Katie’s story: The 2 sides of farming with mental illness

Katie

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THE 2 SIDES OF FARMING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

MENTAL ILLNESS DOES NOT DEFINE YOU 

I have a historic battle with anxiety and depression, my depression started when I was in my mid-teens and my anxiety started in my early twenties. I do not allow either of my mental illnesses to define me however, and I prefer to see them as an inconvenient illness, than part of my identity. I know I am one of the lucky ones because I do not continually experience either, I just have episodes, usually triggered by stress. Unfortunately, stress is part of life and whatever you try to do to limit it, it will always be present therefore I know I am never really going to be completely free of either. 

ANIMALS LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY

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 In January 2017 I started my own business, running an educational smallholding in Essex with goats, sheep, pigs and poultry. The new project gave me something to focus on, away from my mental health, it did however also bring with it a whole heap of stress and uncertainty, the two biggest triggers for my issues. My enthusiasm for the business to work, combined with my very hectic schedule getting the farm set up, meant I did not have time to worry about the uncertainty of its future and I thrived on the pressure of getting everything ready for my first open day. It was also fantastic for my mental health to be working outdoors, especially as I find my depression is heavily influenced by the amount of time I spend in the sunshine. Working with the animals, who love unconditionally and give you a reason to get up and out of bed every morning was superb therapy for me.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

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 It wasn’t until my first year had ended that I had time to sit back and reflect on what had been such a busy, rewarding and chaotic time. I felt so proud of how far I had come and was impressed at all the targets I had managed to complete in just my first 12 months. Suddenly however, I was constantly being asked ‘what’s next?’, ‘where now?’ and it brought on my anxiety. I had spent so long setting the business up, running the sessions and keeping the animals healthy and happy, that I hadn’t thought of my next steps. Before I knew it, Winter was upon me and with it returned the depression. Add on the huge amount of personal change I was experiencing at the time and my sudden hike in financial outlay (winter feeding for my livestock), I felt awash with responsibilities. I couldn’t see a way out of the constant demands of the animals and hated the hold they had over me to be at home. Isolating myself is not good for my mental health, and with it already being quite fragile, having to be at home to care for the animals just worsened the situation. Although the animals had once brought me such joy and focus suddenly it felt like they were dragging me down and wearing me out. I hid away from the problems and decided to bury my head rather than face reality, that I really needed to downsize and focus on the quality of my smallholding rather than the quantity of animals that I owner.

 

“AN EXTENDED PART OF MY FAMILY”

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It wasn’t until the land owners mentioned that they felt I could not cope with the farm anymore that I realised how much I wanted to keep my business running and keep it as my own. I used that conversation to spur myself into action, I cut down the number of animals that I had on the farm – selling some of my sheep and pigs to fellow smallholders. Although that didn’t change the fate of the land that my farm is based on, it has given me the confidence to rebuild my business elsewhere but this time in a way that I can completely control and focusing on quality rather than quantity. My positive attitude towards the farm has returned, the panic attacks I would experience daily before going to feed the animals have gone and I feel I can clearly see my future plan and what I can do to work towards it. Being around my animals once again brings me joy and I do not see them as a financial and physical burden but instead as an extended part of my family. I live alone and my boyfriend often works away so to have their company and the responsibility of their care is great for me and my mental health. I find my sheep in particular so relaxing to be around and their placid natures and undemanding characters are perfect for bringing me out of a panic during anxiety or for cheering me up during a depressive episode.

Although I have had my ups and downs during the past 18 months of having my animals, I know that as long as i do not let the farm get too big for me again that they will provide me with something to focus on and raise my spirits during my down times. I have an uncertain and stressful few months ahead of me as I move the farm and set up the business once again but this time I have a short-term and long-term plan to base my actions on and I know exactly what situations to avoid in the future. I just have to keep reminding myself of ‘quality over quantity’ and to also be honest when I have reached my limit, not to bury my head in the sand because that will only ever make things worse.

KATIE

Blog: https://femalefarmeruk.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/FemaleFarmerUK

Nicole’s Story: Lambs at the end of the tunnel

Nicole

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LAMBS AT THE THE END OF THE TUNNEL

THERAPY LAMBS

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When you think of an animal bettering your mental health you often think of a therapy dog or perhaps a pet cat, but you do not often think of a lamb, right? Well, at least I didn’t until I realised how much joy they gave me.

I have very fond memories of visiting my great grandfather’s farm as a child, from seeing pumpkins grow in October to lambs born in March, each season gave me a chance to see something I would not normally see, a chance to learn new things, be outdoors and explore the farm with my sister and brother.

“IT’S TIME TO SEE THE LAMBS”

Visiting the new born lambs, in particular, always gave me such a lovely feeling, being able to bottle feed the lambs, seeing how they were looked after and brought to health, if for some reason something was wrong with their mother, taught me so much. I learnt how to show compassion and love to another.

