Back in the Saddle

Yesterday one of “my” librarians asked my how my year was going. 

I said “It’s been free of stress and chaos.”

“Are you writing?”

I laughed. “Yeah, actually, that’s why it’s free of stress and chaos.”

Made me think about how we get ourselves into, and through, a bad year. 

2011 was one of those years. I had two books come out, so in many respects it was a good year. But it was also a year filled with unexpected frustrations.

We’ve been self-employed for years, which means we pay for our own health insurance. Since MN doesn’t recognize our legal marriage, we’re stuck having separate policies. My premiums have been fairly steady, but Melissa’s premiums recently shot through the roof, nearly doubling in 4 years. Not to get into it too deeply here, but Melissa was afraid to change policies because an insurer could exempt every sort of coverage she needed.

This was why she had to get an off-farm job. The farm just couldn’t support itself and our insurance bills. She found the perfect job for her—locating underground utility lines. She was outside all day, walking around people’s yards, neighborhoods, and out in the country. She had her own little truck and laptop. It was mentally and physically challenging.

It also required massive amounts of overtime. She worked from 7 am often until 7-8 pm. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much left for anything, or anyone, at the end of the day. She was so tired on weekends that I asked her not to run any power tools or equipment on Saturday because she often hurt herself or broke something. Sunday was her only day to work on the farm.

The bulk of the farming obviously fell to me. I have broad shoulders, and managed to keep everything alive and healthy, but weeds overtook and drained the electric fencing. The animals stayed put only because they were polite. 🙂  I fed 3 baby calves 3 times/day for 3 months. I fed two bottle lambs for nearly as long.

By fall, the weight got heavier and heavier. I’d basically spent more time alone than I had for years. I’d also done a great deal of traveling to promote my books. All the household chores fell to me. We had two elderly dogs that required a complicated array of pills, and cleaning up of accidents. How the heck do couples with two fulltime jobs and kids DO this?

By fall, everything started slowing me down. I stopped writing and sank into a major funk.  Usually when I get depressed, I get bored and snap out of it in 1-2 weeks. But this lingered and lingered. I spent the fall not only struggling to keep farm and home together, but also sitting on our front deck holding our kitten Emmett, watching Netflix (all 11 seasons of Frasier! All 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights! All seasons of Parks and Recreation!) and drinking wine. Pathetic.

I tried antidepressants (screwed up my ability to daydream, and thus write) and therapy. (When I told the therapist I thought I was a lazy person, she nearly grabbed her copy of Hit by a Farm and smacked me in the head with it. Interesting therapy technique, but I got the point. Maybe not so lazy after all.)

This is why, when the end of 2011 arrived, I said, “Good riddance,” (My actual words were a bit earthier than that) and started a fresh year.

I’ve written nearly every day in 2012. The depression seems to have lifted (although it sneaks back every now and then to slap me around), and I’m excited about the new year. I know that Melissa will be gone a lot, so I’ll do a better job of reaching out to friends and family. I know all the farm chores will be my responsibility, so we’re freezing the size of the farm—no new animals for awhile. I’m going to line up help to do chores when I’m out of town, and someone to help me keep the weeds off the fences. Our beloved elderly dogs have died, leaving huge holes in our hearts, but less daily chaos. This next year it’ll just be Molly and me going on lots of walks.

I’ve learned my lesson. Stopping what you love to do isn’t a way to feel better—it’s a way to feel worse. I’m not going to go more than two days in a row without writing.  No more Netflix, considerably less wine, and having Melissa home for the winter has been great. We’re both resting and recovering, building up the strength we’ll need to get us through another season.

Now matter how your 2011 went, I’m hoping your 2012 goes better!

15 thoughts on “Back in the Saddle

  1. Sound like you had a ragged ’11; a lot like mine with family health issues. I lost a brother to heart problems in January and my other two siblings suffered strokes exactly 6 weeks apart, on top of job (or lack thereof) issues with me. But I’m like you; I said goodbye to 2011 and hoping that 2012 will be better. It has to be!

  2. What an inspiring post (aside from the frustratingly indequate and unfair healthcare policies). I think a visit to my neglected sewing room is in order; 2011 was ridiculously stressful and chaotic around here, too. Thanks for sharing what works for you, and I hope 2012 continues to be a peaceful year.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Catherine. We get in a rut where we think everyone else has it better (more money, less stress, better health) than we do but you scratch the surface these days (especially!) and find we’re all pretty much in the same (leaky?) boat. We’d all be happier sooner if we could figure out what we had to do to remain sane BEFORE having to spend time in the deep, dark hole called depression. So, so glad to hear that things are looking up for you and Melissa. You’re both wonderful people who deserve a carefree life to pursue your writing and farming. (Bought a lottery ticket lately? Me neither. But maybe we should.)

  4. Sounds familiar to my renewed committment to be myself again. My husband and I have a had a wild year (not in a good way) but we’ve emerged through the ashes of 2011 and discovered there is new growth!

    I too have figured out that neglecting what I am good at and love to do doesn’t make me a better person, instead it was turning me into a tired depressed person.

    Best wishes for your 2012! I am so glad to find your blog and am looking forward to visiting you again!

    Take care,


  5. Thanks for what you said about not stopping what you love to do in order to feel better, I feel that happened to me the last part of the year and I was doing everything for everyone and my own stuff fell by the wayside, it definitely can be depressing. Glad to hear you are starting 2012 of with new vigor and I wish the best for both of you this year!

  6. Amy—clean off your sewing machine, make something, and send me a photo as creative inspiration!

    Thanks for all the encouraging comments. It feels good to feel better!

  7. I think most of us bid an “enthusiastic” adieu to 2011…it’s good to hear you found your way through and are back in a better place. Life can, well, suck the life out of you. Keep doing the “happy” stuff and you will get through it!

  8. I am so sorry you had such an awful year. Hopefully 2012 will be filled with all the goodness 2011 seems to have been missing.

    In many ways it is hard to relate to your story because I live in Canada. The healthcare and the marriage/benefits would not be issues here. It always makes me sad to read stories from the US about people struggling financially because they need something as basic as health insurance coverage but can’t afford it.

  9. I’m also glad to say goodbye to 2011. Got hurt at work (but not on the clock, so worker’s comp turned me down). Work fired me cuz I can’t come back. Still dealing with losing my daughter & long-term boyfriend within 11 months of each other.

    Best thing I did was ignore my mom’s advice to sell the sheep “to simplfy my life”. Some days that’s all that gets me up, is knowing I’ve got a flock depending on me to feed and water them. Lambs coming in about a month. Can’t wait to cuddle new babies!

    Glad that you’re back to nearer normal. It’s hard, but you’re right that you have to keep doing the things that matter. Best wishes for a great 2012!

  10. Hope your 2012 is better! Keep writing! Little Sis and I are huge fans. She just finished Barn Boot Blues and loved it. She says she can relate to everything in it – from the chicken poop in the hair to the duck latched onto the knee.

    Grandbaby Chipmunk, whose first Baby Sign word was “chicken”, loved The Perfect Nest.

    I’ve read and loved the rest, so that gives you three generations of new fans 🙂 Sorry..did this comment turn into a fan letter? lol

  11. Meri—I’ll try to blog more, but when writing fulltime, I often run out of words at the end of the day! (What a cute puppy!)

    Kristie—Oh, Canada. We did think about moving once, and you’ll even find I have ancestors in Quebec, dating back to the late 1600s.

    Susan–Oy, YOU had a bad year. Glad the sheep are keeping you sane. Have a better year!

    CountryWife—what’s wrong with a fan letter? 🙂 Never hold back… Thanks!

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