Depression, and dealing with changing roles on the farm

Farmer sitting in tractor wheel with wheat in hands

May your new work excite your heart,
Kindle in your mind a creativity
To journey beyond the old limits
Of all that has become wearisome.

May this work challenge you toward
New frontiers that will emerge
As you begin to approach them,
Calling forth from you the full force
And depth of your undiscovered gifts.

May the work fit the rhythms of your soul,

Enabling you to draw from the invisible
New ideas and a vision that will inspire.

May this new work be worthy
Of the energy of your heart
And the light of your thought.

May your work assume
A proper space in your life
Instead of owning or using you,
May it challenge and refine you,
Bringing you every day further
Into the wonder of your heart.

— By Irish poet, John O’Donohue

This lovely poem was sent to me by a farm woman who found it late at night as she ponders her new roles on the farm. She is about to become an “empty nester.” At the same time her father-in-law is trying to figure out his role on the farm after he turns 80.

In coaching we have a road map called the “cycle of renewal.” I refer to it often in my seminars on planning for change on the farm. Life is not a straight line, it is full of surprises, conflict bumps and turns that we don’t always have a plan for. The cycle of renewal invites folks to think of their life as four phases:

  1. Go for it — When all your goals and actions are aligned and your life is full of purpose.
  2. Doldrums — When you hit a pothole of despair, discouragement, depression and the sense of feeling trapped.
  3. Cocooning — The place to heal and have time for inner reflection to check out what is working for you in your current roles, and what needs to shift a lot.
  4. Getting ready — The time of learning, networking, experimenting and testing out new approaches to create a whole new chapter. Think of all the farm brides you know who are getting ready to adapt to a new life on the farm with their newly married husbands. And for those of you who chose to be almost married (common-law) you are getting ready for a new role, too.

Why does this matter?

Many farm folks who I have chatted with this winter have a family member who is not coping well with changing roles on the farm. They are seeing depression symptoms like tears, anger, irrational thinking and sadness that won’t go away. The issue is that people can suffer from what is called depression due to circumstances.

Depression is an illness, not who you are. It is treatable, and manageable, but you have to seek out good medical help, and start talking about your true feelings with your family who cares so much about you.

Change is inevitable, but growth is optional. You can choose to seek out “new work that is worthy of the energy of your heart,” says O’Donohue. I call it a new passion. Your life is not over at age 80 or 53 when the kids leave home. It is just different. You get a new chapter in the book of life to create something that excites you and feeds your soul. Life is too short to be trapped and depressed.

So how do we get ready?

  1. Make a vision board of what you would like to see in your new chapter. This might mean words that you print, or sayings and pictures that speak to your cherished beliefs and values. Cut up old magazines and place them in a creative way on some stiff board. (An old field sign works great!)
  2. Start paying attention to what brings you joy, and do some internal work about the times when you lose all track of time. This is called “flow.” I am in “flow” when I am writing, coaching a group, and visiting with friends.
  3. Figure out what you value. My top seven values are spirituality or knowledge of God, intimacy in being close to another, honesty, challenge to be stimulated, independence (to control self), friendship, and achievement in accomplishing goals. Clarity of what you truly value will show you what needs to be happening in your life in order to feel aligned to your values and purpose. I am wired to be self-employed, as are many farmers. Once the deal-maker farmer can no longer safely drive tractors, what is he going to do to feel useful? Make new deals in a new business? Volunteer?
  4. Experiment. You don’t need to sell everything and move. You might want to take baby steps and rent a place in Victoria or Arizona for a few months to test out living in a new community. You might want to rent an apartment in your town, and play more with the grandkids. You might want to go back to school and finish your master’s degree. I know two women over 45 who have done this and they have no regrets.
  5. Evaluate. Let yourself make mistakes and learn from the experience. We have neighbours who moved out of province, but are now back. The experiment in moving did not work, and they are happy to be back in a familiar community. It is OK to take a new path.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t imagine a new life. Just set some new targets and work toward trying out new things. If you are a great handyman/fixer type, there is a new career for you in town. I hire these talented retired farmers!

Journey beyond the “old limits of what has become wearisome.” You are not dead. You have value, and you can create a new chapter for the new stage of life you are facing. Your spouse is counting on you to claim your own sense of well-being and contentment. They cannot do the work for you.

Tell me your story. Send me more Irish poems.

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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