Who's your "Julie"?
Updated: Jan 31
As a volunteer for LRSN I am lucky, I have a whole army of Julies and I have needed them. But I never thought I would.
Farm Community Network are currently running a campaign inspired by their mental health ambassador Charles Anyan who has a close friend , Julie, who he can always confide in with worries that are on his mind. The value of him sharing this cannot be under-rated as one of the easiest and simplest remedies to any mental health issue is to talk.
Before I continue I issue a simple statement, that is, whilst I recognise the value of sharing experiences in this case I will briefly mention a well-known incident. Any person from the media must note that neither I nor any member of my family will discuss or talk about this and any approach will be extremely unwelcome.
I was brought up as a child in a family business and it was a general principle that you helped people that helped you either by trading with each other or providing assistance in times of need. This principle was one I took into working life and in the small-town Banks where I mostly worked was easy to achieve. However, when I became an Agricultural Bank manager this principle was harder to achieve because I covered a wide area, initially from Bungay in Suffolk up to Lincoln. About 12 years ago I met Alison Twiddy and Lea Schofield manning a Lincolnshire Rural Support Network stand at the bottom of a wind turbine and found what I had been looking for. I volunteered as a caseworker. This is a role I continue to do alongside taking helpline calls.
What I did not expect is how I would be rewarded by meeting a special group of people, the training I would receive and how rewarding the clients themselves can be. Equally I did not expect that I would need them.
Mental health issues can either creep up on you, or a trigger event can cause them to pounce on you. I experienced both. I really loved my job as an Agricultural Bank manager, but it was demanding in both geography and the demands of the customers and the Bank itself with the competing demands not always matching and me, and my colleagues, being pulled in the middle. The problem with farming is that it is so much more than a business, however the realities of business do apply to it with harsh consequences unless you have other income. If you care too much it can be fatal, both for the farming client and the Bank manager.
In my case, the only way I could achieve any form of satisfaction for my Banking clients was to work in excess of 80 hours a week. This was enabled by the fact that I could work from home until late in the evening having travelled to see clients during the day. To make matters worse I had colleagues that were off sick that also needed clients helping.
The mental health issue that crept up on me was overwork and stress. The first symptoms were dramatic waking up unable to move (a terrifying experience) and having my legs freeze on me unexpected for several minutes in everyday circumstances. Negative thoughts added to this. A neurologist and an MRI confirmed there was no physical ailment and my symptoms were the result of stress. This led me to start taking citalopram, an anti-depressant initially 10mg per day and at peak 60mg a day. This helped considerably, but did have side effects both going on and getting off the tablets over a period of just over two years.
The issues that pounced on me were, getting pneumonia; learning I was unjustly on a black list; the murder of a family friend; and a car crash. At every stage one or more of the LRSN “Julies” were there for both me and my family and have been for subsequent smaller issues.
It is with much amusement that my wife recalls me sitting in Lincoln hospital concussed, unaware that she is sat next to me whilst telling the bemused doctor that the Queen’s name is “Elizabeth Anne Mary Louise Mountbatten Windsor” whilst not recognising she was there. She was then further bemused when, whilst not recognising her I spied the Alan Robson, possibly the greatest “Julie” the farming community in Lincolnshire has had as rural chaplain, and shout out, “Hello, Alan, thanks for coming,” whilst totally ignoring her! I was due to see an LRSN client that afternoon and had apparently phoned to cancel from the back of an ambulance, upon hearing this Alan came straight to the hospital to check up on me.
The turning point for me was to understand that if you are suffering stress you have to seek to change the situation you are in. Ironically, the day before the accident I had approached my line manager and said that I would either have to get the job to change or leave the job. The following day I crashed my car! Now I do understand that changing the cause of your stress is far easier said than done, but in my case the car accident was a blessing, it really helped me focus on what was important. As an employee I was lucky, especially when the first words that were said to me by my boss was, “The head of Agriculture says we need to look after you”. I was given a choice of going back to my old job, or doing a less demanding support role in Agricultural banking, I chose the latter.
Now I recognise I am lucky. Due to good decisions in my youth at 54 I am semi-retired and am in a privileged position of choosing how to work. However, I am also lucky that in volunteering for LRSN I have the privilege to be surrounded by a whole army of " Julies".
Remember you are not alone and there are many people out there to talk to,whether friends and neighbours, professionals or one of the farming support charities:
FCN – FARMCOMMUNITY NETWORK tel: 03000 111 999 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SAMARITANS tel: 116 123 email: email@example.com
LRSN – LINCOLNSHIRE RURAL SUPPORT NETWORK tel: 0800 138 1710 www.lrsn.co.uk