Complicating Factors

Another fortnight gone, another blog due. So where am I at? My mood has stabilised, but at a low level. Both my psychologist and my naturopath are concerned about the slow pace of my recovery, which surprises me. I didn’t know there was an expected timeframe, and wasn’t sure it was going to be straightforward anyway. There are factors at play that I thought would be holding me back – I was living in expectation of it taking a long time, which was probably becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. And whilst the trigger of my depression isn’t going away any time soon, the depression itself is made up of more factors than just the trigger.

My psychologist has diagnosed burnout and adrenal fatigue going on behind the scenes, feeding the fire. It makes things tricky – what’s good for my recovery from depression is bad for the burnout, and vice versa. I’m left trying to walk a knife edge between the two. It’s not really that surprising. The way I was living my life before I met her wasn’t healthy. And I knew that, but I could cope with it. We’re running a big farm, about three times the size of the average sheep and beef farm. And we’re good at it, consistently producing results that place us in the top one or two percentiles in the country. I’m an intelligent man and used to being a high achiever, and those sorts of results were satisfying. But they come at a cost.

From the start of summer in December through til when the rams go out in Easter, usually two weekends in three end up requiring being at work to some degree. Similarly, from the start of calving in mid-August I work every day, carrying on through docking in October and finally getting a break at Labour Weekend. It’s draining, and I usually need a week or two of recovery time in November, although in recent seasons with climate change bringing more extreme weather events, November is often full of unscheduled maintenance work now.

Farming is meant to be about the lifestyle, and maybe for the guys running smaller blocks to lower levels, it still is. But I’d lost sight of that. I was told recently that the farm should be there for me, rather than me being there for the farm, and that was quite eye-opening for me. I live constantly on the edge of stress and pressure, and that’s partly just because the job requires it, and partly by choice, because I need that challenge to keep me focused, or else I get bored and a bit destructive. It also suited my style and made me a better farmer. I’m very intuitive in the way I do things, going by feel, and by being constantly in touch with it and having my finger always on the pulse, I knew what was going on. Ironically I’d decided when I met her that this year would be different, I needed to step back and stop living like that. Finally I wanted to, finally I had found something I wanted to dedicate my time and myself to more than this place.

And then she left. She had her reasons, which aren’t mine to tell and I’m not going to share here. I understand and accept those, and almost perversely, am actually supportive of her in what she did. I can see the need. It just left me personally in a shitty place which I struggled – and failed – to deal with. And suddenly everything else in my life that I had been doing wrong crashed home, and I buckled. I hadn’t taken those couple of weeks last November. I hadn’t felt I needed to. I was almost high from being with her, and the effects of that had masked the need. But it turns out, it was still there, just waiting for an opportunity.

I barely functioned through the first three months of the year, getting up every day a zombie. The one friend to whom I had in absolute distress told the whole story, I leaned on so heavily she virtually carried me that whole time. With the whole range of my articulate and extensive vocabulary, there aren’t words to express the gratitude I have for that. Thank you. I’m back operating now, but the reduction in both capacity and ability to work has me quite shocked. I’d put myself at the level of a part-time, mid-level shepherd. A level I left behind ten years ago and more.

But even worse is that the desire is gone. I used to love my job. I’ve lived and breathed it every day for 15 years. Now I’m unenthused. Disinterested. Half-hearted. I farm right now because I can, and because I need to do something with my days. No longer because I want to. My psychologist assures me that will come back. It’s hard to share her certainty. There’s no fear of me going back to living how I was before, because I simply can’t perform to that level right now, and won’t be able to for a long time yet.

And that, really, is what depression is. A complete loss of desire, enthusiasm and enjoyment. I learnt after the first episode that I need to ask myself every now and then, what do I WANT to do? There’s always a list of jobs I need to do, but what do I want to do? And a major sign of depression is that I don’t have an answer. I haven’t had an answer all year. There isn’t anything. I’m getting up every day with no goal, no purpose, just marking time. Ticking off another pointless day. It’s a soulless way of life. And yet, I’d convinced myself that that was just how it was going to be, when according to the people around me, that’s not necessarily the case. So I’ll make the recommended adjustments, and keep trying. It’s not like I have anything else to do.

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