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Existential Meltdowns and Boredom

My story starts about five years ago - there's plenty of backstory, for instance, not being able to afford a full four-year degree (only a two), but having a lot of pressure to be successful from professors, teachers and even managers - who believed that regardless of my situation, somehow it would magically all work out.

I'm 28 now. Five years ago, years after college and a handful of jobs that didn't last long, I applied at an oil refinery. I figured the place was big enough, with enough work, to keep me occupied. I was wrong - for a multitude of reasons.

The first year went relatively well. As a probation laborer, I was basically under the gun the entire time - and we were worked hard for the most part. I had glimpses of the culture of laziness while a laborer, but not nearly as many as later on - it was good, honest, sweaty work in all outdoor elements. After my probation was up, I had to take a "sub" job in a unit as an operator. Rotational shifts, all three shifts changing from one to another every eight days. It was the most boring (and completely exhausting/self destructive due to the shifts) job I've ever seen. It destroyed the relationship I had at the time (and I haven't entered another since) and complicated many of my friendships, which have never recovered. You simply never see anyone, or have the energy to do so, with such a schedule.

I walked and climbed the same route every day as an operator. I checked the same gauges and readings, performed the same general PMs (as an operator, testing certain redundant systems once a week.) Even with the vast amount of distance to cover four times a shift, I still managed to have about three-four hours of nothing to do on a daily basis. To make matters worse, as a sub operator, it was our duty to deal with essentially the most dangerous and hazardous duties. In my case, one of them was flipping outdated 4400V breakers - I worked with a guy who was almost killed by them (coma for two weeks, burns on 90% of his body.)

After a year of that, I couldn't take it anymore - so bid to the warehouse, the only job I had enough seniority to actually grab. It was day shift only, and once again, I figured if I was at least on the same shift all the time, I'd be able to hang on until I could get a full-time skilled trade position. I was wrong again.

This was by far the worst job I think I've ever seen. My duties consisted of checking in inventory with four other warehousmen (there were, at best, twenty packages a day, and one computer for checking in/putting away in the proper location - no scanning.) Delivering chemicals in the plant via flatbed truck and forklift, and loading/unloading transports. I spent at least half, if not three-quarters of my two years in this job, doing absolutely nothing. We had a turnaround where I was put on third shift, and I literally slept for two-three hours a night. To put this all in perspective, the pay ceiling for union members was about $36/h, and I had made anywhere from $10.50 when I started, to $30 as an operator, to $20 as a warehousman. I still couldn't take it anymore.

The boredom was literally driving me insane. I was missing an average of a day every two-three weeks because of illness. Eventually this caused problems between myself and management/HR, but I told them very plainly in a meeting - I need a job where I am engaged and my intelligence/capabilities are more utilized. This was met with - literally - no response. They had no interest in letting me move laterally, or even backwards to a laborer position WITH A PAY CUT. They explained this away as a "union thing", but it most certainly was not. It was either me being victimized, or their own inconsiderate natures. The entire culture of the place was abusive and toxic to begin with, but to think that these people couldn't realize I hadn't missed a day of work until I started at the warehouse...beyond this, I was generally well liked and received high marks from my current direct management, and I was one of the very few union employees with a college education of any sort.

Needless to say, to avoid being fired and any further health problems, I left the job. I haven't been sick a single day since (it's now nearly six months later.) My auto-immune/inflammation issues haven't been better since I was in college. I can say that I was very lucky compared to some - I've been able to stay with family (while paying rent) and I had saved enough money to cover all of my expenses for quite some time. But the truth is, this experience has colored my perception of the working world. I'm not sure I can ever believe that an employer will ever care about my needs or health. I see the nature of the working world isn't much different than what it was in feudal times - it's basically "do exactly as we say, and be here every day, or starve." It's about meeting the needs of profit margins...not the needs of individuals. Here we were all led to believe the industrial revolution was supposed to be for the benefit of make their lives easier...and better. I don't believe that is the case.

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Aug 30, 2015

by: Jackie

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am sorry you had such a rough time. It is frustrating to not feel that you are able to perform to your full potential. I can definitely relate to the stress and frustration that shift work has caused you. I am so glad to hear your health is better without the stress in your life.

Please keep us posted on how things are going and what you decide to do next.

Jackie from the Stress Relief Workshop Team

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