Randy Weigel, UW Cooperative Extension Service Specialist
Lately, I've been reading articles on the current farm crisis, and I can't help but wonder how male farmers and ranchers emotionally cope in a crisis situation. I am not a farmer or rancher, and I haven't personally experienced the farm crisis, but I have experienced crisis. Several months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, a malignant melanoma.
Several strategies have helped me emotionally survive the last few months, and they may offer some support and encouragement to those who are dealing with the farm crisis. This article may not make sense to everyone, but for those that it does:
Embrace the crisis. Why would someone want to embrace a crisis? Because you will learn how strong you are and how strong you can be. Let the crisis teach you about yourself. Realize you will never be the same person after the crisis. But if you so choose, you will be stronger.
Refuse to be a victim. Most helpful were friends who expressed support with words such as 'fight the battle,' 'beat the disease,' 'put on the gloves,' and 'believe in yourself.' These phrases gave me courage and confidence. You may not be able to control the crisis, but you can control your attitude toward it. Remember, your life has a purpose simply because you are alive.
Accept your emotions. As I lay in bed at night, my chest pounded and my mind raced with thoughts of anger, failure, guilt, death, and suicide. These thoughts cannot be denied but should be accepted as part of the learning experience. They are normal; they are who you are. Living with your emotions is painful, but it builds your resolution to persevere.
Connect with other men. This is not easy for our gender because, in general, we are not great communicators. But simple gestures from other men, such as phone calls and cards, were very comforting. Silence, on the other hand, is invariably seen as judgment or lack of concern. Reaching out to others keeps you connected to the world.
Stay away from negative people. Nothing brings you crashing down faster than negative thoughts. Research on stress and crisis, as well as health issues, shows that people with positive attitudes handle and recover from crisis better than those with negative attitudes. Keep your sense of humor. It is often said that 'laughers survive and survivors laugh.'
Decide when to worry. If I worried about my crisis in the evening, I would toss fitfully all night with negative thoughts consuming me. I decided to worry about my crisis for two hours every morning when I had more energy and a better attitude. I then tried (though not always successfully) not to worry about my condition throughout the day.
Don't shut out your family. When facing crisis, men often become quiet and withdrawn. This causes anxiety in other family members, which then causes more withdrawing. Let the people in your family know how you're feeling, your worries, your fears, and if you really are okay.
Take care of yourself. There is a wealth of research on the value of good health in handling stress and crisis. It gives you energy, protection, a positive attitude, and a sense of control. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and rely on your faith to pull you through.
Believe in tomorrow. There is a reason this crisis is happening to you, and your job is to find out why. I keep telling myself I will survive, I will get through this. Tomorrow is promising in so many ways: you must believe you will be there.
Though farm crisis, family crisis, and personal crisis are all different, I believe the human response is similar. A friend of mine with cancer shared the following quote, which has given me great inspiration:
'Anyone can give up, but only the strong will continue to battle.'
The author, Randy R. Weigel, Extension specialist, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, has conducted farm stress, human resource management, and strategic planning programs for agricultural families over the past 20 years.