Mental Health Week 2016

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.

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Thanks to the lovely Sandra of FIFO Focus for the opportunity to get involved, even if it’s just in the form of cookies.

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.

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One of the many gorgeous sunrise I got to enjoy whilst working FIFO.

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.

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I had no idea when I took this photo in Jan 2015 how much that split second slip up would change my career plan and impact my life so much. It has been a roller coaster ride!

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!

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For those who may not be as into teen movies as I am, the Regina George reference is from the movie Mean Girls. If anyone wants to remake the movie into a FIFO or mine site edition, hit me up for story lines. I have heaps!

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.

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I got this from the amazing Drewie (Hard Hat Mentor), check her out on LinkedIn. She is a ball of positivity and encouragement.

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:

 

Challenge accepted

It’s been a few months since I officially finished up on site. I am going through the motions of plotting what’s next and exploring both Plans A and B, because you know, multitasking and all that.

I am fairly certain that anyone who has been in a similar situation can relate to the gamut of emotions I have experienced in the last couple of months.  There was the initial stress of the unplanned resignation due to the unfortunate circumstance. Nothing about that was aligned with my career master plan. Although I have never been a Type A planner, it still didn’t sit well with me that things were going down which I was not 100% happy with. But, I had to ride the wave of change. Hey, these unplanned things happen for a reason right?

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Plan B(aking)

After the initial stress, there was the “woohoo spare time” phase. This is the – oh yeah, I can sleep in and binge watch Netflix, be Homer Simpson for a few days mindset. It was fun while it lasted but man, did it got boring pretty quick. Really quick actually! I have always prided myself on my ability to relax and do nothing. Even when I was juggling full time work and study for my Masters, I always found time each week to have a recharge day, a nothing day. I learned very quickly that nothing days are much better when they are not every day. I was surprised when I realised nothing weeks aren’t as good. See, we really do learn something new every day.

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I promise you, it never got this bad. I use a laptop…

Thankfully the WIMWA mentoring program started just as the nothing days and Seek trawling were getting mentally and emotionally draining. During the launch event, I realised I needed to sharpen my networking skills. I had no major issues meeting people on site, talking to anyone about anything and building relationships but I have always been a bit slow to warm up. Most of the time, I choose to sit back and observe first. I can hold my own once I have developed relationships and gotten to know people a bit more. The getting to you know/introduction part on the other hand, has always been a tad daunting for me. No one who knows me believes it when I tell them that on the Myers-Briggs personality test, I identify as an introvert. Having been a Psychology student at one time, we did a lot of these tests and my results were consistent – introvert.

 

The day after the launch I decided I needed to sharpen my networking skills and set myself a challenge. I approached it in the same way I approached my fear of heights issue the whole time I was on site – you just have to do it. Get out there and just hang on to dear life when the fear becomes overwhelming, you will survive. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Since the launch in July, I signed up and attended several networking events, workshops and volunteer opportunities. Most I attended on my own; sometimes a brave friend comes along. I haven’t had to bribe anyone yet, so I haven’t reached desperation levels.

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All part of my ongoing research. Any recommendations?

What cracks me up, is that even now – after having attended a number of events on my own, I still have the same thought process the minute I walk into the venue: “what the heck are you doing now?!” I know I will survive and end up meeting wonderful new people because I did at the last one I attended. So why do I still think this way? It takes a while for mindset to change, but I am hoping I can successfully reprogram mine in the next two or three events. Although, I find that the initial sense of trepidation also works like a catapult because what follows the “what the heck…” is a very determined “you are here, you made it, now smile and talk to that person over there!”

Last week I attended the WIMWA Summit. I went on my own because simply, I wanted to go but no one in my immediate circle was keen to join me. It made no sense to miss out because I had to go on my own, so whatever, I went.

I had been so excited about attending since purchasing the ticket a couple of months beforehand. As with majority of the big decisions I have made over the years, I just leap. When I moved from Melbourne to Perth, I jumped at the chance. I got a job, had three days to pack and move. Let’s do this! Same thing when I decided to be a process operator a few years ago. I really didn’t think about what if it doesn’t work out. Why wouldn’t it work out? I was going to make it work! With the operator caper, I only found out months after being on site that a few site based colleagues who I met whilst I was a recruiter were worried about me fitting in on site. How did I found out? When they told me; with much relief, after they saw me hold my own with the crew and everyone else on site. Not one item on their list of concerns even crossed my mind because in my head, it was going to work because I was going to do my best to make it work. So I got my tickets and didn’t even consider what if I end up looking like a dork going on my own!

