Mental Health Week and Mental Health Day, two significant initiatives I had no prior knowledge of up until a few months ago. I learned about Mental Health Week when I saw a post on a Facebook group asking for involvement in some way for a FIFO mental health week drive. Mental Health Day has been and gone, and we are in the middle of Mental Health Week, but I still find that I have to go searching for information. A very significant difference to when it’s World Donut Day or World Chocolate Chip Cookie Day wherein I am inundated by updates and postings across all social media platforms. Some of which even make it to news mediums!
It is disappointing that there isn’t the same amount of interest and attention being given to such an important topic. Having dedicated several years to studying psychology and human resources, mental health is a point of interest for me but it seems to still be a taboo topic for most. Some throw it around as a catch cry or a trendy term but majority are still too scared to delve deep into the mental health topic. Admittedly, it is a minefield. A lot of education and awareness still needs to happen before people (myself included) can comfortably discuss mental health across all forums. I feel that majority perceive discussions on mental health with the same trepidation as discussions on religion and political affinity.
Mental health has been a hot topic especially in FIFO for a few years now. I remember eagerly awaiting the report from the West Australian Parliament on FIFO mental health. I downloaded the document when it was made public. I remember eagerly reading it, armed with a highlighter and a pen, furiously writing my thoughts and comments on the margins! I was determined to formulate a reply and share my FIFO experience to the committee. At that stage they were encouraging public comment and I wanted to share my positive experience about FIFO. I couldn’t relate to most of the examples contained in the document.
At that point, my FIFO experience was mostly positive. I used to treat being on site like being on a holiday camp away from the evil KFC empire! I loved the flight up and back, especially if I got a window seat! I enjoyed seeing the changing landscape, didn’t enjoy it too much during cloudy days though. Once on site, I had a chance to take in Mother Nature at her best and worst! The alarms set at ungodly hours and the end of night shifts were often rewarded with magnificent sunrises. The sunsets were equally amazing too. Before working on site, I would have seen only a handful of sunrises as I was never awake that early. I liked the routine, it put some semblance of order into my otherwise organised chaos approach. I also liked that there was an option to socialise or stay in my room. Foxtel, air-con and heating – luxuries my room at home doesn’t have!
I am not saying it was all fun times, I am fairly certain my blog posts from those years would have covered the challenging times too. It wasn’t all fun times but it was more fun and positive than not. There were the usual challenges, some courtesy of Mother Nature, some can be attributed to “creative differences” and personality clashes, and of course, most can be attributed to the temperamental plant we were working with.
My FIFO experience changed significantly after my injury. Those who had negative things to say about me prior to the injury got very vocal. The rumour mill went on overdrive and I was copping everything from milking it, to faking it, to what was I still doing there when word on the street was I had already been sacked. Some of the braver and more genuine souls would actually come and talk to me about what they heard to get my side of the story. Most of the recreational and professional gossipers just went with whatever was the most interesting angle. In other words, the vibe changed significantly.
I still believe that it is up to us to decide how the opinions and attitudes of others affect us. I am the only one who decides whether or not I have a bad day. I am the only one who can decide whether or not I will let their comments about milking it and faking it upset me. It is up to me to decide whether or not I let their insecurities, pettiness and negativity impact me. This works, to a certain point. When you are constantly faced with negativity, it is hard to keep your head above ground. It is hard to keep swimming against the tide for extended periods. Ultimately, you get tired and end up getting carried by the current. Stressors like these can lead to the decline in our physical and mental health.
We all need thick skin to survive certain situations, FIFO being one of those that require thick skin and a strong sense of self. I was lucky that I grew up with older brothers, male cousins and their circle of friends. These guys basically trained me for site life. I credit part of my stubbornness and drive to growing up with these characters who put my through my paces very early on. What I wasn’t prepared for was Regina George and her minions, mine site edition!
It became very challenging but as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I was lucky I had (and still have) a great support system – my partner and my friends, both on site and off. I am also a talker, which was very unlucky for my support system! There was no holding me back especially during the more challenging days. Having this blog also helped a great deal. Stringing words together to make a story has always been therapeutic for me. For those situations, conversations and challenges not appropriate for discussions or blogs, I had a notebook. Lots of furious scribbling! Writing, talking to great people got me through the challenging times and enabled me to forge strong friendships with like minded people.
To those who are experiencing similar challenges, please find an outlet. It doesn’t necessarily have to be writing or talking. Maybe there’s a hobby out there, a sport, whatever it is, find something to help get the negativity out of your system. There are lots of resources in relation to Mental Health Week and Mental Health Day which have information that may help. Trust me, you are not alone. I have found so many others who share the same experience, not necessarily exclusive to the same company or industry. Challenging people are out there in droves and challenging situations come in different forms, so regardless of what you do, find a release and put a premium on your mental health.
It is what we take out of all the challenges that make the experience worthwhile. I have those challenging situations and people to be thankful for. Without those experiences I may not have pushed myself as hard or realised just how driven, strong and capable I actually am. Everything is a learning experience after all!
For those who would like to know more about Mental Health Week and Mental Health Day: