Evolution of Public Speech

Memoir Mondays

How do you guys feel about public speaking?

I’ve been up and down about the subject ever since I was a little kid.

When I was little – I’m talking really little – I was a talker for sure. I was social and opinionated and always willing to share my “knowledge”. And I had no short supply of adults willing to listen to me, so I talked just about as much as I could. I enjoyed being the center of attention, because that attention was generally quite positive; people constantly praising me for this or that, telling me how smart I was…that kind of thing. That continued into the first couple of grades of elementary school. I was fairly social; I had tons of cousins so being in a room with a bunch of kids my age was no big deal. I would talk to pretty much anyone, and most kids seemed to like me well enough, so it was all good.

Eventually though, as time moved on, I started to become the “nerd”. I continued to enjoy school after many kinds began to decide that math and science sucked. I preferred cartoons and video games to name-brand clothes and the hottest bands. I spent most of my time reading and writing my own stories during a time when other kids were finding places to loiter and trying to act as grown-up as possible. That divide meant that other kids were starting to tease me, which meant that I didn’t want to talk as much, and subsequently I became very nervous when it came to speaking in public. If I had to read a report in front of the class I’d be red in the face and sweating by the time it was over. If I was acting in a school play I’d rush through my lines to get myself out of the spotlight as quickly as possible. This stage lasted quite a while. I avoided doing anything that had me speaking in front of too many people at once. Certain other things – like singing – didn’t bother me, but speaking? Anything that had me standing in front of people and speaking while they stared at me was my worst damn nightmare.

Junior high school (grades 7 through 9, where I’m from) was even worse. I was one of the weird kids – I refused to dress “trendy”, I still enjoyed school and did really well at it, and I was busy drawing and watching anime while other kids were starting to date and drink – so I just got shyer and more reserved. It was a damn miracle for me to make it to a school dance, and I genuinely hated hanging out with too many kids my age. I was the kind of person who heard others laughing and assumed that they were laughing at me, so I couldn’t stand giving anyone any fodder. I pretty much assumed that opening my mouth would result in being laughed at, and at that age there were just too many weird hormones going through my body for me to have been able to handle that. I even went through a bit of an emo stage at this point – no joke. My mom called it my “Johnny Cash” phase because I wore nothing but black jeans and shirts for about a frikkin’ year.

High school was when things started to swing a little in the other direction again. I got my first boyfriend, met a bunch of new friends who seemed to like me well enough, and I even joined the cheerleading squad. When it came time to pick an elective course, I chose Drama because I’d always genuinely enjoyed acting and thought that maybe, now, I could actually handle doing it in front of people. I don’t remember a huge amount about that particular class, but I do remember that we had to do monologues once, and I was determined to do well on mine. I don’t even remember what the monologue was about, just that it was a bit dramatic, a big angsty…a kid talking about how someone had died or something of the sort…and as I was performing it I completely forgot about the class watching me and just got into it. At the end my class gave me an honest-to-goodness standing ovation, and it was honestly one of the biggest highlights of my high school career. I couldn’t have been more proud.

The years that followed caused me to slip again because I was just too occupied with too many other things. University was a busy time during which I began dating my husband, got into the bar scene (like literally everyone else at that age), plus I was getting back into writing, playing a lot of video games, and just, in general, I wasn’t putting myself in the kind of positions where I would have to talk to many people at once. Even my class sizes were tiny because not many people enrolled in the program I took, so I got wildly out of practice. The severity of it didn’t really hit me until I got my first big job at the paper mill. I had to move to another town for the job, where I knew literally no one, and there would constantly be multiple people trying to get to know me at once. It was extremely nerve-wracking for quite a while. I eventually settled into it, but then the paper mill shut down and soon I found myself traveling out West, doing the whole thing all over again online with twice as many people on the enormous work site. And maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was 3000 miles away from home, working in an industry that I’d never worked in before, dealing with people from all corners of the planet, and working with a vastly different system than I’d previously dealt with, but I never really quite got the hang of it as long as I was in the field. One thing I hated – with a capital HATE – was talking on the radios, because I knew that anyone on the site who was on the same radio channel could hear me, and I couldn’t stand that. As much as possible I would foist the radio off on whoever I was working with so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

But eventually I moved to the control room side of things, and guess what the major part of that job is? Talking on the damn radio. It was a trial-by-fire kind of system, but I can’t deny that it worked. By the end of that particular job I was talking on two different radios at once, to two or three different groups in the field at a time, without the tiniest concern for who could hear me. I didn’t have time to be concerned with who was listening in.

I haven’t been on the control room side of things for a while now, but I’m still fairly comfortable talking in front of people these days, though I do still get a flush sometimes when I realize that those people are all looking at me. But you want to hear something really weird? Nearly two years ago now I decided to start up my YouTube channel, and for the first while I was a pathetic WRECK recording those videos. Yeah, you heard me: I’d pretty much mastered dealing with talking to people in person, but talking to a camera, in a room all by myself, reduced me to a blob. I would sweat, no joke, and find myself out of breath by the end of a video. Posting the video out there for the world to see didn’t bother me…just the actual recording. How weird is that? Of course, I did so many videos that it didn’t take too long before I’d found my groove again, and now it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Still, I find it amusing that speaking to an electronic device set me back a hundred steps long after people were no longer a problem. People are funny that way, am I right?

So, I’ll ask again: how do you guys feel about public speaking?

Doctor Knows Best…But Not Necessarily

Memoir Mondays

What are you experiences with doctors?

When I was a kid, up to when I was a teenager, I had the same general practitioner as my mother. First it was a doctor who was well-meaning but occasionally a little scatterbrained (he once gave me an antibiotic that I’m allergic to and I reportedly got one hell of a rash), but I barely remember him because we switched doctors before I’d had too many reasons to visit one. The second guy was pretty great, to be honest. He was the type of doctor that figured a lot of things were best solved via exercise and proper eating, but he was also intelligent enough to understand that sometimes there actually is something wrong with you that requires drugs. I liked him a lot.

