One of the reasons mental health struggles are running rampant in ag communities is because it’s hard to open up to a professional about our lives when they don’t understand our job. Our job is our life.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve chatted with several farmers about losing their farms, and it’s all heartbreaking. They feel devastated, betrayed, and depressed. Dairy farmers are being forced to make decisions that we have earned the right to make when we’re ready. It’s not fair; none of this is fair.
I get these messages because of a video I made two years ago, I told farmers to find me. At some point in the conversation, they say something like, “I thought I was stronger than this,” and my heart skips a beat.
Everyone knows that farmers need to be physically strong; we literally carry heavy loads. But, what does mental strength even mean?
I can think of two definitions. The first is a more traditional definition that farmers have been swearing by for decades. Mental strength is suffering silently and not burdening others with your issues. Being mentally strong means being stoic, unamused, unshakable, and unafraid no matter what the world throws at you. It’s being the steady, unbreakable rock for every single person around you and never showing that you have cracks, too. It means never needing a break or help from anyone, ever.
How ridiculous is that? No one is okay 100% of the time. No one. Did you see those words? “Suffering silently”? How is that okay? Why do we just accept that as true and force that stereotype on each other? Specifically, farmers do this and even more specifically, men.
The second definition is my own. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure Webster wouldn’t agree, because I plan to change it as the years go on. Mental strength, to me, is having feelings and acknowledging them. It’s knowing that it’s not just okay to be emotional, but at times it’s necessary. Feeling your feelings is the best way to work through them. Being mentally strong means to admit when you’re drowning and that you need help before it’s too late.
One of my least favorite phrases that is often applied to women is, “She’s just being emotional.” Well guess what? Yes, I am a woman, and I have emotions. Showing my emotions doesn’t make me weak; it makes me fierce. Because, yeah, maybe I just spent 20 minutes crying in the calf barn, but when I’m done, I’m going to pick myself up, take a drink of water, and mow 50 acres of hay after I milk 250 cows. Then tomorrow I’m going to do it all over again.
Stop letting tradition tell you how to feel. Stop letting tradition make you think you’re weak. This isn’t our grandparents’ world anymore, and it’s time we deal with it our way, not theirs.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.