Over time, with growing up, we visited the farm less and less but we continued to make sure we visited around Spring time, a kind of “it’s time to see the lambs“-like family tradition. Of course growing up and learning more about animal welfare came into place but even if for a short amount of time, seeing the love and care the lambs received from my family and their mothers, continued to comfort me.

COMFORT

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When ill with Anorexia, these visits became harder and I remember one year being far too ill to leave my home, I did not make it to the farm with the rest of my family, I did not get to see the lambs.

The following Spring came and I was in a much better place, both physically and mentally. I was out walking with my mother when I found myself seeing the first of the Spring lambs. I stopped and just looked at them, groups jumping through grass, some snuggled up to their mothers and others quite happily eating their way through the fields.

I looked back and remembered the time I could not see this, the time I was too ill and although it was difficult for me to look back on, I found comfort in where I was, right there.

“THERE IS LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS”

Over the last few years, with my recovery going well, seeing the lambs has continued to bring me comfort. I know to some, it sounds silly but it is like seeing the lambs makes me believe better days are still to come, that there is light after darkness and I guess in a way they continue to show me hope.

A few weeks ago, my mother, aunty and I, were driving through the country, views all around the car filled with fields of sheep and lambs, just seeing and watching these beautiful animals made us all feel present and calm.

Thank you for reading,

NICOLE

Blog: https://nicolesjourneysite.wordpress.com
Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/nicolesjourney/
Twitter:https://twitter.com/_nicolesjourney

Animals are my therapy

Heidi

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Animals are my therapy

Sharing our personal journeys to start conversations about mental health helps to break down the stigma and eradicate any misconceptions.

The complexity of mental health problems can be difficult to understand without experience. I reiterate that this is based on my own experience, we all see the world through a different pair of eyes.

I have endured the ups and downs of different services over the past few years, but animals are my therapy. My four-legged friends provide more comfort and happiness than any therapy or groups ever could. I ultimately found a goat herd that turned my life around. I became the girl I dressed up as in primary school for world book day- Heidi.

So here I am one year later, with my own Golden Guernsey herd, writing this blog post to show that there are alternative therapeutic paths of recovery.

”Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis” Brené Brown.

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My English teacher once told me that my perfectionism is a double-sided sword. Numbers became my only focus in life, I needed 100% in exams and for the number on the scale to drop to feel like I had a purpose because I could not let myself fail. This instilled the anxiety of being unable to do anything but revise, surely sleep was an unnecessary waste of time? I could not even step foot in a classroom, so a rational mind can see that this drive for so called success was illogical.

Maisie, my terrier, would be disregarded by breeders as one of her ears sticks out. I would argue that it is a unique characteristic that makes her adorable. She will never be triumphant at Crufts, but her imperfections give her character- I do not condone the practice of gluing a puppy’s ears.

”Escape and breathe the air of new places”

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The change of scenery from four walls and a pile of revision, to picturesque open spaces is an immense stress reliever. My mind focused on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. I know how impossible it feels to get out of bed in the depth of depression, your mind warps the world outside of your bedroom into something threatening and sinister. An escape. I could have the freedom of being outside without the daunting aspects of social areas.

”I reached out my hand and found a paw”

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Animals show you what unconditional love is. If you are kind, then they will not hurt you. Their inability to speak means they can’t say the wrong thing, as in a fragile frame of mind, people can walk on egg shells. They are company when you cannot spend time with people and they diminish the overwhelming feeling of loneliness.  My four terriers never left my bed, I have spent days, weeks, months unable to leave the house with a reminder that I mattered when I was woken up by a dog scratching to open my door to sit with me. Animals give people a reason to live because they reconstruct your decaying self worth. When maintaining human relationships is a rocky road, the bond with our pets remains unscathed. For me, my dogs were a constant in a very turbulent world.

”Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create”

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Caring for animals gives you a sense of achievement that is not a graded % or measured in kilograms, but wagging tails and kisses. The healing is mutual. For some eating disorder sufferers, the fixation on declining numbers is a desperate grasp onto a form of validation. Therefore, in order to begin to let go, having another constructive release for the  drive to succeed, is paramount. Simultaneously with my childhood favourite story, my aspirations of becoming a vet re-emerged. The prospect of being responsible for difficult cases with challenging complexities and succeeding makes for an extremely fulfilling life. You cannot be a successful vet with your head buried in a textbook 24/7 and controlling large animals requires strength, it helped me to restore a healthy balance again.I would never shut my dogs in a dark room without food and water for days, and take their company away from them. So animals teach us to be kinder to ourselves as well as establishing a daily routine.

Animals are my therapy