Mental Health and Addiction Within The Trades

I recently asked some other electricians, that I consider my peers, what advice they would give to other electrical apprentices.  I got some great advice, such as from Oleg:

‘Take as little time off as possible. Only turn down over time if you have a really good reason. Don’t talk about the weird shit you’re into until you’ve been working with someone for a while, and even then, some stuff is better left unsaid. Unless it’s work related or you’re just checking the time, keep your phone in your pocket. Always always always walk like you need to get somewhere in a hurry (having a somewhat angry look on your face as you’re walking also helps) learn which tasks you should take extra time to do right and which tasks you can just puke in. If you cause an issue between yourself and someone else, apologize and buy them alcohol. Go to ANY length to get to work on time. If you’re going to be late, tell your boss, even if it’s only by a few minutes. Socialize with your co workers – if times get tough, this won’t save you from a layoff, but it does decrease your chances of getting laid off for no reason. If you fuck up, fess up.’

Or from Becky:

‘Advice for “current” electrical apprentices?? Hahahah I am such a nerd. Um,  I would say, keep an open mind.  there are so many different areas you can end up in.  Try also not to get trapped in a certain area, like doing only grounding on a substation for a few months.  Some people just want a pay cheque and that is cool, but to learn about the trade I really think it is beneficial to get to mix it up.  That is hard to coordinate though important to try to do.’ (I believe she is talking about getting a diversity of jobsite experience, all across the residential, commercial, and industrial spectrum, in order to truly get a feel for what you want to do and where you would like to focus your career and learning on).

The advice I never hear from people in regards to succeeding at your job, and also in life is advice on mental health.  Yes you should know to show up early, to look presentable, and to try your best.  But are you truly taking care of yourself?  Are you taking the steps in self care to be thriving, not just surviving?  It has been quite the journey in self discovery for me to come to terms with my own mental health, and to understand some changes I need to make in order to be successful.

I am an extremely capable person, with a relentlessly positive attitude, and a determined work ethic. Now nearing the end of my apprenticeship, I am making good money, living in a place I feel comfortable and can afford all the things I would like to be comfortable.  Why would I be struggling with depression and anxiety if everything in my environment was healthy? I quit drinking booze two years ago, don’t do drugs, have taken on the challenge of playing roller derby and feel generally physically active. I live in a great house with an awesome yard and garden space, that my dog is welcome in and thriving, my roommates are supportive and great.  I have a great family and great friends.  everything is good, so why am I still struggling in my head?

Before my apprenticeship, I was avid about traveling and meeting new people and new experiences. I explored punk, art, activist, music, squating (people who do not pay rent to live in homes), and queer scenes all over the world, and got around by hitch-hiking, organizing a ride share,  riding a bicycle, and train hopping.   I once hitch-hiked all the way from Costa Rica back to Canada, just to prove I could.  I would get tunnel vision about an idea or place or event, and defeat all odds to achieve it. This made me feel good, but I know now that via self discovery,  I was escaping myself.  And I should have been feeling like I was finding myself, so i decided I needed some skills.   Soon my mid twenties hit and I started my apprenticeship to be an electrician.  I  found the job so all consuming I lost track of my creative, exploratory self and got tunnel vision about finishing my apprenticeship. I had to force the possibility of failure out of the way to get it done.

I have just finished my fourth year of school, and passed my Interprovincial exam.  School was challenging, but I got through it and didn’t do too bad.  The fear of not finishing has now vanished. And I had so many nightmares that I would get cancer, or electrocuted, or hit by a car or for whatever reason not be able to finish.  I was terrified I was too stupid to understand.  I was faced daily with the fear that people would not take me seriously as a female in a traditionally male job.  But despite all the odds and negative self talk, I finished.  I just need some more hours and soon I will receive a red seal certificate in the mail from the Industry Training Authority.

 I am now able to make enough money to feel comfortable.  As the chapter to meet my financial and meaningful employment needs are feeling like less of an all consuming challenge, all the internal things are now coming out.  I had been in survival mode, and wasn’t truly living.  

Now that I have acknowledged I may have some mental health problems I have been hiding, I can now start to deal with them.  It’s possible I could not safely deal with them until now, and feel extremely grateful that I am in a safe place now. I know I do not want to feel this way, and am willing to do anything to feel good.  It’s time to start taking care of myself.

From a self care perspective in a physical sense, I got it down.  I get exercise,  eat good.  I live in a nice house, own my own transportation, and have meaningful employment.  Yet inside my head I sometimes feel I am falling apart.  Fear. Anxiety. Depression.  Self doubt.  Sometimes I get bad feelings that squeeze my chest so hard I wish I was dead.  Sometimes my brain takes off like a freight train I cannot stop and feel I am along for the ride.  I had quit drinking because i was using booze to numb these feelings, but did not replace it with anything else. I am not balanced.  