When I moved for my first post-university job, I didn’t have a doctor at first because they’re not easy to find in Nova Scotia (too few of them to be able to handle the aging population, never mind the rest of us poor schmucks). Luckily, the paper mill had a doctor who came right onto site once a week to allow us the chance to see someone if required. I spoke to him a few times throughout my time at the mill, although it was mostly just for simple stuff like a common cold or needing my birth control refilled.

However, eventually, I went to this particular doctor with a couple of complaints, and it mostly went downhill from there. I had a short list of things that had been bothering me, and without pretty much any preamble at all he concluded that I was depressed and handed me a prescription for antidepressants. I was a bit shocked, to be sure. First off, this guy is a general practitioner, not a psychiatrist, so the fact that he came to the conclusion of “depression” after a five minute discussion was more than a little surprisingly. Not to mention the fact that I was pretty certain myself that I was not depressed. I had bad days, sure, and there were the few things that I was complaining about, but “depressed” seemed like a major overreaction to me. I tried out the antidepressants anyway, because at the time I figured what could it hurt, but I didn’t find they had any kind of reaction what-so-ever, which helped cement my belief that I had never actually been depressed in the first place. Soon after I was planning on trying for a baby, so I just stopped taking the meds and didn’t think of them again.

After my daughter was born I had another frustrating run-in with that same doctor. At about four or five months old she had become constipated, which is always a big concern for new parents. After a few days had passed I brought her in to see the doctor and after confirming that she wasn’t apparently in any kind of pain or anything he told me to “just give her some prune juice”. A few days after that I brought her in again because she still hadn’t gone and he repeated the advice without barely even looking at her. The third time I brought her in it had been over a week since she’d gone and I was justifiably getting very concerned. He told me the same damn thing. I actually almost lost my mind and practically screamed, “She won’t swallow the goddamn prune juice, so what f*%ing good is it?!”

(P.S. She did eventually go on her own, in the middle of a Shoppers Drug Mart over half an hour drive from home, but that’s another story.)

Eventually I began traveling out West for work, and with that came a whole new team of medical staff because each oil sands site has it’s own med center in case of emergencies and the like. While at a job in Cold Lake I developed a bad cough and took myself up to the med center. The guy who saw me told me that I’d probably developed it as part of a cold, that it was viral, and that I’d just have to wait for it to go away on its own. This was a little frustrating since the major part of my job was talking on a radio to the rest of the crew, but I figured there was nothing for it. By a few days later I had all but lost my voice – I had to practically scream into the radio in order for anyone to make me out – and I began coughing so hard that I twice had to sprint to the bathroom because I was starting to gag and almost threw up all over the control panel. When I returned to the med center I saw a different doc, and this one was aghast at how horrible my throat looked. She told me it was basically raw, was definitely bacterial, and that there was no way it would have gotten better without a round of antibiotics. The first guy is lucky he’d gone on his days off because I was ready, willing, and able to murder him.

Around the same time as that fiasco, I’d begun to develop my stomach problems and anxiety. I’d always had minor stomach problems, but they’d begun to grow exponentially as a result of the anxiety, which was growing exponentially as a result of the travel situation for my job. Our camp was an hour (one way) away from the site, and the bus they provided us with was this crappy refurbished school bus…in other words, no toilet. I spent two hours a day on a bus, surrounded by about forty coworkers (ALL male), without access to a toilet. And it wasn’t as though we could just stop any time I needed to…about five minutes down the road from the site was a gas station, and from then on it was 50 minutes of wide open fields. There were barely even any trees on that drive, never mind somewhere with a restroom where I could get the bus driver to stop. So I started developing this major panic-attack reaction to the bus. Whenever I knew I was going to have to get on it, I’d wind up running to the bathroom three or four times, only to sit my ass on the bus and immediately feel like my innards were just going to come pouring out of me. I did this every day, twice a day. Sometimes, when we were sitting in the bus line waiting to leave at the end of the day, I’d actually have to get up, run off the bus, sprint to the nearest building, and then try to move as quickly as possible to make sure I got back before it was our bus’s turn to leave. Eventually my worst fears came true and I actually did have to ask the bus driver to stop in the middle of the road in the middle of the drive because there was simply no way I was going to make it back to the camp. I was extremely lucky that we just so happened to be right outside some of the only trees on the entire drive, so it wasn’t nearly as mortifying as it could have been, but believe me when I say it was still pretty mortifying.

After that incident I went to see my GP again – the same antidepressant-and-prune-juice guy and explained the situation and how my guts had been reacting as of late. The main thing he told me? “Well, you’ve clearly got IBS, and it’s just something you have to learn how to deal with. Don’t worry, I’m sure the bus driver will stop for you whenever you need to.”

Yeah…sure. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of that drive is wide open field without so much as a road sign to hide behind. Never mind the humiliation of a bus full of coworkers knowing exactly what’s going on. Never mind the fact that, a few months later, it would pitch black during those bus rides and we were driving through bear country. Yeah, never mind all of that.

I had a similarly tear-jerking situation when I went to see a gastroenterologist about these same stomach issues. After extensive testing he concluded that there was physically nothing at all wrong with me and that my problem was that I was panicking myself into stomach issues, and that I should just learn to calm the hell down. It’s really quite amazing that I managed to step out of that particular meeting without blood on my fists.

