Thursday, November 30, 2023

Putting in the work to make meaningful changes

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Deanne Parkes uses the skills she learnt working with elite athletes – and the experience of her own mental health struggle – to help people find a happy and fulfilled life.
South Waikato dairy farmer Deanne Parkes has taken the challenges she has overcome in her life and created a business that encourages and supports other people to do the same.
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This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

A South Waikato dairy farmer ( miraka kaipāmu) has taken the challenges she has overcome in her life and created a business that encourages and supports other people to do the same.

Deanne Parkes, with husband Ben (known as Rani) contract milk 205 cows on 70ha near Mangakino. The all-Holstein Friesian herd produces 435kg MS/cow.

Having experienced several periods of clinical depression (pōuritanga) in her lifetime, Deanne is using her now-thriving mental health and the skills she has learnt along the way to coach rural people to find out what they want from life and achieve their goals.

“Life can sometimes feel like Groundhog Day, but it’s important to be in a place where you are excited to get up and live this day,” Deanne says. 

She was raised in Dannevirke by dairy farming parents. A passion for sport and exercise led her to study a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise at university. After completing an internship with Sport and Exercise NZ she went on to hold a number of positions, including lecturer at the Eastern Institute of Technology, and worked as a strength and conditioning trainer for elite athletes. Deanne worked for NZ Cricket from 2007-2009; the last tour she did with them was when she was pregnant with her and Rani’s first child, Maz, now 13. They also have Millie, 11, and Paddy, 9.

When the couple were living in Napier – Rani was working as a builder, and Deanne did strength and conditioning work – Rani was the victim of a violent crime. 

“After that, we completely reassessed where we were in our lives and what we were doing,” Deanne says. “After going on a hunting trip with my family, Rani came home and thought he might like to go dairy farming.”

Their first farming job was at Tīrau, with Deanne working for NZ Rowing during the build-up to the Rowing World Cup in 2010. After living in Tīrau for one year and around the Tararua region for 10 years, they moved to their current farm, where they are now in their second season.

She says during this time she experienced two very deep bouts of depression: in 2012, and then in 2018, when she was diagnosed with clinical depression.

“I think I had experienced depression from a very young age but had never had a diagnosis. I went about my work and my community life wearing a mask; all the while I was slowly dying inside.”

She sought help from a friend and the Rural Support Trust, and then worked with her GP, a psychologist, the Rural Support Trust and her own coaches to recover.

“Alongside medication, I was taught the tools to realise my self-worth, say no, clear my mind, learn to sit and have a cuppa without thinking of everything I had to do, put myself first so I could then serve others, set boundaries, stop trying to save everyone, and communicate kindly to myself,” she says.

“I went from being surrounded by darkness to a life of light; it took a few years but the hard work of making changes was worth it.”

Deanne and husband Ben (known as Rani) contract milk on 70ha farm near Mangakino. Deanne and Rani with their children Paddy, 9, Maz, 13, and Millie, 11.

In early 2022 she launched her business as a coach, a culmination of many years of encouraging those around her while she was in her sport and exercise roles. 

“When I was a strength and conditioning trainer I worked one-on-one with athletes at times, and I found these sessions provided the opportunity to really get to know the athletes and what was holding them back.

 “I had a knack for knowing how to ask the hard questions that would lead to addressing the barriers they had not considered. I have been coaching on and off for a long time.”

That, together with a stint in succession planning with rural families and her own personal experience with mental health, has seen her business evolve over time. 

There are two sides to her business: as a rural development leader, and as a life coach.

As a rural development leader, she helps rural businesses grow their staff at ground level, helping to improve communication and team culture and decrease the misunderstandings that often happen due to poor communication. She runs workshops using TetraMap, a technique that helps people better understand themselves and others. 

“These workshops are extremely successful with farming staff as I am able to build quick, trusting relationships with the farmers,” she says.

“A part of this is that I understand day-to-day farming demands.”

She is also moving into keynote speaking, telling her own story of how she overcame depression.

The main part of her business is one-to-one coaching, helping people unlock their courage to find out what they want in life, and achieve it.

“I work with a lot of women to help them understand what it is they want and provide the tools and support to put that into practice,” she says. 

“Together, we work through any roadblocks that come up.”

She says a lot of people are unsure of coaching.

“They are afraid of the unknown. But half the challenge is finding a person you gel with. People spend hundreds of dollars on a dress to feel good, so why not have the courage to invest in real, lasting change? Change starts with you.”

Deanne’s role on the farm is ‘to support Rani’. She helps to milk the cows when needed, which she enjoy because it’s her thinking and singing time’. The Parkes’ 205-cow herd is Holstein Friesian and produces 435kg MS/cow.

A regular coaching session is an hour that is all about the client: they can take off the “mask” they wear at school, in the community or at home, and work with Deanne to grow into the person they want to be.

“I talk a lot about courage, but it is central to growth,” she says. 

“We have this idea that women are like Disney princesses who need to be saved – but it’s you who is going to save you. Putting the oxygen mask on yourself first is a great analogy, because you’re no good to anyone if you aren’t in a good place.”

Her role on her own farm is “to support Rani”. 

“I milk the cows when needed, which I enjoy because it’s my thinking and singing time,” she says with a grin. 

“We have very clear roles around calving time, when I am assisting in a more regular role, which is important when working with anyone, especially your partner.

“The coaching business fits in well with our family and I can work around the busier times on farm; I’m able to ease off the clients during calving, for example. There is flexibility there. I can see clients face to face or via Zoom calls – although rural internet is testing sometimes.”

One and a half years after their move from Tararua, she says, they are slowly adjusting, although it was hard on the kids at first.

“We now have the autonomy on farm that we were lacking in our last job,” she says. “Mangakino is a magical place to live, with warmer weather, and it’s close to the centre of the North Island.  It has also been fantastic to learn more about my family history by moving here.”

Deanne is referring to being a descendant of Wairarapa Moana; a lot of her family assisted with the building of the town and dams when Mangakino was first established.

She says although her family good naturedly tease them about being “hobby farmers”, a smaller farm fits well with their lifestyle.

“We get to spend heaps of time with the kids, and we have a relief milker who takes some pressure off,” she says. “I’ve been involved with Dairy Women’s Network and other community groups; I like to see people enjoying life.”

She says covid has been a “forced pause” for many people, resulting in them doing a stocktake of their life and revisiting their dreams and aspirations.

“I want people to know that they can have a really joyful, fulfilled life. If you are feeling low or unfulfilled with your life, know that you don’t have to live like that.”

Suffering from depression or stress, or know someone who is? Where to get help:
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

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