To deal with this I have started seeking out advice.  I talk to a counsellor.  I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  I started openly talking about my feelings, and sometimes cry in public.  I have started communicating with the world through art, drawing comics and pictures. I started playing the ukulele again.  I know I am not alone and joined facebook groups for anxiety and depression.  I ask google questions and research how other people are dealing with negative thoughts.

The best Advice I have gotten, however, is what I will now share with you. I recently asked my counselor how I can change my thoughts of self doubt.  I was finding at work I would know in my heart I was capable of something, but when the time came to do it, especially if other people were watching me I would doubt my own ability, to figure it out, or to do the physical task.  I know in my heart that obviously if anyone else can do it, I can also find a way to do it.  But in my head I was not sure.  I was finding my confidence level super low, and the anxiety  and negative thoughts would spiral me so far down I actually would prove my doubts right, and wouldn’t be able to do something.

This councellor I talk to let me in on the PMA (positive mental attitude) math: Think positive, feel positive, act positive. Think Positive + Feel Positive = Positive Actions. Never mind what you are feeling. Feelings are results of thoughts.  And actions come out of thoughts and feelings. This is called cognitive behavioural therapy. It dawned on me that this might be an inarguable mathematical equation.  In math, there are integers, which is the positive and negative sides of a zero. A positive + a positive = a positive.  A negative + a positive = either a negative or positive, depending on the amounts. And a negative + a negative = a negative.

Math is the only language that you cannot argue with, and believe me I’ve tried.  In electricity, without all the math I was certain electricity would never fully make sense to me, and the theories would be but theories.  at least with the math electricity could be proven inarguably in some way.  We don’t actually know what electricity is.  but we have some math to show what it does, so thats a good start.

For instance; when I think in my head ‘I can do this’, I then feel like ‘I can do this’, and only need to ask the questions necessary to achieve the task, and then find that I CAN do the task.  By keeping this in mind, I have gone from being a self doubter about my abilities, to the best pipe bender for the company I work for.  Granted, I have more pipe bending experience, and yes I use an app on my phone to calculate the bends, but now I am able to teach other people how to bend pipe.  This feels good.   

Learning this was an actual method to redirect anxiety and depression had me reflecting on all the things I have done in the past. Tunnel vision towards a goal was my way of turning my fear of failure into faith in myself to accomplish anything I set my mind to.  

Which brings me to my next point of great advice, finding direction.  Go get yourself a pen and paper, and make a list of who you are right now.    Turn the page over and make a list of who you want to be.  This clarifies a positive direction to be heading in.  Make a third list detailing a management strategy.  You are the head electrician running your own body’s electrical system.  You’ve got to set up a maintenance schedule, because you can’t have valuable equipment breaking down.  Your system is just like any other human, and you need 7-8 hours of sleep.  Nutritional food to fuel your activities.  Healthy friends and family, and sleeping environment to foster positive growth. Stimulating activities to challenge your brain.  Physical activities to keep your actual body active. Etc. This is all self care. This is also how you will manage your path to your goal.

Within this self awareness is my third piece of good advice I would like to pass on. Nevermind what the outside world says to you, it’s your head and your life, and you don’t need the outside world to yeah;) or nay ;/ your life.  You don’t need to hear from anyone else that you are a good pipe bender, because you already knew that. You bent the pipe, you liked the bend, and you installed it.  It doesn’t matter if people accept me as a female electrician.  I accept me as a female electrician and I respect my own capabilities and intelligence.  I was spending so much time worrying and wishing for outside approval to validate my good work and my knowledge, that depending on someone else’s reaction to my work could make or break my confidence for a long while.  Using the brain + feeling = action equation, I have realized I do not need to seek outside confidence, because it is my brain that tells me I can do this.

When I think back to my traveling days, I certainly was good at finding a free way to live my life, and was willing to give up all comforts for it.  I was using all the energy from my very being into daily survival.  I now realize, this energy, like in physics, is never created or destroyed, only transferred. And human brains are powerful enough to transfer that energy to fascinating things. What would happen if we all decided to live extraordinary lives? I look forward to finding out.

2 thoughts on “Mental Health and Addiction Within The Trades

  1. Great oneI like the new found thinking youve learnt and tacklingI am a 100% believer of the power of thought- I have proven it to myself again and againmy passcode for my bank login when I was 22 was;movingtoeurope as one example, where I now live.

    Liked by 1 person

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