Since then I did manage to get some anxiety medication out of my GP, although in the end I found it did me more bad than good (ironically, it seemed to be negatively affecting my digestion), and I’ve had several smaller annoying run-ins with different doctors in the outpatients department at our local hospital. Long story short, one of them scolded me for not blowing my nose enough when I got a sinus infection (at the time my nose wasn’t stuffed, so what the hell was I supposed to be blowing?), and three separate doctors all tried to give me antibiotics that I’m allergic to, despite the respective triage nurses always being careful to write that info in the admissions forms. I’ve come to the conclusion that all the doctors at that particular hospital have gotten together and are actively plotting my death.

So, you see, over the years I haven’t had the greatest luck with doctors. I was very lucky during childbirth…although none of the regular doctors were available at the time I ended up getting one who really knew what she was talking about and was very skilled with the forceps, which prevented me ending up with a Cesarean section…but that was the exception to the rule of “try to screw over Tracey as much as possible and/or make her cry tears of pain and rage”.

So you might understand why I’m not particularly looking forward to the appointment I have with my GP later today. See, lately I seem to be like a strange science experiment, ridiculously prone to infections. Since August I’ve had eight of them; four different types, with two of them being recurring. Antibiotics help, of course, but they come with their own sets of problems and shouldn’t be overused due to the possibility of developing antibiotic resistance. So the short version is that I’ve got to figure out why I keep getting infections so that I can stop them instead of just constantly treating them. And that’s a conversation I have a bad feeling about, since antidepressant-and-prune-juice GP loves to jump to conclusions within the first two minutes of the appointment.

The funny (frustrating) thing is that the docs who first diagnosed the first infection I got back in August are really awesome ladies. They work at the med center at my current job on the oil sands, and they’re super smart and super good at what they do…but, unfortunately, the med center isn’t equipped to deal with everything. They have painkillers, stuff to wrap cuts, some equipment for monitoring purposes, and that’s about it. In a real emergency you have to hop in the ambulance and head off to town, which is not something you have the choice to do when it’s non-life-threatening. So, long story short, there’s nothing they can do for me there, other than suggest things that I should do when I get home. The question is, when I go in to my GP today and tell him I need these tests, is he going to go ahead with that or try to shove another totally random prescription at me? I guess we’ll just have to see, but I have to tell you, at this point my hopes aren’t all that high.

Down She Goes

Memoir Mondays

I’ve heard it said by many tradesmen that “you’re not working hard enough if you’ve never shut the place down”. The reasoning, I suppose, is that it’s so easy to accidentally trip a plant or factory that if you’ve never done it you must not be doing very much work. By that logic, I must be working like a dog.

The first time I ever shut a place down was when I worked at the paper mill. I worked in the pulp plant department, where we had these huge refiners run by monstrous motors. The combination of this equipment was a hell of a lot of noise, and when they were shut down you could hear this very high-pitched hum-whine that practically made the floor vibrate, and you’d know exactly what had happened. On the day in question I was checking out a part of the program on the PLC (programmable logic controller), and it was a small discrepancy in definition that screwed me up. On a home computer or personal device, if you’re “downloading” something, it means you’re grabbing it from an outside location and bringing it onto the device in front of you; if you’re “uploading” something, you’re moving it from your device out to the outside location. However, with a PLC it’s the exact opposite. “Uploading” means taking the program from the PLC and moving it onto the computer you’re working with, and “Downloading” means moving the edited program file from the computer back to the PLC. I intended to “upload” the current running program so that I could have a look at it, but instead I “downloaded” the old program that was currently open on the computer. The next thing I knew the air was filled with that hum-whine that meant the entire place was crashing. Luckily the pulp plant usually has a pretty large buffer before it’ll actually run out of pulp and subsequently shut the paper machine down, so we were able to “download” the backup copy of the program and get everything running again.

That was fairly embarrassing, but it only actually affected about fifty or so people. What happened out on the oil sands, however…well, let me just tell you…

First of all, the plant in question is pretty huge and there was a massive number of people working there at the time. My commissioning company alone had about a thousand people on site, plus four different construction companies, plus the vendors, plus the company that actually owns the site. So whenever the place shut down there were a lot of people standing around doing nothing, wasting money.

So anyway, one morning the programmers and engineers were testing the alarm system for the first time. The idea is that if any gas detector, smoke alarm, or flame detector in the plant is tripped – or if someone hits an emergency stop button – all the horns and lights go off, any running processes shut down, and anyone inside the main plant has to stop work and retreat to a “muster point” (a predetermined safe zone). An announcement went across the plant warning us about the test, the muster was tripped, we all mustered for a few minutes to prove that we knew what to do in case of an actual emergency, and then we returned to work. The system was proven and everyone was happy.

The following day my coworker and I were testing some gas detectors and made a very stupid mistake. You see, the techs in the control room have the ability to bypass the programming on devices that will trip the alarm system, but up until that point we hadn’t been required to do so because the alarm system didn’t actually work. But on this day, of course, everything was now 100% functional.

My coworker opened the portable gas canister that would allow us to test whether or not the gas detector was functional, and half a second later there were flashing lights and wailing sirens going off all over the site. Humorously enough, even though we’d just performed a successful site-wide test the day before, no one seemed to know what to do. An entire site of thousands of workers stood dumbfounded for several long moments before anyone so much as took a step toward a muster point. My coworkers and I, on the other hand, practically sprinted to one so we could hunt down a boss and explain what had happened. Some people were pretty frustrated with us, but it was to be expected that someone would screw up at some point now that the alarms were operational, so we were basically forgiven.

But that’s not the best part.

On the third day, my coworker and I were still working on gas detectors, so this time we were extremely careful to get in touch with a tech in the control room and ensure that all the proper bypasses were set up so we wouldn’t trip the system again. We were extremely diligent and checked back with our tech multiple times. We were confident. We were fine. We were all good.

We pulled a terminal in order to fix a wiring issue.

Flashing lights and wailing sirens.

The way my coworker tells it, he’d never heard so many profanities come out of such a small woman. The next thing we knew, we had a construction supervisor on top of us, radio in hand, demanding our names so he could report us to the head-honchos.

