Monthly Archives: January 2017

#BellLetsTalk

This past Saturday I did something I had not done in a long time…I spoke publicly about my struggles with mental health.  I had been asked to speak at the Ontario Agriculture College Leadership Conference a couple months ago and true to form, I sat down at my computer on Thursday night with very little insight into what I was going to say.

I ended up creating a presentation called “It’s My Journey…You Can’t Have It” and I talked to students about my path from a 19 year old farm boy at Guelph to today.  It was a simple 13 slide deck and each slide had a picture or two about a particular time or event in my life.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to fill 90 minutes with 13 slides but I had faith that in the moment that right words would flow.

I had two slides in the deck entitled ‘Our First Detour’ and ‘The Big Detour’.  The first slide had a picture from OAC Goodtimes Banquet from 2007.  That was the day I had a doctor’s appointment in Listowel after persistent lung problems and the doc told me that he wanted to do some tests but he was convinced that it was from time in a pig barn and I should rethink my career path.  That was a massive shock for me and it set me adrift into an insular depressed period.  It killed my motivation; I rarely went to class, I drank excessively and started to cut myself off from many people I cared about.  Thankfully that period ended when further testing revealed that my problems were coming from my mold infested basement bedroom at school and not the barn.

The Big Detour slide had a graph showing the corn hog ration for the last 10 years.  I told the group about how I returned home to farm full time after grad school and after careful planning; we launched an expansion project with a second sow herd.  That project taught me some important lessons like just because something looks profitable in Excel does not necessarily translate into actual profitability.

That project was an unmitigated disaster from a production standpoint and the timing coincided with a run up in corn values and collapsing hog prices.  As fall turned to winter in 2012, our financial position deteriorated rapidly and losing the everything that Mum and Dad had built became a real possibility.  I internalized this, blaming myself entirely for the failure of the project and causing the extra level of vulnerability for my parent’s finances.  I could not sleep nor I could not communicate with loved ones as I retreated down the dark path of depression.  My self-hate knew no bounds, I would scream at myself in the barn when I made simple errors, I would be paralyzed in the seat of my car when I got to the barn, dreading actually going in to the building.  Weirdly, my only refuge from the self-hate came through a podcast about Fantasy Football called Fantasy Focus with 2 guys named Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz.  That 50 minute show gave me something to look forward to each day and gave me a much needed reprieve.

Things came to a head in early December 2012.  I was preg checking sows and had failed miserably to get sows pregnant. (Turns out farming is even harder when you are fighting depression)  I grabbed an extension cord and was searching the barn for a place to tie it off securely.  That moment was the darkest moment of my life.  Thankfully, I had a glimmer…a voice that spoke to me saying not today, this is not how my story will end.  I went to the barn office, grabbed my phone, and called my Mum and Dad asking them to get to the barn as quickly as possible.  My parents responded with unconditional love.  My Mum walked through the door of the barn that morning and wrapped me tightly in a hug and I knew I made the right decision.  I was loved, I had value, and even if our family lost everything, my parents love for me would never waver.

Getting through that day was not the end of that round in my fight with mental illness.  I remained in a very fragile state.  A couple weeks later I went to Stratford on a Saturday afternoon to listen to Boston Marathon winner Wesley Korir speak.  I called him a couple days after that presentation, asking if he could meet to share more about agriculture in his home of Cherangany, Kenya. He told me he would be at my apartment in 30 minutes.  He drove up that afternoon, we sat down at our kitchen table and he looked me in the eye and said, “Stewart, I have been praying for a farmer to come from Canada to Kenya with me and you are that farmer.  You are coming to Kenya.”  I was a little dumbfounded but thankfully I embraced it and less than a month later I was on a plane destined for Kenya.

My slide about the Kenyan chapter in Saturday’s presentation to the Aggies was titled, “The Kenyan Reset” because it was that first trip to Kenya that I was able to get back to living.  I penned this blog, entitled Rediscovering Happiness towards the end of my trip and many of my discoveries remain true today.

I am publishing this today because Bell has started something wonderful with their #BellLetsTalk initiative.  On Saturday, before I started my presentation, I said that if I reached 1 person in the crowd who was fighting their own battle then I would deem the presentation a success.  I say the same again today, if this post helps 1 person find the courage to reach out for help then I have done my job.   Remember, even in the darkness of a struggle, you have value, you are loved, and you never have to face your demons alone.

