I remember the weight of my hard hat on my first day.
I was working in steel manufacturing as a millwright apprentice, so I tucked my hair underneath it, swapped my regular glasses out for my new safety ones and put in my ear plugs.
My steel-toed boots felt heavy and I was truly terrified.
“Oh shit, I fucked up…” I thought to myself as I watched some big burly man carry what looked like a pipe-stack on his shoulders.
It was probably a length of round tubing in retrospect but the man looked like The Hulk from my perspective.
Everyone seemed so smart and competent and I was extremely intimidated.
There was one other girl who had been hired alongside me as a co-op student from the same college program, but she was carted off to a different department, and she was proficient in her skills…which I envied.
“Here kid, hold this!” My mentor tossed me a ¼” impact gun. It felt heavy and I did not know what it was used for.
“We are going to replace this fume hood. Go and grab me ¾” socket from the tool crib, okay?”
Not okay. I did not know what a socket was, let alone what a ¾” one looked like.
“And what was the drive size again?” I asked. I wanted to curl up and die.
“Um, sir, I’m so sorry but I don’t know what that is…” The man looked at me and his smile lit up.
I thought he would yell at me for being stupid, not smile at me.
“Oh, you’re green green!” he said.
I did not know what that meant but I nodded anyway, shocked at his jovial demanour.
“Yes…green” I replied. He asked another co-op student named Jake to help me find what he needed.
We started to walk to retrieve our tools.
“Jake, what the fuck does green mean!?” I asked him as we walked to the tool crib.
“It means you’re new. Like you don’t know shit yet.” He said.
“Ahh, I see. Can you show me what a ¾” socket with a ¼” drive looks like?” Jake nodded.
I followed Jake everywhere after that. We were always paired up together and although he must have been annoyed, he happily offered me any help he could extend my way.
I was grateful for him and often told him that.
By the time Jake and I rotated out of our first department, I had filled an entire notebook with information and thoughts about manufacturing and working with tools.
My perspective had shifted because I started with the notion that the guys would be scary and mean, but they were the exact opposite of those things.
Slowly, I was becoming less green and slowly, less terrified of new situations.
It took some time to grasp some of the more difficult skills, like properly working an outside micrometer to read bearing OD dimensions.
Or to read mechanical drawings without having them look like foreign airplane instructions.
Math was never my strong suit and this was especially tricky.
I had given up on math around the sixth grade and never thought I would have to use it in my daily life.
Learning metric and imperial measurements from the ground up also improved my self-esteem because I had deemed myself too “dumb” to understand math before then.
It was a matter of finding the way that I learned best and to realize that people learn differently; I took to reading my tape measure on breaks and measuring random items to ensuring that the mentor I was working with knew that I was a visual learner.
I needed to see it to understand it and I also wrote everything down.
Still living with my parents at the time, my mother would pack two lunches: one for me and one for my dad. We both worked at the same company, only he worked as a crane operator and I was in a different department as a millwright apprentice.
Dad worked there for forty-one years, right up until the day that Mom died.
She was apprehensive about my entering into such a masculine and potentially dangerous career, but she was proud of me and often told me that.
One of my best memories is telling my grandfather where I had been hired before he passed away.
The four of them – my father, mother, grandmother and grandfather – all exclaimed how proud they were of me and I finally felt like I was headed in the right direction.
During my final week of exams in my first year at Mohawk College, my grandfather died.
It was shocking but expected as he had been suffering symptoms of dementia since having a brain aneurysm years before. What was equally as shocking but not as expected was my mother dying six months after that, just weeks before my graduation.
It was only her and I home at the time it happened as my dad was at work and my sister had been moved out for some time.
It was about three in the morning when I heard my name being called from the kitchen.
“KAILA!’ Mom shouted loudly.
I ran immediately downstairs to her to find her holding herself up on the kitchen floor.
“I can’t breathe! Call 911!” She stammered in between trying to catch her breath.
Grabbing the landline off the wall, I dialed frantically while trying to calm her down.
“911, do you require ambulance, police or fire?” the operator asked.
“Ambulance. My mother is having a really hard time breathing and she has peed on the floor. Please hurry!” I exclaimed.
The operator told me to try to keep Mom calm and to unlock the door.
They were on their way and she said to call back if her symptoms changed.
“Mom, I’m gonna run up and call Dad to tell him to meet us at the hospital. Are you okay? I will be right back.” I said.
I was kneeling beside her, trying to feel her forehead and see what was wrong.
“I think I peed. Please, clean it up before the paramedics get here!” Mom said.
“Oh, they don’t care! It’s going to be okay, I promise.” I said.
I looked into her eyes and I wish I never left her side.
We were both scared.
Mom nodded to me as I took off up the stairs to prepare.
I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I saw my mother alive.
I had nearly pissed myself from panic and sat on the toilet upstairs, struggling to put on pants while dialing my father’s emergency work number.
He answered the phone with his usual “Hello, pet!”
“Dad, I called 911. Mom has to go to the hospital and I need you to come home now!”
He said he was on his way and I ran downstairs, briefly looking at the call log.
Forty-two seconds. I talked to Dad for forty-two seconds.
When I rounded the corner coming back down the stairs, I immediately saw her head on the floor.
She was lying there, dead on the kitchen floor about a foot from where I had left her, not a minute before.
“OH GOD NO! MOM! MOM!” I screamed at the top of my lungs while lunging for the phone.
