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Retired Man. farmer shares mental health journey in new book

Retired Man. farmer shares mental health journey in new book

Gerry Friesen is The Recovering Farmer

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Gerry Friesen has had many titles during his life – farmer, Manitoba ag industry rep, mediator and counselor to name a few.

But he recently added published author to that list with the release of his book, The Recovering Farmer.

The 204-page book chronicles parts of Friesen’s life beginning around 2004, the year he and his brother, Bob, a former president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, took over the family’s farm near Wawanesa, Man.

“That’s when I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression while I was farming,” he told Farms.com.

During a mediation meeting with clients, his body provided clues something was wrong.

“Quickly, and without warning, my heart starts palpitating, flopping around like a fish out of water,” the introduction to the first chapter says. “Along with that comes a shortness of breath. I feel lightheaded. Without appearing too obvious, I grab the table, convinced I will pass out. All I can think is that I am having a heart attack and am about to die.”

The Recovering Farmer

To help cope with these conditions, Friesen also turned to alcohol.

The book touches on his diagnoses, experiences with medication and his struggles with addiction and overall mental health.

“When you don’t like what you’re hearing, sometimes you find other ways of dealing with it,” he said. “Anyone who reads the book will discover I had significant addiction issues that took me to some dark places.”

Even writing the book challenged Friesen’s recovery.

The process forced him to recall some uncomfortable instances.

“I had to reflect on things that happened and that brought me really down and I’d have to stop writing,” he said. “But at the same time, it became therapeutic because instead of focusing on the negative, I could see a lot of the positive things I’d been involved in.”

The beginning of his journey of recovery started in 2005.

Friesen found himself in the hog barn when a friend came by and asked how he was doing.

“I suspect he could see I wasn’t doing very well, and for some strange reason that day I decided to open up and talk,” Friesen said. “I talked for an hour about everything going on in my head, and my thoughts. He sat there, normalized and validated my thoughts and was that piece I needed to get away from the abyss and seek better help.”

Friesen hopes people who read his book will feel the same way he did after speaking with his friend that day in 2005.

“I hope whoever reads this will understand they are not alone in their mental health journey,” he said. “I hope they’ll be encouraged to talk to someone, a friend, a doctor, or a counsellor, because it is so important to have your feelings validated.”

The book’s title, Recovering Farmer, has a double meaning.

It’s the name of the blog Friesen kept, and an acknowledgement that his recovery is ongoing.

“I started talking about my mental health journey almost 15 years ago and I’ll be on a journey of recovery until the day I die,” he said. “I have a sickness in my brain and that is something I have to be very diligent and vigilant about.”

Today, Friesen is an active voice supporting mental health in Manitoba’s ag and rural communities.

He’s a founding member of the Manitoba Farmer Wellness Program, which provides no-cost counselling sessions with farm-focused counsellors.

Anyone wanting to purchase a copy of the book can do so through Friesen’s website.

If anyone needs immediate mental health support, they can dial 9-8-8, Canada’s new national mental health hotline.

Farms.com has also put together a list of available mental health and suicide prevention resources.


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