 

Love Stewart

 

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This Took Longer Than I Thought

I was in a funk for a couple weeks following the US election.  Much of my negativity showed through emotional responses in social media forums, (I should really try to find a better outlet). I was overtaken by fear.  I fear President-elect Trump’s protectionist view on trade and the impact that could have on my business. I fear for the rights of vulnerable people in an increasingly polarized world where leaders sell hate to gain support, and I fear because the man that will have access to the American nuclear arsenal can’t control his temper when Alec Baldwin makes fun of him on SNL.

Thankfully, I am married to a brilliant person and one day Jess sent me this wonderful piece by Daniel Dennett.   I have left this open on my computer, rereading it from time to time.  Nothing will be accomplished through bellyaching on Twitter and I have found myself trying to apply Mr. Dennett’s method when facing something that normally would infuriate me.  A month ago when the youngest MPP in the history of our province was sworn in I found that this approach allowed me to identify that I had some things in common with Sam Oosterhoff.  In an interview where he was badgered continually to give some clarity on his thoughts around same sex marriage he managed to communicate that he felt that investment in infrastructure and energy prices were more important than his socially conservative views.  While we might not agree on social issues, it appears that Sam and I agree that good infrastructure and affordable energy are key to a well-functioning economy.  Old Stewart probably would have just shut his ears when Sam started talking and I never would have learned about the common ground we share.

Working at Queen’s Park allowed me to confirm something that Terry Fallis’s character Daniel Addison discovered at Parliament Hill in his novel, Best Laid Plans.  People who work in and around politics are either an idealist policy wonk or a cynical political operative.  I fall into the 1st category and I’m not a huge fan of the cynics.  I don’t like the operatives because they prey on people’s base instincts and they can allow the pursuit of power to derail good policy implementation.

Cynical politics are powering a couple prominent campaigns in the Conservative Party of Canada race and it is coming at the cost of the general public ignoring some very interesting policy because there are too many dog whistles blowing. Cynical operatives know the best way to get power is to do the calculus on their voter base and then make statements that appeal to the base emotion of powerful subgroups within their party.  I doubt very much that Kellie Lietch herself suffers from Islamophobia but she knows that by making seemingly innocuous statements about Canadian values it will tap into the current wave of Trumpian Nationalism that is sweeping the globe right now.  Cynical politicos rely on the high engagement levels of single issue voters and because overall participation in partisan politics is so low, this can be a very successful strategy.

I think the current Conservative leadership race is an excellent time to throw a wrench in the plans of the cynical political operatives.  They are not expecting a group of people to band together to ensure the Conservative party does not get hijacked by a Trump of the North.  This data is a touch old but according to StatsCan only 9% of Canadians were members of a political party in 2013.  My rough math says that means there are 25 million people eligible to join the Conservative Party of Canada before March 28th, 2017 and vote in the leadership race.

A strong Conservative party is important for a healthy Canadian democracy and they have good candidates running to be the leader. Micheal Chong acknowledges that inaction on climate change is unacceptable and he has a plan to address it. Maxime Bernier has some thought-provoking ideas on monetary policy but his narrow interpretation of Supply Management, which is incredibly important to the health of rural Canadian communities, drops him off my list.  Erin O’Toole would be best for agriculture and I think that Lisa Raitt and Deepak Obhrai deserve to be considered.

Canada needs a Conservative leader who embraces real Canadian values. Someone that has an alternative to a national carbon tax instead of a refusal to acknowledge the threats of climate change.  Someone that cares about fiscal responsibility and doesn’t care who you love. Someone who understands that there are more than just economic deficits; they need to have a plan to address infrastructure and knowledge deficits.  If you are interested in having a say in this leadership race start here

The first political party I ever joined was the Federal Progressive Conservatives and I really do believe that Canada needs a strong Conservative party.  The historical balance between the two governing parties is what has made our country so great.  My last post I said I would be back in a week, that was silly.  Family and Farming leave very little time for writing. However, I am going to continue to write once and awhile about the race.

Until next time