Lemony Challenges

A lovely cousin of mine writes a regular column in one of the dailies in the Philippines and a couple of months ago she tackled the challenge of dealing with the lemons life throws our way – https://kikay116.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/when-life-gives-you-lemons/. She shared the link right as I was in the middle of an extremely challenging swing. One of those swings when it was a struggle to stay afloat and positive. To distract myself from the negativity snowball that was starting to rapidly increase in size, I figured it was better to come up with my own list of sucky lemony challenges and how to cope when the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel doesn’t seem to exist.

It’s a given that we all have our bad days. As much as I try to keep things as light as possible to entertain those who bother to read my blog, the reality is we all have those dark and dreary days. I may have written about this in the past, but I think this is the first time that I am delving deeper.

Sometimes, we just gotta take them lemons...
Sometimes, we just gotta take them lemons…

I try and talk myself out of these days for the most part but sometimes… I sink. No matter how hard I try to locate those rose-coloured glasses, there are days wherein I just cannot seem to find them. These are the times where I sink, wallow and flounder, sometimes for a whole swing.

Working in a process plant, our lemons come in the form of holes, leaks, rips, tears, and sensors not playing the game for the most part. Sometimes, it just seems that nothing in the whole plant wants to work properly and you are in for an exciting, action packed swing. Shifts or swings like these you usually feel like you are chasing your own tail and it just won’t stop.

Cleaning up an area only to have it get dirty again as you get to about 90% clean doesn’t constitute a good day, especially if it happens a few times in a 12 hour shift. However, this is the reality of being a process operator. This type of lemon is the easiest to talk myself out of. After all, clean-up is a huge part of why we are employed. So to whinge about the reason I am getting paid seems very pointless and counterproductive. I have a little inside voice hissy fit (although being in a noisy area of the plant easily covers up a super loud screamy hissy too – trust me, I have tested this out) and carry on, because really there isn’t much else to do in this situation!


Another lemony aspect is the people. Regardless of what occupation and industry you are in, this is sure to be a lemon everyone can relate to. Other people can make or break your day. On the whole people intrigue me which is why my forays into the academic world (psychology and human resources) have been slanted towards people. However, a significant percentage of people also frustrate the living daylights out of me. My main struggles are usually with those who have different work ethic and standards to mine. I struggle to understand how they can justify the pay they receive. But as certain senior manager mentors have pointed out, those people won’t be changing anytime soon and I just need to change my expectations of them.

Another struggle with people of recent times are with those who feel the need to make smarty pants (and I use the term smart loosely here) comment about my injury. It’s a wrist injury, so imagine the angle of the jokes coming my way! The jokes, I am happy to deal with. I may be guilty of starting the jokes at times too. But when you have people sighing and rolling their eyes when I do my office-based safety share at a pre-start, well that’s a different story. Even those who have had injuries or ailments in the past that have led them to being away from work for a significant time seem to forget what it was like. It’s as if being sympathetic to someone seems to be a lot harder for most. Even the ones who take a day off for a popped blister seem to think they can say something disparaging about my injury.

The injury itself has been a massive lemon to deal with as well – not just at work but every day on break too. I already whined about this in a previous blog entry so I will resist the urge to go on a soliloquy about this matter now.

The gender factor can be a lemony issue on certain days too. As much as I do not like playing the gender card, the reality is that there is a variance present. I have never been a fan of highlighting the gender difference, when I first started I made a special request for the difference to not be brought up in meetings. I don’t speak for everyone but for me, a meeting that started with “Okay guys, oh and miss/lady/gal” was never fun. I understand the meeting chairs were trying to make me feel included but mentioning the variance to everyone present was not necessary and made things a tad uncomfortable at times. It was a godsend when another female joined the crew! I tell you that really made things easier and way more fun! But the truth of the matter is the difference cannot be ignored. When I (and those of the same gender) have a bad day – it’s always because of the cycle. Got a tummy ache? Yup, has got to be cycle related! And of course the general stereotypes associated with the fairer sex. If I could get a penny for each time “being a girl” was used to indicate weakness, my shoe collection would be way better! (Talk about living up to the stereotype hey?)

