Whether on an oil rig that is 100 miles offshore, or a merchant ship that’s 1000, a maritime career sometimes feels like a lonely one, especially for a woman. A couple hundred feet of cold steel. Berthing quarters that are more utilitarian than comforting. And you are sometimes surrounded by strangers, and often the only woman. Overcoming loneliness and the feelings of depression that might accompany it are aspects of wellness that cannot be overlooked. A support system is be a vital part of the wellness puzzle, every bit as important as your diet and exercise.
We have talked to the importance of self-care and about making yourself a priority. However, we need to talk about a support system, so that you never walk alone. A solid structure to lean on when you are just tired or overwhelmed. These are feelings which can show up often in a high stress, high speed, harsh environment. A support system can wear many faces. It could be a significant other, parents, siblings, faith, or friends. Even a mentor, like the ones you’ll find here with Women Offshore, can be a crucial support when needed.
Staying Strong Can Lay You Low…
Women in the industry have to be tough as nails, and it often feels like you can’t show any weakness. A problem in our industry is the propensity to label women as emotional for expressing anything besides that tough “one of the guys” face. Therefore, building a support system to turn to, someone you can vent to, open up to, and trust, is invaluable in this environment. Not so much as to hide any hint of emotion, but so that you don’t even feel the need to do so. A need to hide emotions, or feeling like you don’t have anyone to talk to can be unbearably isolating and detrimental to your overall health and wellness.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness can lead to health problems associated with depression. Headaches, insomnia, loss of control of appetite, whether that’s under-eating or over-eating. It can become difficult to focus on your job. These issues get exacerbated when you face missing important dates and events at home, like the holidays or an event with your family. These are issues that you face at some point in a maritime career.
Build Your Support System…
So how do you build a support system? How do you give yourself this piece of the health and wellness puzzle? You build it! Every single one of us is different, we come from different walks of life, we have different family and home situations. Our work environments are different, some of us may have better access to telephones and WiFi than others. What works for me may not work for you, but I can give you my best advice, as a nine year industry veteran.
I suggest finding people who care deeply about you, and spend some time explaining your work to them. Find pictures and videos of your ship, your platform, your boat, and show it to them. Explain how tours work, what shortchange means, what your workspace is like. Talk to them about the nuances of life offshore, from break trays to fire drills. I’ve found that if people love you, they will want to know more about what you do.
Make time to talk to those people. Text, email, telephone, we have more means of communication in the industry today than ever. Use it to stay connected with those who care about you. My parents keep up with me by text message, and my husband and I find time to talk almost every day.
Write it down. I’ve talked about journaling as part of making yourself a priority. Sometimes it helps to just vent on paper to keep you from venting at someone.
Bring pieces of home with you. Whatever you find comforting! Myself, I have a calendar made up of photographs of my family and my pets. I have a sewing project that helps me relax at the end of the day. I carry a journal and at least one book to read with me. And, best of all, I bring a t-shirt of my husband’s to keep with me when I go to sleep.
Find a mentor. And lucky for you, that’s exactly what Women Offshore is here to do. Bringing women who work on the water together, for support, for friendships, for mentoring, is what we are here to do. In fact, you need only look as far as our team values, to “Empower and Connect” to see that you have a team in your corner.