The alarms were cancelled as a false alarm and everyone returned to work without mustering, but a few minutes later I got a text from one of our team leads: “The foreman wants to see you in his office immediately.”

We were certain that we were getting sacked, and we were as frustrated as we were upset because we couldn’t understand why it had happened. We’d checked with our control room tech multiple times! This couldn’t possibly have been our fault, right?

We walked into our foreman’s office with trepidation, ready for the hammer to drop. What we weren’t expecting was for him to take one look at us and burst into laughter. “I love giving people nicknames,” he said, “and I’ve got the perfect ones for you two: Muster and Evac!”

We were relieved, that’s for sure, and even more so when we found out that it really hadn’t been our fault. Some moron programmer had wanted to test something and had – without consulting anyone – disabled all bypasses. My coworker and I had just been unlucky enough to be the first poor schmucks who had tripped something while the bypasses weren’t on. Twice. Two days in a row.

It’s been three years since that particular mistake, and I haven’t shut down any sites since, but I’ll never forget the hum-whine of the refiner bay grinding to a halt, or the feeling when those sirens started howling on the third day and everyone just turned and looked right at us. In fact, people on that site still joke whenever the sirens go off for a legitimate reason: “What did Tracey do now?”

But…at least it means I must be working.

The Hole that Nobody Owned

Memoir Mondays

It’s a strange and foolish trait of human nature that we will often find ourselves doing an extraordinary amount of work in order to avoid doing a very small amount of a different kind of work. My father always referred to this phenomenon as the “lazy-man’s load”, in reference to many people’s habit of struggling to carry half their body weight in grocery bags all at once rather than making multiple trips with less weight.

I’ve seen quite a lot of variations of this type of idiosyncrasy  over the years, and today I’m going to tell you about one that still has me shaking my head over two years later.

I was working a job at a construction site that my coworkers and I were commissioning, and I was working on the control system end of things, which meant that I spent my days hanging out in the control room. This control room – which was, in actuality, a full building – is where the plant operators spend their entire shift, and as such it was designed for continuous human occupancy (full kitchen, washrooms, etc.). At the time of this story, however, the water treatment plant had not yet been started up, so we couldn’t actually  use the permanent washrooms. Instead, a temporary wash trailer had been set up off to one side of the building. That was all find and good, but because of the grading of the land around the building (mostly steep inclines) and the fact that safety is a very big deal on this particular site, there was only one approved access path between the building and the wash trailer.

And this is where the story begins to get silly, because one day a hole appeared in that path.

It was no small hole, either, like something the local wildlife could have burrowed overnight. No, this hole was a good four or five feet deep, and wide enough around for a slim person to fit right in.

Understandably, this became an issue very quickly, because our designated pathway was hardly twice the width of the hole, and we didn’t want anyone to accidentally fall in on the way to or from the toilet. One of our safety people was therefore called immediately, and we were told that it would be taken care of.

And it was…in the form of someone putting  a couple of pylons and some caution tape around the hole.

Immediately we began to complain. For one thing, the pylons only made what was left of our path smaller and more difficult to traverse, and it wasn’t as though the plastic, yellow caution tape was going to stop anyone falling if they happened to slip. We spent a good week asking our safety people what on Earth they were playing at while we had to shimmy by the hole and it’s decorative tape every time we needed to relieve ourselves. Surely this wasn’t the kind of “safety” that the site was known for. Surely someone had to be yanking our chains.

Finally, when we’d just begun to wonder if anything was every going to be done, it was… Someone removed the pylons and caution tape and replaced them with a sheet of plywood on top of the hole.

For the twenty-some people who were working in the control room at the time, that piece of plywood was a little like a slap in the face – they’d replaced a fall hazard with a tripping one, and since the plywood wasn’t even affixed a trip could easily enough domino into a fall. As far as we were concerned they’d actually made the problem worse, so we complained again, and it was at this point when we started to ask the questions that were seemingly being ignored:

Who the hell dug the hole anyway?
What was it there for?
Was there any reason that it couldn’t be filled in?
Who was going to take responsibility?

The hole had first arrived before my shift. I’d come into the shift a day or two before the caution tape was replaced with the plywood, and by the time my 14-day shift was over the plywood was still there. Despite the fact that we brought the hole up every single morning, no one could answer any of our questions. No one seemed to have the slightest clue why the hole had been dug, what the reason for it was, or when it was going to be filled back in. No one wanted to claim it, and no one wanted to take responsibility for it.

Approximately five weeks after the hole first appeared, when I had come back for another shift, I got off the bus, looked over toward the hole, and nearly cried from a mixture of laughter and disbelief. While I’d been away on my time off they had built a little wooden bridge with handrails over the hole. They didn’t fill it; they built a bridge over it.

Not a single person in the control room could believe the ridiculousness of it. We were surrounded by miles upon miles of dirt in every direction, but rather than taking responsibility for the hole, declaring that it was unnecessary, and filling it, someone had decided to tape it off, and then cover it with a board, and then task a carpenter to build a goddamn bridge over it.

Weeks of complaints, unreasonable “solutions”, and finally several hours work for a carpenter to avoid accepting responsibility and letting someone with a shovel take half an hour to fill the hole in. My coworkers and I didn’t stop laughing about it for weeks.

No one is exempt from this odd human trait of avoiding the easiest possible path – least of all, me – but this is one example that always comes back to mind because of just how absurd it seemed at the time. So, to whomever really did dig that hole: thanks. Thanks for the entertainment.:P


For Every Question There is an Answer

Memoir Mondays

Given the exact definition of the word “Memoir”, “Memoir Mondays” might not be a perfect description to use for the day of the week when I just talk about myself and my life in general. By definition, a memoir is supposed to be a written record of events, from the point of view of someone who has intimate knowledge of them based on personal experience. Thus, sometimes what I write on Mondays could be considered a memoir (reliving an awesome moment in my past, for example), and sometimes what I write doesn’t truly fit the bill (talking about my opinions on society in general, for instance, rather than talking about a specific event).

