigail through to Henry (quite where Henry has come from I’m not sure, as I thought we were still scrapping with Gertrude), and while the sheep are holding up, it’s starting to take it’s toll.
At times, farming can be a thankless job. Hard work, high costs, volatile markets and the ever present risk of a number of health issues (Foot and Mouth and Bovine TB being just two examples) and natural disasters that can decimate livestock and undo a lifetime, if not generations, of hard work in minutes makes for one hell of a stressful job. A recent study by Newsweek, highlighted in this post on the Huffington Post, demonstrates the impact it can have. The disturbingly high suicide rates in farmers makes for sombre reading.
Having a number of personal experiences with depression, I guess farming might not have been the wisest of life choices to make, but on the whole my experiences are in the past and don’t effect me in my daily life. However, when you live on a farm in a rural community it is incredibly easy to get cut off.
Back in September, Matthew Naylor produced a piece for the Farmers Weekly, giving 25 pieces of advice for young farmers. One particular point stood out at the time. Number 15: Leave your farm every day, your village every week, your county every month and the UK every year.
In the spring and summer, I would get off the farm regularly either to do shepherding work, drafting lambs or helping out at shearing time, or to play hockey once a week in Dumfries, but with the bad weather, short days and increased workload in the run up to lambing, I’ve found myself leaving the farm less and less over the last couple of months.
Now, while that might not sound like much, I realise looking back it truly makes one hell of a difference. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself struggling with my moods, internalising problems and running them over and over in my head until they become blown totally out of proportion or just becoming terrified by my prospects and what the future might hold. I’d try and make plans for the future to calm my nerves, or talk things through with Iona so she could talk me down from my metaphorical ledge, but the concerns would continue to swirl around in my head.
Then I would go off farm for a chat, a cup of tea and to help on a local farm, or pop back to Wales for a short break over Christmas and see family, or even try something new like a beginners curling event, and it would all go away.
I consider myself to be reasonably antisocial and quite comfortable being in my own company, but being away from my family and friends, worrying about work and money, getting the sheep from tupping time through to lambing for the first time, and being scared to leave the farm at such an vital time in case things go wrong adds up. And apart from the occasional bleat here and there, sheep aren’t too talkative.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my life here. I love living on the farm, Iona’s family have been wonderful to me and I wouldn’t change where I am for the world, but I think this demonstrates how quickly feeling isolated can creep up on you, perhaps without even knowing so. Little things can so easily spiral out of control.
It’s not always possible to get off the farm every day, but talking to someone and getting off when you can could make a massive difference. My bi-monthly trips to Future Farmer Workshops, the weekly chats on the phone with my parents and grandparents, going out for a big, greasy burger with Iona once in a while or even chatting to friendly folk through social media or reading the comments and feedback from those who read my blogs, articles or the recent BBC article all make a massive difference. So thank you all.
Sorry to kick February off on such a bum note, but I think it’s definitely an issue that we should all be talking about both to raise awareness of the problem, and to let others who struggle know that they’re not alone. A problem shared is a problem halved after all.
If you want to read more about depression in rural communities, this article from the Farmers Guardian is a great place to start.