Wendy Coup

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When King Country sheep and beef farmer Wendy Coup woke up with back spasms five years ago, she would never have guessed it was caused by burn out. She talks about her journey back to wellbeing.

“I was so wound up in the job and what I did here. I was farming and helping to manage the business. There were other factors too. My father had died, my eldest child had grown up and left home. It was a bit of a perfect storm. Even though I loved the farm I was having feelings all the time like, 'this farm is going to kill me'.”

But walking away wasn’t an option for Wendy.

“I loved being on the farm most of the time, I had a great husband and we had a great business. But when I delved deep in my heart and head I discovered I was just so out of balance. I had to take a step back and make my life what I wanted it to be.”

Wendy describes taking small steps to rebuild her life each week, including attending an Agri-Women's Development Trust (AWDT) course to "re-frame" her skills. This made her realise that although she loved her job, there was a whole creative side to her personality she was neglecting.

The Mental Health Foundation is dedicated to looking after farmers’ wellbeing through its Farmstrong programme. A joint initiative between the MHF and rural insurer FMG with strategic partner ACC, Farmstrong helps farmers look after the most important asset on their farms – themselves.

Creative outlet brings balance

Wendy had always had a passion for classical singing but assumed that living in remote Aria in the King Country ruled that out as an option. A chance encounter in town changed all that. It turned out there was a singing teacher just an hour’s drive away in Otorohanga.

“I’m now five years down the track singing classically. That really helped me regain some balance. It made me get off the farm every week and it was non-negotiable. “

“I don’t know if I’m getting any better at singing,” she laughs, “but it brings me a lot of joy. What it gave back to my family and business was the woman and the mother that they love.”

Nowadays, Wendy is very proactive about her health. She devotes Wednesdays to classical singing lessons, maintains a daily journal to record insights and joyful moments on the farm and is regularly on her mountain bike training for an upcoming adventure race.

“I love journaling because it teaches you that there is a huge amount of joy around us but often we get very bogged down in the next job or the fact that the bulls just broke out!

Being in the moment

“These days I stop the quad bike and maybe the dog gives me a little look to say ‘I’m so happy to be out here with you’. Just taking a minute to notice that makes you realise we live in an amazing environment and there is a lot to enjoy in life.”

Wendy’s keen to share what she has learnt with other rural women, particularly those who feel emotionally isolated or are supporting a stressed partner.

“Rural women are a bit of a breed I think. Juggling lots of responsibilities is one of our strengths. What I’ve learnt over the years is that as women we have to be careful not to dial that up too much so that it becomes a weakness.

“I guess when you’re a mum, a wife and community member you often think ‘my time will come’, but often as women we’re just letting time go past. We get so wound up in our businesses, families and looking after our animals that our own wellbeing gets pushed to the side.

“In our industry we often talk about what drives the farm – KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] and production targets. Those things are all well and good but if we don’t look after ourselves we can’t farm. That’s why your wellbeing has to become a priority.”

To find out more about Farmstrong, visit www.farmstrong.co.nz

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