So why am I sharing this tidbit of definitive information? Well, mainly because what I’m about to share doesn’t really fall under the right category, but I don’t care. “Memoir Mondays” for me are just days to talk about me, so there. 😛

So today, instead of rambling on in text, I thought I’d share a video I recently posted on YouTube in which I ramble on in my actual voice.

In January I asked my YouTube followers for questions, and this past week I finally posted the answers. They asked me about my collectibles, certain fandoms, my writing, opinions on a number of things, and one saucy little devil asked me where I found my “wonderful and loving” husband. I had a lot of fun answering said questions, so I figured why not share it with you guys today so you can actually listen to my nonsense for a change. 🙂 Enjoy!

What’s in a Name?

Memoir Mondays

Today’s post comes thanks to The Daily Post, whose “Say Your Name” prompt asks us: Write about your first name: Are you named after someone or something? Are there any stories or associations attached to it? If you had the choice, would you rename yourself?

The story of my name is pretty simple and boring, to be honest. My understanding of it is basically that my parents hadn’t settled on a name, but when I was born my dad officially chose “Tracey”. My middle name – “Lynn” – is the standard go-to attachment for a first name that ends in “-cey”, and there you go. Tracey Lynn Clarke is what I was for the first 25-ish years of my life.

What is a little more interesting is how I felt about my name growing up, and how it has affected me as an adult.

I wouldn’t say that I hated my name when I was a kid, but like many other kids I wasn’t particularly fond of it. Kids just tend to dislike their names for some reason…I don’t know what it is, but I guarantee you the majority of people reading this agree with me. I always felt that my name sounded boring. I was a kid who read a lot, played video games, watched lots of TV, and “Tracey Lynn” just seemed terribly unoriginal to me as a result. I would have preferred something more regal, or something that sounded heroic. I’m sure I thought of a thousand other names I would have liked to have instead. Or, sometimes, I would think that perhaps I could add something to my name. I already had a middle name, but I knew several kids who had four parts to their name and I thought that maybe I could add something to make the name in general sound more interesting. Once, on a school project in the third grade, I even signed my full name with an extra bit: “Tracey Lynn Marie Clarke”. I couldn’t possibly explain to you why I thought “Marie” would make my name sound cooler, but I’m sure it made sense at the time.

There was one other reason that my name made me twitch when I was a kid: for years I was known as “Tender Loving Care” because of my initials, and that drove me nuts. I was fortunate enough to go through most of elementary school with a classmate with those same initials, but his annoyance didn’t exactly damper mine. I wondered more than once if my parents had picked those initials on purpose, because it seemed like the kind of silly, cutesy thing new parents would do, but I’m quite confident that’s not how it went. It was just the luck of the draw.

Eventually, once I’d grown up, I learned to love my name and I began to realize that wishing for a more “unique” name was a bit silly. These days there are lots of “unique” names out there, and the kids who have them are often much worse off than I ever was. I’ve known kids with names that no one would ever possibly figure out how to spell, kids named after popular characters who have since fallen out of pop culture (thus the name just sounds weird now), and kids who are named after ever day objects, places, or events that sound nothing like a goddamn name.  And it’s kind of a sin. I’ve often wondered if some parents even take two seconds to consider the ramifications of the name their choose for their child. Such as a young girl my cousin taught named Abcde. No joke. It’s pronounced “Absidy”, and I would have accepted that spelling, but her parents chose to use the first five letters of the alphabet instead, and so that poor kid regularly has people staring at her name in confusion, like it has to be a typo or someone forgot to delete the “template” name on a form.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track. The point is that these days I’m perfectly okay with my name, but there is one small annoyance that still pops up on a regular basis: my first name, which is what I’ve always gone by, is androgynous, and in the work world that means that everyone automatically assumes I’m a guy. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve checked in to the work camp that I live in while I’m on shift and had them line me up to share a bathroom with a man. This wouldn’t be an issue if the bathroom doors locked properly (they purposely made them easy to jimmy in case your neighbor accidentally locks you out while they’re gone), but it’s also a simple matter of logic. They may book me thinking that I’m a guy, but month after month they neglect to actually, you know…LOOK at me when I’m checking in. Eventually I had to call up our booking agent and have her permanently change my name in the system to “Tracey-Lynn” to avoid this issue, but believe it or not it still occurs on occasion, because I work in a male-dominated field so everyone’s mind defaults to, “Tracey is probably a guy”.

Maybe I’ll change the spelling to “Traci”. Pretty sure I’ve never met a guy with my name whose spelling looks like a porn star’s. 😛

What Makes Me Anxious, and What I Do About It

Memoir Mondays

I’ve spoken on this blog before about anxiety, what it feels like, how difficult it can be to deal with – and I’ll continue to talk about it on a regular basis because those with anxiety need to be supportive of each other, and those who without it need to understand that it is not as simple as just flicking a switch in your brain and turning anxiety off.

Today I want to talk about something that has significantly helped me with my anxiety, but to understand best I’d like to first explain precisely what it is that makes me anxious.

