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HERd Management: It’s time to prioritize your mental health

Jessica Peters for Progressive Dairy Published on 06 November 2020

The conversation in agriculture is changing. Some may think it’s a change for the worse, but I think it’s a change for the better. The conversation I’m talking about is mental health in ag.

Yes, it can be a somber discussion, but it’s a necessary one. Speaking from experience, the only way to get past those feelings is to work through them. For the last few years, I’ve been using my social media platforms to bring awareness to mental health issues within the ag community. I’m not a professional – just a person who’s been to the brink and back and doesn’t want anyone else to ever feel the same.

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My struggle never really made sense to me. I was always, without sounding conceited, the life of the party. When I was around people, I experienced all the highs; then I’d go home and feel all the lows. I was afraid to tell anyone how depressed I was because I needed those highs. I was afraid that if I admitted to how depressed I felt, that’s all people would expect from me – depression. Some days I could hardly get out of bed; other days I was all me. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason.

I’d had a good life, a fun childhood and a family who loved me. Why did I feel like this? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for what I had? So I fought, ignored and denied it. And guess what happens when you ignore a health issue? It gets worse. Years went by. There were good days and bad days, and sometimes even good months, but it always came back to this pit in my stomach that told me I wasn’t OK.

The truth is: Mental health doesn’t make sense. One day, you’re unapologetically you, and the next you hate that person. Today you feel loved, and tomorrow you feel unlovable. On Monday, you’re the smart, capable person you know you can be, but by Tuesday you feel completely worthless. There’s no magical solution; it’s not quick or easy and that makes it terrifying. I know, I’ve been there. It’s been years since I was at my lowest, but I’ve finally found the perfect way to work through all of those feelings. I talk about them. And yeah, it’s terrifying.

Every single video I make or post I write makes me incredibly anxious, but I post them anyway. I post them because they don’t just help me, but they do help me. Sharing my experience out loud has helped me work through the emotions and face the unpleasant feelings. It’s helped me understand that bad feelings aren’t bad – they’re part of life. How we accept and work through them determines how we get past them. The best way I’ve found to do all of that is to say it out loud. You don’t have to shout it from the social media mountaintops like I do, but you could talk to a friend or family member or even find the right professional to talk to. Honestly, sometimes I film a video talking about mental health, then just keep it for me. Somehow, hearing the words spoken out loud is enough. Maybe you need to write them down in a journal? Whatever your thing is, take the time do it. Because the mental aspect of mental health may not make sense, but the physical toll it takes does.

Mental health looks different for everyone. For me, it looked like crazy mood swings mixed with bouts of exhaustion and laziness. For others, it’s a short fuse and a hot temper. For all of us, it’s taxing. Yet it’s still so easy for us to dismiss it in ourselves, isn’t it? I tend to use the phrase, “It’s just me.” As in, if it were someone else it’d be a big deal, but it’s just me, so why make a fuss? Because I’m discovering the end result is worth it in more ways than I expected.

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Investing in my own mental health has led to healthier relationships and a lot less self-doubt. I’m more confident in my own thoughts and ideas, and actually have dreams and goals for the future. If you need a more concrete example, I have always had trouble using the word “friend.” None of my friendships looked like those I saw around me or the relationships I saw on TV or in movies. So, to me, that meant they weren’t genuine. Two years ago, I used the word friend and meant it for the first time ever. It literally brought me to tears.

Guys, we’re living in unprecedented times. How many times this year have you heard that? 2020 had basically been a dumpster fire of a year that everyone can’t wait to see behind us. But you know what comes from catastrophe? Change. We are going to see all kinds of change from this; let’s make prioritizing our mental health one of them. end mark

Jessica Peters is a dairy farmer in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Follow her farm on Facebook

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