Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The foundation of life


On his 34th birthday, Sunday afternoon, dairy farmer Wayne Langford was bed ridden. Something that had become quite a common theme in his life. Wayne, now famously known as YOLO (You Only Live Once) Farmer, via his social media movement to live every day as if it’s his last, has generously shared his story about how he overcomes the black dog that is depression.

They say it takes 21 days to create a habit, 90 days to create a lifestyle. A few years ago, my habits had got me to a dark place. We were milking once a day and I’d start a little later than most, milk the cows, breakfast/lunch, then off to bed to dodge the world around me. Simple on-farm decisions weren’t getting made, such as where the cows were going or ordering supplementary feed.

Without my knowledge, my wife (Tyler) had taken over all the finances, something I had previously been well in control of. If I had asked the kids (aged 11, 9 and 8) what they remembered of that time, it was that dad was tired, grumpy and just no fun anymore. That’s the one that hurts the most. I had slowly changed and adjusted my life, created numerous bad habits, which after not too long had now become our lifestyle. I thought I was just lazy and not motivated. The truth was I felt like my gumboots were stuck in the mud. I had depression.

My story

We were a young farming couple who had bought our first farm (93ha in 2015) after having worked in the family farming business for 12 years. I’d met my wife at Lincoln University, bringing some new bloodlines back to Golden Bay. Not long after, three beautiful children arrived, three under three at one stage; we worked out how that was happening and stopped that!! I had taken on a number of governance positions off farm, completed the Fonterra Governance Programme, Kellogg’s Rural Leadership Programme and numerous dairy courses. I had also taken on a dairy chair role with Federated Farmers, which saw me move quickly up the ranks onto the National Dairy Executive. Life was good, life was great. I was ready to take over the world.

I distinctly remember that day lying in bed, as if I was looking down on myself from above. I had to choose to do something different with my lifestyle, create some new habits, or life was about to go south quickly. That day, I jumped up, grabbed the kids, threw everyone in the car and just got the “hell outta there”.

We headed to the beach, swam, laughed, played in the sand. We got ice-creams, and in the car as we drove home I said to the family, “We are going to do something every day for the next 365 days to say that we’ve lived for that day!” One of the kids yelled out YOLO (You Only Live Once) and that’s when the YOLO Farmer was born, a 52 Autumn 2020 journey that has changed our lives.

Now over 1000 days into this incredible adventure, I have begun sharing the story much more. I’ve been overwhelmed with the support and following on social media, over the phone and in person. If you are out there thinking you’re alone in this, you’re not! If you think you’re never going to be able to come back, you’re wrong.

I liken it to a tractor. Every now and then you overheat your tractor. Sometimes it’s when they’re new, sometimes when they’re older, more often than not it’s when you’re really busy and numerous jobs depend on that one tractor. My point being, if you overheat your tractor and keep driving it, you’ll damage it even more. If you slow down, stop and let it cool down, it will recover. This is no different to your mind. I “cooked” mine, I could’ve done real damage, but I slowed down, stopped, changed my habits, changed my lifestyle and now I’m back better than ever. 

When people contact me and ask for help, I often ask them to keep track of which pillars they have associated with over a short time. It’s helpful to even write these down. If you notice my social media posts, I do this every day to keep aware.

Another pillar I like to talk about is being proud. Find things in your life that you are proud of, not just your farm and family, but smaller things that you can relate to in everyday life. What on your farm are you proud of? What are you not so proud of and how can you work on those for the better? Doing this gives you hope, a key ingredient in life. It also lets your mind love what you are doing and share it with others. That love is infectious.
I would be remiss if I didn’t use one soil analogy in a Ravensdown publication.

If you’re the soil, do a soil test and find out which of the five macro nutrients (Gratitude, Connection, Learning, Giving, Being Active) you need. Fill the gaps with what you’re missing, then have a look at the micro nutrients (love, hope, faith, compassion, freedom). Start filling all those gaps and imagine what can be achieved. It’ll take time, but as farmers we’re used to that. Our topsoil is the rich foundation of life and that soil you create can grow, produce and do amazing things. 

Looking after your mental health has five key pillars

1. Gratitude
2. Connection
3. Learning
4. Giving
5. Being active