Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Into The Field and Conquering Fear

I had a change of scenery last week as I was transferred to a different area of Suncor and have joined a crew "out in the field" as the saying here goes.  It's also referred to as being "put on tools."  Anyhow, its been a busy last few days to say the least.  My work schedule changes as well as I get 2 extra work days.  The extra time off over the summer was nice as it was the most time I've had off to enjoy summer since I moved out here.  I actually started out in the field on some much-appreciated over time days so beginning work down in the plant with 5 overtime days in a row is a pretty nice way to kick things off.

At the risk of sounding self-absorbed, I feel vindicated by the last week.  I'm not a physical type of guy though I don't mind getting my hands dirty when I have to.  I've had a few people tell me I'd never transition successfully from an academic, indoor job to working out in the elements.  Boo to them.   Truthfully you probably wouldn't want to have the physique of a football linebacker in my trade anyway given the endurance you need, the tight spaces you sometimes need to fit through and the climbing.

Yeah, for some reason I didn't give a great deal of thought when I started out working in the yards here that scaffolding can involve a lot of climbing around in high places.  You see, I do have a fear of heights.  Or at least I thought I did.  I'm pretty much sure I've cured myself of the worst of that now.  I spent the bulk of this past Sunday afternoon over 200 feet up on a structure helping to modify a hoarding around some piece of equipment.  (The view was great.)  The first 185 or so was mostly stairs which wasn't so bad.  It was once I reached a platform with a 30 foot steel ladder anchored to the structure that I thought I had met my Waterloo.  I came very close to apologizing to my journeyman and telling him it was just too much for me.  But since I was already most of the way up and didn't want to let my crew down I thought "the hell with it," took a deep breath and just did it.  Major butterflies about halfway up.  They tell you not to look down and it really does work.  I took my time, made sure I had a firm grip on the rungs and before I knew it I was up.  A couple more smaller ladders and I was at the top of the structure.

Going down that big ladder the first time was probably hardest part of the day.  You step through the safety gate, slowly get swing your feet out on to the ladder and put that big empty space below you out of your head.  Holding the rungs in a death grip helps.  Okay, I do exaggerate here.  I looked straight ahead and distracted myself by humming part of a tune in my head.  Turns out I could hum the thing 4 times by the time I reached solid ground.  (Thanks Bach.  Is there anything you can't do?)

I probably made that climb 5 or 6 times over the course of the afternoon.  By the end of the day, it was easy.  At one point I remember being shocked that I was so relaxed being up at that height.  Sometimes in this trade you have to tie off and work or hang outside of the structure temporarily depending on the requirements of the job at hand.  Now, of course I didn't do this (though a couple of the guys I worked with did) and wouldn't be asked to or even allowed to do it at any rate, but it was a pretty big victory for me.  I can be a tad introverted at times.  Sometimes, I've let my fears stop me from doing things.  Not that I woke up that morning thinking "Hey, I think I'll climb 200 feet in the air and hang outside of it just for kicks".   Oddly, I had a harder time yesterday climbing around 4 or 5 feet off the ground on a scaffold.  It takes some getting used and I am of course tied off to the scaffold but I didn't want that fact to give me a false sense of security and overstep my limits.  In reality, its the smaller slips and falls that can give you problems if you aren't careful rather than ones from 200-300 feet.  A little gallows humour always helps.  "Hey it's not the fall I'm worried about.  It's that sudden stop at the bottom.!"

Perhaps in the end it was more my WORRY of being afraid of heights (or acrophobia to give it its technical name) rather than actually BEING afraid of heights.  In the end, for me at least, it was simply mind over matter.