The Best Christmas Gift

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“If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”  I don’t know if I can count the number of times I have heard this phrase spoken over the years. It usually comes from a middle to older aged man who has had to look back on his life and weigh the gravity of life decisions that he has made that has gotten him to where he is now. Sometimes it health problems associated with bad habits such as smoking or alcohol abuse, sometimes it’s from overworking their bodies and depriving them for years of rest and proper care, yet other times its from just pure old stubbornness and refusal to seek medical help and now that has caught up with them. Physical limitations due to years of poor eating habits and gluttony, years of undiagnosed problems such as sugar, high blood pressure, heart problems, and cancer all will make a person look back on their life and wish they had done things a little different. Nothing will make it hurt any worse than when your child or grandchild wants you to “come play with me” and you are unable to do so. Years of bad habits, poor technique, and stubbornness have a way of catching up to us physically. Stress that is allowed to build up can make us a shell of the person we once were. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts can be brought on by stress. People, more specifically, men do a poor job of seeking help for physical and mental infirmities. It is often easy to look at others and be able to point out their problems, but it is much more difficult to look inward and admit when we need help and to seek it out.

I am just as guilty as the next person of being too stubborn to get my ailments taken care of. Back in March, I finally went to the doctor about a hernia that I had been dealing with for over a year! Although it was not life threatening it was somewhat life altering in that I had to be more careful when it came to lifting or straining as the hernia would pop out. I finally gave in to my wife’s pleas and got it checked out and repaired.

As I write this article today, I get added inspiration from a friend who is currently in the hospital due to a stroke. I have seen the fear and dread on his wife’s face the past couple of days as she worries for her husband and what could easily have been much worse. Three days ago, he lost vision in one eye while sitting at home watching television and began to have a headache. His wife tried to take him to the hospital to which he sternly opposed but agreed to go to the eye doctor the next day. Against her better judgment she conceded to his terms and they went to the eye doctor. The eye doctor checked him out and found nothing wrong with the eye. He still had a headache and his step-daughter who is a paramedic pleaded with her mother to get him to the emergency room as his symptoms were the same as stroke symptoms. Finally, after he vomited, which is another symptom he agreed to go get checked out at the emergency room. He is currently at the hospital with a confirmed stroke and may never regain full vision in that eye.

This story is unfortunately more common that we would like to admit. In our own stubbornness, we neglect not only the short-term ramifications of our refusal to seek help, but also the long-term ramifications. Extended hospital stays and missed work can be short term setbacks to life, but in some cases your family having to have a funeral and deal with the aftermath of an unexpected passing can leave a family in ruin. It all could have been prevented by seeking help.

The year 2020 has been a tumultuous year for us all. Another aspect of self-care that is often overlooked is stress management. Stress often leads to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Stress can be brought on by many factors including debt, long hours, weather, and relationships. In the agricultural community, farmers are more likely to suffer from stress related symptoms than the general population. When you factor in the weather has not been ideal for three years in a row, prices and markets have been volatile and farm debt and bankruptcies have been on the rise, there seems to be a deck stacked against farmers. Farmers may be the most stubborn lot of all and in order to be successful farming, you do have to have a strong backbone and thick skin to make it through the ups and downs associated with that profession. It is often times this mentality that leads us not to seek help when our mental fitness is on the brink of collapsing.

As we approach the end of the year, I like most folks will be glad to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. In December, my mind turns its focus to the Christmas season. My kids have already made their lists and like to remind me about how good they have been and why they need a puppy or nerf gun or a new electronic device. I can’t help but think that for any family member or friend, that in lieu of all the presents in the world, what they really want and need is your presence. Being there for your family is a far greater gift than any worldly possession. I plead with you to take care of yourself. If you have a physical infirmity that needs to be checked out, don’t delay in making an appointment. If your mental health is suffering, seek professional help. Don’t be the person who says “if I had only taken better care of myself”, be the person who does take care of you.

There are many resources available to seek help. In emergencies always dial 911. Start a relationship with a professional healthcare specialist, whether it is at your doctor’s office, health department, urgent care or hospital. There are online resources that are just a click away. The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute has several resources that are available and you can access them at NC Agromedicine. Our office has copies of the Farm Stress Resource Directory for you to take. If you are having suicidal thoughts, The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Most importantly, talk to someone; if you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your family and don’t have a doctor and want to speak to an extension agent come talk. We are not health professionals, and cannot provide you with medical advice, but we will do our best to help you find the resources and to seek the help you need.

This Christmas, give your family the best gift that you can give. That gift is You!

Farm Stress Resources Directory

National Suicide Hotline

NC Agromedicine