Approximately a year and a half after my daughter was born, I developed very sudden, surprising, and completely random gastrointestinal issues. This would have been a distressing development under any circumstances, but my personal situation added its own set of extra difficulties. You see, I work in the Alberta oil sands. That means that I hop a plane at home (in Nova Scotia), fly most of the way across the country, and both live and work in the middle of nowhere for two weeks at a time. The particular job that I was on at the beginning of this story required residency at a work camp, and this particular camp is a sprawling site consisting of three buildings that share almost sixty three-story wings. When you check in you receive a card that scans you into your wing and room, but you have no access to any other wing, either from inside or outside the building. So, the important bit of information to take away here is that if you’re walking around the outside perimeter of this camp there is exactly one wing-door that you can unlock to get inside, plus the main entrances to each building (three doors) and the main hallway access doors for each building (three more doors). Seven doors may seem like plenty, but six of these doors are grouped together in roughly the same place, and the outer perimeter of the camp is almost one-and-a-half miles. So, what I’m getting at here is that if you’re walking around the buildings there are large gaps of space during which you’re half a mile or more away from a door you can open – more if you’re in a wing for which the door is near that grouping of main doors. None of this ever occurred to me until the day my internal organs first began to torture me. I’d been jogging around the perimeter in the mornings, trying to get my pre-pregnancy body back, when the need to get to a bathroom hit me like a sack of bricks right to the guts.

The first time it happened I was lucky enough to have come around to my own wing. The second time I was fairly close to one of the main entrances and managed to dash to it. But this phenomenon kept happening, almost every time I went out, and some of the time I was a very long distance away from where I could escape to a bathroom. There were some close calls. Eventually I found myself regularly not going out for my jobs because the slightest tummy twitch would have me worrying that I was going to have another episode. Soon I’d quit running all together because I was simply too scared to take the chance, and before I knew it I’d developed a panic-attack-like reaction to being too far away from a bathroom.

I survived for a while by simply avoiding situations that took me too far away, but soon enough my job changed and that’s when the anxiety really began. At my new job the camp and the site were an hour’s drive away from each other, and our transportation to and from was on an old, refurbished school bus. If you’re not understanding quite yet I’ll just go ahead and spell it out for you: for my fourteen-day shift I would have to spend two hours a day on a bus with no bathroom.

To say that I suffered for months is playing it down. I would run to the bathroom at least three or four times every morning before being able to coax myself onto the bus. In the evenings I’d have to run off the bus at least once before it could pull away to take us back. And my anxiety grew and grew because it wasn’t as though I was just being jumpy and worried…I actually needed all those bathroom runs. I would get anxious about needing a bathroom when I couldn’t have one, and the anxiety would twist my guts into a knot, making me need a bathroom. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy in which I could no longer tell if the horror in my body was completely random (as it had been when I was running around camp) or if it was actually caused by the anxiety itself. The fact that I couldn’t tell made it even worse because I could sometimes manage to stave off the anxiety-gut-twists, but if they were real-gut-twists I was only prolonging the inevitable and making it worse.

And for those of you who are thinking that I could just ask the bus driver to stop should needs be, that wasn’t exactly an option. That hour-long drive was through open plains; no commercial buildings, no residences, no trees, even. Just wide, open field. I eventually did have to ask the bus driver to stop once during an absolute, five-alarm emergency, and I was extremely fortunate that we just happened to be passing by a farm, which was one of the only places in those 100 or so kilometers that had some trees. Regardless, it was one of the most mortifying moments of my life. Try to imagine, if you will, having to scream at a bus driver to stop so that you could sprint like a crazy-person into the woods while fifty-or-so of your coworkers look on in complete confusion. I got no grief for it, and there was a lot of sympathy afterwards (understandable, considering I probably looked like a kicked puppy when I returned to the bus), but I definitely felt like curling up in a corner and dying. And another self-fulfilling prophecy came to pass, because now every time I got on the bus while trying to convince myself, “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay,” I would inadvertently imagine that moment of having to walk back out of the woods and onto the bus, and a second little voice in my head would scream, “But what if it’s not?! Sometimes it’s not! This could be one of those times when it’s not!!!”

The anxiety just got worse and worse after that. It began to leech into my home life and I’d start to panic during pretty much any kind of travel. My husband and I taking a shopping trip? I’d be pulling into the nearest Tim Hortons after only fifteen minutes on the road. My father driving the half-hour distance to the airport? I’d be gulping down Immodium beforehand and I’d practically run out of the car when we got there. Even just driving my daughter to kindergarten in the morning – a five-minute drive at most – would prompt me to run to the bathroom two or three times before we could even get out of the house. I’d try to talk myself down, try to convince myself that neither my husband, nor my father, nor my toddler could care less if the worst were to happen, but the part of my mind that had become trapped within the spiral of anxiety refused to accept that as a reasonable argument. By the time my job changed again the anxiety related to travel was so deeply rooted that I would begin to have a panic attack at even the thought of getting on a bus. That’s when I knew that I really had a problem because my new job had buses with washrooms, but that didn’t matter anymore. Just looking at a bus would fill me with dread and make my guts twist in knots.

And now we get to the upside, fortunately. See, I tried a number of things to work myself through the anxiety. I tried listening to classical music and I tried listening to dragon rock to distract myself – both helped a little bit for a little while, but then seemed to gradually lose their power. I tried distracting myself with books or handheld games, but that would just marry motion sickness into the situation. I tried drugs prescribed to me for both stomach spasms and anxiety, but even after the dosages had been increased several times I never felt any different after taking them.

Then, one day, thanks to a Fab Fit Fun subscription box, I received a three-month trial gift card for something called Headspace, and when I looked into it I learned that it’s an app that teaches you how to meditate. I thought it sounded kind of lame at first, but then I read a ton of excellent reviews and figured, hey…three months free…may as well give it a try.

Those three months totally changed my outlook. First of all, Headspace doesn’t just teach you “how to meditate”. It starts off by giving you a basic breakdown of where to start, and then goes on to provide you with a plethora of specialized packs that aim at everything from controlling anxiety to bolstering creativity. There are packs to help you sleep better, packs to help you hone your focus, and packs to soften stress. There are guided and unguided meditations and special single meditations to listen to while you’re walking, cooking, commuting, or to help you deal with the fear of flying. There are even three special 3-minute “S.O.S” meditations designed to calm you down when you’re having a complete meltdown.