Carebear Badger
Fit in or stand out?

Being hungry and pining for certain types of dishes can make the negativity spiral worse for me. I realise that this is most likely a random one for most but it’s a big one for me. There are times when I start thinking about what to have on break on the day I fly in to work. So I spend some time researching recipes when I get back to my room at the end of the day.

So how do I cope when I have a lemony shift, swing or month? Well, I think of the future. The longer term goal and how days or swings like these are character building. I do let myself sink and wallow because fighting the negativity snowball can be impossible at certain times. But I still tell myself that there is learning hidden in all the not-so-fun times. To go through yucky days and not learn anything, now that’s just a waste of time, energy and tears (on really bad days).

This sounds a bit fluffy but I look around and take in the beauty of being outside, in the middle of nowhere. I have shared several photos of how pretty it can be on site. The mornings are beautiful, even if waking up before the sun comes out used to be my idea of torture, it is really very pretty. The sunsets are also lovely. Nights when the moon is full can be magnificent too. If there is no moon, the stars usually make up for its absence. We don’t get to see much of the starts when at the plant, but in camp if we just take the time to look up it is very cool. I make it a point to appreciate what is around – whether it be on the flight to work, on the bus to camp or to the plant or when just walking around. Even if mining can be dirty, dusty, muddy and everything not-so-pretty, there is a lot around it that is enchanting. We just need to open our eyes and take in the beauty.

This was taken at work last week. VERY pretty!
This was taken at work last week. VERY pretty!

Some days I distract myself by reading academic articles which prove that the struggle is real. What sort? The Dunning-Kruger study is a great one. For those of you who don’t know it, do yourself a favour and get your hands on a copy. Google can help you with this one. Any research on FIFO also helps me get through the harder days. Learning can be cathartic – maybe not for everyone but it works for me.

Research has also shown that looking at pictures of cats soothes the nasty neggies. So I sometimes do that, but I much prefer looking at memes of honey badgers and sloths. Sometimes I just search for random memes to make me laugh – yes, some months my mobile data bill does sky rocket.

My go-to sites when I need to be distracted by something more substantial than memes are Mindtools, LifeHack, Greatist, BuzzFeed, and Cracked.

I am also very lucky to have a number of colleagues who are on the same wavelength and we can discuss what’s bothering us truthfully without judgement. My partner also works FIFO and is on the same site so he understands the challenges.

The mobile phone can also be a great therapeutic tool. I am particularly fond of the messaging function. When I am down in the dumps I don’t like discussing the nitty gritty of what’s making me emotional verbally. I would rather furious type to unleash the anger and frustration. It hasn’t gotten to the point that I have broken my screen due to furious typing, so it is not too bad as yet! I am not saying it will never happen, you just never know. Maybe once I get back to the gym and get the muscles going again?

Another pretty site photo from a few weeks ago.
Another pretty site photo from a few weeks ago.

Also, on particularly bad days, I look at shoes. Oh, shoes! I may be in a male dominated industry but that doesn’t stop me from indulging in the pleasure of shoes. I once bought two pairs of boots (not safety boots) after a particularly challenging day early in my stint on site.

Writing also helps a great deal. I find that it distracts me while also letting me work through the anger and frustration. I write and write and write. I write down ideas, suggestions and whiney monologues like this to unload and help me move on. I note down what I could learn from the negative experiences. I brainstorm on how I can get through it – thinking of the next holiday does wonders for this.

Sometimes, I imagine just going full honey badger mode on the people who annoy me – this usually brings a smile to my face. And if all things fail, I have a snickers bar (or two).

Thanks to Google for all the funny pics!
Thanks to Google for all the funny pics!