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I really hope these boots don’t stay clean for too long!

Aside from the “what the heck” when I enter the venue, another thing I noticed since embarking on this self imposed challenge is my insane tendency to fangirl over successful people. I fangirl majorly when I come across individuals who have forged successful careers despite challenges, those whose causes, beliefs and purpose I can relate to, whose values align with mine. I cannot help but fangirl when I come across someone I respect and would want to emulate. I find myself struggling to approach these amazing people because I am too much in awe. I do not end up in tears or pass out like you see on those concert videos or news reports of fangirls meeting their celebrity idols. I honestly think my fangirling nerves come from a position of me wanting to learn so much from these accomplished individuals that I just want to stand there and absorb rather than risk asking a mundane question or embarrassing myself in another way by opening my mouth! I get a bit daft when I am nervous so I sometimes think the less I open my mouth the better. Before anyone out there tells me off for being crazy, hold up! I am working on this now! I won’t let my insane fangirling ways get in the way of getting acquainted with people I respect. I am very actively working on this and will not be making this silly mistake at next year’s Summit or other upcoming events (which I have a few already lined up)!

Back to the WIMWA Summit story! I walked in, found my name tag. Stood around, scoped out the crowd at the coffee and breakfast stations, saw everyone in their groups all chatty and happy, then the trepidation kicked in. The “what the heck” internal dialogue started, also known as the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) – I learned that at the summit! Anyway, I took a few deep breaths, headed for the coffee station with my game face on; smiled at every single person I came across, said hello to the more receptive ones and walked into the venue with the “get on with it” track in my head.

I took two steps into the venue and someone was waving at me. As I still hadn’t consumed my coffee, my first thought was “Oh my God, I know someone here?” I cannot explain why I was surprised that I would know anyone since I knew for a fact that some fellow mentees were going to be at the event. But this lady wasn’t a fellow mentee. She was from one of the other events I had attended since I set out on this little challenge of mine. It was such a terrific way to start the day, I can guarantee that I stood up a bit straighter and my confidence was boosted from Beth just saying hello that morning.

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A different version of a “what the heck” moment. I think to this time when I start panicking over something or start feeling a bit scared. For more context – dig into the blog archives and it will make more sense.

During the breaks I touched base with fellow mentees, other people I have met previously and I also made several new connections. The speakers were inspiring. Resilience, championing change and moving the conversation forward were the key topics of the day. I was so glad I decided to attend, even with the initial trepidation in the morning, because by the end of the day my resolve was much stronger. There was a point during one of the sessions on resilience when the penny dropped for me. Giving up is not an option, I am not the only one who has had to regroup after an unplanned detour. Things may not be all rosy and fun right now but it doesn’t mean that this is the new normal. Not by a long shot!

Sadly though, it was only at the end of the Summit when I had the breakthrough realisation about how my crazy fangirl ways were hampering me. So I missed out on talking to a number of amazing people. The more their talk or career path resonated with me the scarier it was for me to go anywhere near them. I get the same feeling even with individuals I have actually spoken to in the past, I still have a sense of awe when I speak to them and worry about the things I previously mentioned. Yes, I mean the likes of Sabina (not the ballerina), my mentor and certain managers I have come across in previous roles. All of whom I have had several conversations with but I still get crazy nervous each time!

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Using the time I have wisely to plot out the next step.

Moving on from my crazy, unjustifiable hurdles; not only were the speakers at the Summit inspiring but everyone I met were equally inspiring and amazing! I told my partner I would be home by 8pm because the official function was going to finish at 7. However, I ended up going for drinks with a group of ladies and we chatted for a few more hours. I can honestly say, when I got on the train that night I was so inspired and pumped to keep going and find that next challenge because there are some amazing people (men and women) out there who have not only paved the way but are so happy to share their wins and experiences so people like me can keep at it and not give up when the going gets a bit tougher than originally planned.

As further proof that the world does work in mysterious ways; a fellow mentee and I were asked to do a presentation on networking at our next function. Now I get to share all the information I have gathered since I set myself this challenge. Although, I cannot help but wonder… was my phone or computer bugged? Hmmm….. as Miss Alanis Morissette once said:

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