Each meditation is read by Headspace founder, Andy, and there’s something about his reading that immediately helps to keep me calm. He has a friendly, gentle, non-judgmental tone, and his meditations are designed with the understanding that meditation is actually quite difficult to learn. He explains things in layman’s terms, without being patronizing. He sounds like a good friend who genuinely wants you to get this right.

I ripped through the “Basics” meditations as quickly as I could, eager to move on to the “Anxiety” pack, which was calling my name. I listened to one “Anxiety” file every morning and sometimes another in the evening. I learned how to breath properly, how to clear my mind, and how to allow the anxiety to wash over me, just another thought coming and going. And on the days when I just didn’t think that I was going to be able to drag myself out to the bus, the “S.O.S.” meditations got me out there.

Look, here’s the thing… I won’t say that Headspace has gotten rid of my anxiety, and I won’t say that it’s a cure-all for what ails you, and I definitely won’t claim that it will work for everyone because that would be a foolish assumption. But when you’re suffering from something like anxiety, and it’s affecting both your home and work lives, you definitely want to try every last option, and this is just another one. It has helped me in spades, and although there is a monthly fee to be able to access anything other than the “Basics” pack, if it can help you deal with something that even most doctors don’t really understand, I definitely say that it’s worth it. So why not give it a try? You can download the app (or visit the website) for free at any time and at least try out the 10-day “Basics” to learn a bit about breathing and clearing  your mind. And who knows? Maybe that’s all you’ll need…or maybe you’ll crave the option to listen to all the meditations…or maybe you won’t like it at all. Either way, I wanted to share the option because it has worked so well for me.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Happy meditating. 🙂

The Great Pretender

Memoir Mondays

Today’s post comes courtesy of The Daily Post’sThe Great Pretender” prompt, which asks:
Are you full of confidence or have you ever suffered from Impostor Syndrome? Tell us all about it.

There isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that I have almost always suffered from “impostor syndrome”, which basically states that a person is unable to internalize their achievements. In other words, no matter how well you’re doing, you never feel like you truly deserve your success. You’re an impostor. You’re somehow fooling everyone into believing that you’re anything special.

I’d never put words to it before coming across the definition of the syndrome, but now that I’ve read it I realize that I’ve felt this way for quite a long time. I expect, perhaps, that it popped up sometime around junior high school. Way back in elementary school I was actually quite confident. I was a smart kid who made awesome grades, I was musical, I read way beyond my grade level, and I was pretty damn confident. I was never the most popular kid, and of course I had my doubts here and there, but I knew that I was intelligent.

That slipped aside by the time I’d hit junior high, which is unsurprising really because junior high is similar to rounding up all the kids and throwing them into the fifth circle of hell. At that point everyone is a swirling maelstrom of hormones and frustrations, and as I’ve already mentioned I was never the most popular kid so my cause was already a lost one right from the get-go. And French Social Studies was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was an extra class that we could take; Social Studies in French instead of English so as to help advance our French-speaking capabilities. I did great in the class. I think I left with something like a 95. And while part of me jumped with joy because I loved making good grades, part of me also felt like an impostor because I didn’t learn a goddamn thing in that class. No joke. I did not learn any extra French, and I learned considerably less Social Studies, because the entire class was a memorization system. I was good at memorizing and regurgitation the sentences, so that’s what I did. Half the time I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was writing, but I kept getting the answers right, so that was all that mattered at the time.

And those kinds of things continued to happen throughout the rest of school. Don’t get me wrong…I was still a smart kid, and I know that, but there were always those certain classes, or those certain teachers, or those certain subjects that I managed to wing my way through with little to no effort for a number of reasons, and those instances always gave me that split feeling of success, and feeling like an impostor. Mind, I didn’t pay much attention to the impostor part because I was a kid, and a kid nearly always chooses the easy route when available.

But that feeling is one that persists into many areas of life. I felt like an impostor at my first post-graduate job because I was the first tradeswoman to ever work there and everyone was expecting that I must be amazing in order to have been hired. I felt like an impostor when my husband and I were looking at houses because I still felt like a kid who was nowhere near mature enough to be a homeowner. When I went out West for the first time I felt like an impostor because I’d never so much as set foot on a plane before and here I was traipsing to the other side of the country for work.When I self-published my book I felt like an impostor, because surely if my book was worth reading it could be traditionally published instead. Every time I read the comments on my YouTube videos I feel like an impostor because people seem to like me and I feel, for some reason, like they shouldn’t.

But you know what? I’m willing to bet that, even if they don’t admit it, most people suffer from “Impostor Syndrome” at some point or another, if not on a regular basis. Because it’s just human nature to doubt yourself, second-guess yourself, feel like you didn’t really earn something. And that’s okay, in small doses, as long as you’re still able to step back every now and then and accept that you got where you are because, at least in part, it’s where you were aiming to be. Who’s with me?

Raising a Reader

Memoir Mondays

Every parent hopes that their kid will be smart, and although “smart” is objective, depending on what each kid’s individual strengths are, it’s easy for parents to focus mostly on academics, because that’s what we’re all forced to put up with for thirteen or so years of our lives.

Personally, I hope that my daughter will turn out to be well-rounded, but as a woman who grew up loving books enough to eventually write one, I do tend to put a little more of my own personal focus into ensuring that my daughter can read (and hopefully spell) at an acceptable level. That’s why my husband and I would sit down with her as a baby, patiently showing her each of the letters from her wooden puzzle until she could point them out herself (at barely a little over a year old), and singing the Alphabet Song with her until she had it memorized (at about eighteen months). Then, I moved on to what I personally thought was the fun stuff, but is apparently something that many parents never bother to do anymore: I started reading to her at bedtime every night.

