Rediscovering Happiness

As my time here in Kenya comes to a close my thoughts have started to become more introspective. Anytime you force yourself outside of the ‘comfort zone’ you give your mind a chance to ponder things that get lost when caught up in the hustle of North American life. Before I left on this trip I knew that I needed to have such an opportunity, I just don’t think I realized just HOW much it was needed.

My departure for Kenya on February 5th marked the end of an incredibly tumultuous 6 months. I have been fighting with depression since late summer in 2012 and while I have dealt with mental illness before, this was the fiercest battle I have faced. Last spring, I convinced the rest of my family to expand the farming operation…I did the planning, I made the contacts with suppliers and buyers, and I was to be the one responsible for managing the project. I learned the hard way that while things may look good in Microsoft Excel, it doesn’t mean that they will automatically translate into real profits. As the summer progressed and corn prices skyrocketed, our financial position deteriorated while at the same time my inexperience with sows caused production challenges in the new barn. I (irrationally) blamed myself entirely and the downward spiral of depression took hold. I have found that when it comes to depression, you know that on a good day, you can look at the situation and separate what you can control and what you can’t…but on a bad day, it doesn’t matter what happens, you feel like you are completely and utterly worthless, like you just can’t do anything right. Depression makes life pretty tough, and not just on you, but your spouse, family, and close friends. Thankfully, I have a wonderful, supportive, and understanding wife; plus a family that even if I did do something that caused our farm to fail, they would still love me as much as they always have.

Kenya has given me the opportunity to step away from everything, to give my mind a break. I couldn’t tell you what the price of corn or pigs are today, I don’t really know how things have gone at home (other than that we had a barn roof partially collapse, and that only came up because I joking asked dad on the phone if everything was still standing and after an awkward pause, he said no) and I am completely ok with it. My mind needed this chance to switch off while at the same time be reminded of just how lucky I am.

Being in the midst of so much poverty has allowed me to think about what really makes a person happy. I see kids here that can find joy for hours with a homemade car constructed out of twigs, water bottle caps, and some cardboard. I see families enjoying a simple meal in the dark and while I have no idea what they are saying (My uptake of Swahili has been slow) the laughter that I hear makes me think they must be having a good time. It is suitable I think, given the situation, that I am reading a book given to me by my brother in law entitled “How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life”. A mix of philosophy and economics, the book challenges our obsession with monetary growth, asking at what point are we ever truly happy.

Back home I was so worried about how Jess and I were going to buy the farm, I was obsessed with the question of whether I could be a successful farmer or not, I fretted over the fact that we were still renting an apartment while all of our friends were buying houses and having babies. I was doing so much worrying that I forgot how to be happy. I’m so thankful that I have had the chance to take stock and realize that just like the kid with the homemade car, the things that make me happiest cost nothing (or next to nothing).

I realized that happiness is a random Wednesday night of video games and a beer with my brother. Happiness is eating lunch after church at Mum and Dads (Mum, Kate, and I destroy a bag of chips while Donald constructs the most complex sandwich projects known to man). Happiness is walking in to the farrowing room at the right time, seeing a piglet take its first step. But most of all, happiness is being beside a beautiful girl named Jessica, it doesn’t matter where…in the car, on the dock at the cottage, on the couch in our apartment, to be honest I have realized that you could ask me to live in a refrigerator box and as long as Jess was there with me I could find happiness in it.

When I come home I know that I will be thrown back into the fire and it will be a challenge to remember what I have learned here. I’m going to have to go back to work in the barn so I will be forced to face the demons that plagued me there prior to this trip. I will have to work really hard to not allow myself to determine my self worth by what I perceive my friends to have that I don’t have. Most importantly, I can’t allow myself to forget what can truly make me feel happy.

I have been forever changed by this experience, the Cherangany has become a part of me and even if I return to “normal” life for a bit (I need to pay some bills) this trip is going to have a lasting impact on my future. I’m not saying that I am going to pick up and move here, but 2 posts ago I alluded to the vision that Wesley has for this region and I intend to uphold my end of the bargain. While it is too early to know what my exact role is, I have every intention of trying to pay back the people of the Cherangany for the invaluable (and potentially lifesaving) lessons they have taught me. To close, I want to take a chance to thank the people that made this trip possible for me. To Wesley and Tarah, thanks for making me feel so welcome, it is hard to believe that this whole trip was based on one lunch at Joanne’s house. To my Mum, thanks for always picking up the phone whenever I needed to talk (and also making sure that I always know that I am loved). To Dad, I’m sure you are starting to get exhausted given you are doing the work of two people, I’m so lucky to have a father/boss that allows me so much freedom. And Jessica, thanks for never doubting in me and continuing to love me, even at my darkest moments. I am such a lucky man to have you as my wife.

Be happy my friends…

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5 thoughts on “Rediscovering Happiness

  1. Nan says:

    The tears in my eyes are tears of love for my son. Stewart you write more eloquently every day. Your words are a gift to my heart just as you were a gift to us 29 years ago today and still are each and every day. Thank you for saying what is in your heart and on your mind. I love you.

  2. Larry Skinner says:

    Hey Stewart, You have exposed some deep feelings here. I give you credit. Life will always be the wrestling match you talk about. But you have real gifts that cannot be bought or sold. I am glad Kenya has given you the chance to see them once again. Love you and God Bless! Dad

  3. William Bearss says:

    Hello Stewart,
    I encountered your epistle quite by accident. I was reading an interview with Wayne Black, who is on the international AALP tour in India, and your icon appeared in the margin.
    You have provided a gripping account of your journey and present it in very articulate and readable prose. Kudos to you for redirecting your ship at a most crucial time in your life. I have a very close friend who spent 6 months in Kenya a few years ago on a volunteer assignment.
    While I hope we have an opportunity to chat after you return, I did want to share the fact that I am no stranger to depression. While I don’t believe I have suffered from it personally, we have encountered it among a number of our family members. Your description of the roller coaster ride of emotions is worthy of adoption in medical texts – “when it comes to depression, you know that on a good day, you can look at the situation and separate what you can control and what you can’t…but on a bad day, it doesn’t matter what happens, you feel like you are completely and utterly worthless, like you just can’t do anything right”.
    That said, you appear ready now to return to the farm with a completely new set of parameters for measuring your well being and pursuing the happy trail. Garnering such insight at such an early age is a treasure to cherish. It ranks just behind the treasure you married.
    Cheers and safe travels,
    Bill

  4. Lee-anne says:

    Stewart – you never stop amazing me. I know how you feel about life being difficult. You are a lucky guy who has two families who love you very much and would do anything for you. I’m lucky to be part of one of them. You and Jess are a great team and, like us, will get through the rough stuff. Who cares if our friends have houses and nice cars? We have lives that we can afford:) See you soon hopefully xoxo

  5. […] I was nearing the end of the trip that inspired me to start the journey I am now on I wrote a blog (https://modernfarmer.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/rediscovering-happiness/) entitled Rediscovering Happiness.  In this blog I shared my struggle with depression and the life […]

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