“Tell farm people there is hope,” three farmers said to me during the past two weeks, each in a different way and about different matters. One person called me on the phone, another sent an email and the third mailed a letter to me.
I changed several details about these farmers to protect their identities and the people involved in their lives, but the essential matters are accurate. Portions of their statements are word-for-word.
An Indiana man who farms 1,300 acres called me to say, “I want people with mental illness to know there is hope.”
We set up a time for an interview. This farmer, in his early fifties, has struggled with bipolar disorder most of his adult life; he is respected for his farming accomplishments and his service on several boards. He also mentors young people who are entering agriculture.
Over the course of several hospitalizations and many different medication trials, he has achieved satisfactory adjustment. When I asked him what he attributed his stability to, he named three people: his wife, who has always had faith in him; his psychiatrist, whom he trusts and who tried many medication combinations before arriving at his current regimen; and a psychologist who helped him manage his behaviors.
This man added, “You have to be open to trying many avenues until you find the right combination of medications, self-management and supports from people you have to trust more than your own judgment, sometimes. You have to accept that they have your best interests in mind because they care about you.”
A South Dakota woman who works alongside her husband in their cow-calf and grain operations emailed me. She said, “My father was a horrible alcoholic who abused my mother, his family and me until he finally entered an inpatient treatment program.”
Her father, she said, denied he had an alcohol problem because he only drank beer; however, to deter criminal charges he entered inpatient treatment for sexually groping her when she was a teenager. She said that professional help and Alcoholics Anonymous changed her father, and her attitude about him.
She forgave her father for molesting her, but she never forgot the power of alcohol over him and its effects on their family, even after he no longer drank. He died two years ago, after many years of sobriety.
Neither this stalwart woman nor her husband consume alcohol and they are glad about this. Their children, who are all young adults, occasionally have a drink or two but they don’t misuse alcohol.
“Tell people,” she commented, “that we can overcome alcohol addiction by not drinking ever again and having a support system, or it will overcome us.”
A sheep, grain and Christmas tree producer in the Northeast sent me a letter with handwritten attachments telling of his brushes with suicide. We communicated several times. He is also a poet.
He wrote poignantly about urges to end his life, because what lay beyond had to be better than the misery he was experiencing on this Earth. He described how his wife had left him because she was tired of his negativity. He described depressive episodes that his counselor and medications couldn’t cure.
His poetry was dark and difficult to read, yet it expressed what he felt.
He wrote that after his wife left, he went to the barn once, intending to hang himself. When he entered and turned on the lights he saw one of his ewes lying against a barn wall. She was lambing and in trouble.
The ewe wasn’t due to give birth for another week and was almost completely exhausted from labor. The man thought, “She and I will die together; that would be fitting.” He found a sheep tether to tie onto a barn rafter near the ewe.
As he attempted to tie the rope tether onto the rafter, he heard the ewe groan in pain. Twice more while he tried to attach the tether to the rafter, she moaned.
The sheep’s caretaker couldn’t bear to hear his ewe moaning. After debating with himself, he got off the stepladder he had climbed and palpated the ewe. He found two lambs entering simultaneously into her birth canal.
Unable to resist an urge to help, he pushed one lamb back into her uterus and grasped the front legs and head of the other and pulled it out. He cleaned the first lamb and blew into its nostrils to stimulate breathing.
The second lamb soon arrived. The man used straw to wipe both lambs as they shook their heads and began to draw in breath. The ewe joined the trio after struggling to get to her feet, and began licking her offspring.
The farmer realized there was a message from these events. He remembers this saga whenever he feels suicidal, and says, “God had something else in mind for me.” He and his wife live together again.
Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. Readers may contact him at email@example.com