Of course, at first, she wasn’t all that receptive to it. She was still very small, and thus mostly wanted to look at the pictures and interrupt me to talk about whatever was randomly rolling through her mind at the time. But eventually it became a routine. Eventually she began to pick which stories she wanted to read. Eventually she began pointing out random words (mostly character names) that she recognized. And eventually, she began to mouth words along with me, or insist on reading little bits of sentences that she recognized by herself.

My daughter is currently in grade primary (kindergarten to most of Canada, and the first “grade” of grade school to anyone who doesn’t recognize either of those terms), and of course part of the curriculum is learning to read, she she comes home with a homework book every night and reads them to me or her father. They’re all very basic, repetitive stories (“I can make a banana with my play dough.”/ “I can make a carrot with my play dough”/ etc.) but I was still very proud when she first came home and read to us, pointing at the words proudly, sounding out or using the pictures to figure out words she didn’t know. I thought she was doing great, especially considering that she’s the youngest kid in her class (her birthday was just before the cut-off date and we chose to let her go instead of holding her back until she was a little bigger).

The stories were very simple, but she was reading them, and I was more than happy with her progress. And then, one night last week, we were reading a couple of Disney Frozen board books that her friend gave her for her birthday, when she decided that she wanted to read it herself. I let her go ahead, expecting that she’d be stopping and asking for help rather often, but was amazed to see how little help she actually ended up needing. Below is a transcript of the little book, with the words I needed to help her with crossed-out:

“Anna was a princess in the kingdom of Arendelle. Anna’s sister, Elsa, was the queen. The sisters did not always agree. One day, Elsa accidentally revealed that she had magical powers. She was so upset that she ran away. Anna made up her mind to bring Elsa home. Anna met an ice harvester named Kristoff. He was covered in frost! Soon Anna and Kristoff became good friends. He helped her find her sister. Elsa learned to control her powers, and ruled Arendelle once more. Anna and Elsa were together again! Anna was happy to be at home with the people she loved.”

So by my count, out of 102 words, she only needed help with 13 of them, and two of those words were 3 and 4 syllables. Can I remind you that this kid just turned five this past December?

And the thing is, yes, a lot of the words she knew because she’d seen them when I was reading other Frozen stories to her, and some of them she worked out logically by noticing what was happening in the pictures (she knows that Kristoff is an ice “harvester”, for instance, and he was in that page’s picture). But that’s great! That means that she’s paying attention! It means that she follows along when I’m reading with her! It means that she’s got reasoning skills that she can use to work out a word she’s unsure of! It means she’s trying, in whichever way she knows how. And that’s awesome.

It’s entirely possible (likely, even) that my daughter will never been obsessed with books like I was when I was young. She’ll likely never get deep into writing her own stories like I did and dream of becoming a published author. And that’s okay, because I’m not trying to turn her into me. But I do want her to be well-rounded, logical, and hard-working, and seeing her work her way through this little book the other night showed me that she is well on her way. Score one point for parenting, and one point for a wicked-smart little girl. 🙂

An Eye-Twitching Good Time

Memoir Mondays

I heard it told once that a person hasn’t experienced agony until they’ve had to sit and wait for a toddler to do something by themselves. From the point-of-view of a non-parent or a parent of older kids who has forgotten what it’s like to have a toddler, that statement probably seems extremely melodramatic, but I’m convinced that it’s one of the great truths of life. There is just something so teeth-grittingly frustrating about standing and watching a toddler try to zip up her coat when you’ve been ready to go for five minutes, or sitting and squeezing your steering wheel while they fumble with their seat belt in the back of the car.

Of course, sometimes you’ll snap and yank the zipper up yourself, or leap out of the car to slam their belt in place before the scream escapes your throat, but you can’t just be doing that all the time. This is a growing child, after all, and they have to learn, or else one day you’re going to find that you’ve raised a pathetic little ball of jelly that refuses to do anything for him- or herself.

But sometimes it’s so hard.

I don’t consider myself to be a control freak by a long shot, but there’s something about watching a kid fumble with a toy that makes me twitch like you wouldn’t believe. It’s such a foolish thing to let yourself get worked up over, but when I watch my daughter struggle to fit two tiny Lego pieces together or push the Play Doh mold hard enough to actually create the intended shape, it makes my eye attempt to escape its socket. And the one that gets me the worst? That’s definitely when we’re playing a board game that involves a spinner and she consistently hits it in such a way that it doesn’t spin so much as shudder half an inch to one side. I can’t even describe the way that makes my teeth ache. Of course, never are all these things made more evident to myelf as right after Christmas when there are a whole bunch of new toys to obsess over. As of the writing of this post I’ve spent half the day playing with both Lego blocks and Play Doh sets, and my psyche barely withstood it.

But then, on the other hand, there’s absolutely something amazing to be said for just curling up on the floor with your kid and building multi-colored castles (with no doors or windows) and molding squishy-looking neon-colored cupcakes. Every single moment of the experience may not be relaxing, and there will definitely be a few instances that make you want to crack your head on the hardwood, but it’s quality time that a lot of people, unfortunately, don’t bother to experience with their children. Plus, if you can put away that parental mentality for a little while and train yourself to ignore those teeth-gritting moments, you can actually have a bit of childish fun yourself, free from the boring, hard-working world of the adult.

So I’ll keep doing it. I’ll keep closing my eyes or looking away when my daughter drops that Lego piece for the eighteenth time, and I’ll wait patiently with bated breath while it takes her ten minutes to pick all the little bits of Play Doh “frosting” out of the icing mold, because if you can just look past the agonizing moments all of the other moments are pure gold. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything, even if my eye twitches right out of my head.

Also, I don’t think I know any other 5-year-old who would have managed to keep the colors in neat piles like that. 😛