Caitlin - Farmer and lawyer, South East QLD

231012 Caitlin McConnel

In a chance meet-cute with Steph facilitated by fellow rural woman extraordinaire Dimity Smith, I was asked to describe “my picture of rural mental health”, noting that the colloquial image of a lone farmer struggling to lift his heavy mind from a view of his boots is one that so often accompanies the stories of rural mental health.

The soundbite caught on camera for Steph’s ‘Change the Picture Campaign’ was brief and without embellishment as I had a plane to catch, and it turns out that the complex reality of the question took me a little more time and strength to actually consider.

On my way to Sydney I reflected in agreement that the image of my father - a farmer - sitting with his head on his hand in an air of despondent silence is one the immediately comes to mind. In fact, this scene is one my mother has captured in her extraordinary artwork, and I’ve used in presentations to raise awareness of rural mental health and the pain we have suffered as a family.

Drought, by Susan McConnel

That image still remains but Steph’s comments made me dig a little deeper. What is MY picture of rural mental health, and how does it relate to my day-to-day life?

I eventually saw:

  • A woman on an endless endeavour to nurture the farmer in that painting, whilst ignoring the crippling need to nurture her own health and wellbeing.
  • A woman whose laughter reverberates off walls, but who requires the mental strength of an athlete to face most social interactions.
  • A woman who craves routine and structure, but who struggles with basic executive function.
  • A woman who has a farm & livestock she loves and adores, but who gets lost mining the dopamine she gets from playing a virtual farming game on her phone.
  • A woman who champions the correlation between gut health & mental health, but who forgets to eat during periods of intense hyper focus (or eats for too much when she’s not even hungry).
  • A woman who passionately strives to achieve her goals, but is constantly weighed down by a blanket of self-doubt and anxiety.

The woman in the picture is me, and until earlier this year, I failed to comprehend the contradiction between my capabilities and achievements, and my lifelong struggle with clinical depression. As it turns out, I've been living with un-diagnosed ADHD-C my whole life.

Whilst I know I will never escape the juxtaposition and daily struggles that come with my neurodiversity, or the difficulties associated with life on the land, my recent diagnosis means that I finally understand how and why I operate the way that I do - for the first time in my life.

My picture of rural mental health is as a neurodiverse woman navigating a career in law and farming; because I am acutely aware of how crucial my home and agriculture is in igniting my extraordinary ability to hyperfocus, whilst also regulating and supporting my central nervous system.


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