“SHE’S NOT BREATHING, SHE’S DEAD OH MY GOD HURRY!” I screamed at the operator on the phone.
I threw it half-way across the room but it flung back towards me because it was on a spiral cord.
I started CPR with the training I had received about a year prior.
It wasn’t working.
“WHY THE FUCK IS THIS NOT WORKING?! MY GOD, WHY ISN’T IT WORKING! BREATHE, MOM!” I was panicking.
“MOM, GOD! WAKE UP! MY GOD WAKE UP!” I would scream that with every chest compression.
Her eyes were still open. I will never forget how they looked.
The ambulance rushed in after what felt like an eternity and they worked on her for forty minutes as I screamed for them to save her.
I pray for the first-responders to receive the right help because I don’t know how they manage to stay calm nor sane with people like me reacting like that.
It was like a scene out of a horror movie.
Eventually they gained a pulse and carted her off to the hospital, where I remained by her bedside for five days. Strange things happened to me in those five days.
The first was feeling a hand on my shoulder on day three when no one was in the room.
Then it was smelling a smell that no nurse could identify, which I later found out was the scent of death.
Apparently some people can smell it and some cannot.
It is a disturbing yet sweet, medical type of smell that I will never, ever forget.
We were called into a meeting with the head of neurology on day five, who explained to us how Mom had no brain activity.
It felt like someone shot me directly in the heart.
It was unimaginable. How could I go back home? How can we leave here without her? There were so many unknowns in the first few hours and it was excruciating.
No more COPD. No more breathing clinic trips. No more Mom.
I remember driving straight to my grandma’s house and tucking my head under her arm, feeling the flat space where her breast had been removed due to cancer years before that.
I felt her small body press into mine and we sat there, crying together, stunned.
“Moo-Moo, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to have kids without her here?!” I said through my tears.
“We’ll help you! We’ll help you!” She replied. But her heart was as broken as mine.
The day that was the most unbearable was the day I decided to die. I was preparing for mom’s funeral and thinking of the ways to do it. Thinking of the notes I would leave for my dad and my sister.
Thinking about Mom. And then a feeling came over me that saved my god damn life because of how surreal it was.
I knew it was either a sign from my mother or a sign that I’d lost my marbles totally. I decided to figure out which it was.
Not only does life continue after the body dies, but we have been severely mislead with all of the taboo that surrounds the very natural process of dying. This drives me to write my experience down.
If you seek further insight, please go down the path of reading literature. It is all written down and available for you to know.
Moo-Moo managed to live for one more year after Mom died.
After all of the cancer she had battled in her lifetime, what took her life was the heartbreak over losing her husband and daughter.
She let her lungs fill up with fluid and did not let on that she was in pain.
She died quickly in the hospital after succumbing to pneumonia.
The doctors said her one lung was completely full of fluid and was shocked to note that she hadn’t remarked about any pain to us. She wanted to die and I know that, because I did too.
I arrived at her hospital room exactly five-minutes after she died.
As the nurse tried to block me from going into her room, I was trying to move her out of the way.
“NO! THAT’S MY GRANDMA!” I protested.
The nurse held onto my arms firmly.
“I know sweetheart, but she is gone. She died peacefully, just five minutes ago. I held her hand while she passed, honey. We will get her ready to see you.”
She gently let go of me.
I stood there with my sister and father behind me, in absolute shock.
I could not believe this was happening again, but I was much more prepared this time.
The night before I had written Moo-Moo a note, reminding her that I was coming back and to let the nurses do their thing. She was stubborn and I wanted to encourage her, though I wish I never left that night.
The next morning I had envisioned my grandmother in her hospital bed, only she was surrounded by a floral environment and I was confused at the vision at first. I wholeheartedly accepted it as a sign that she was going to get better and prepared to see her on the mend.
It was her way of saying goodbye to me.
My final year of college and the beginning of my career are very much a blur now. I was trying to navigate moving forward while simultaneously trying to understand this newfound existential knowledge that I had received due to the majority of my family dying on me abruptly.
My perspective again shifted towards a more philosophical one and my life felt brand new to me.
I began to thrive at work because all of my fears of being embarrassed were dissolved. My fears of public speaking were gone and I was able to volunteer to make safety presentations or demonstrations at work which caught the right attention.
I was moving on and moving forward and my dead loved ones were cheering at me from the sidelines, not that I would tell anyone that…lol.
Slowly my interest in numerology, astrology, philosophy and existential science heightened and I became more aware, breathed and ate more mindfully and overall began to live consciously and in the present.
My meditation sessions improved as I was able to reach a state of no-thought more quickly with every practice and my outer world began to reflect the peace I had found in my inner one.
When I met my husband, I was not looking for love. Our experience is deeply personal and magical and three months after our meeting, I was pregnant with our daughter, Mila.
Just before I graduated from Brock University with my B.A. Sociology, I had been prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication because I was struggling.
Because of the experience with withdrawal symptoms including brain-zaps and seizures, I decided never to go on them again if I could help it.
Plus, I felt emotionless and numb while medicated and I did not like that.
I had been smoking marijuana for a couple of years before Mom died to try and take the edge off my anxiety and depression naturally. It was enough that I was able to function and relax when required and even Mom noticed a positive improvement and did not mind that I smoked pot.
At first she was stunned because I had vowed never to smoke, especially after her COPD diagnosis.
I told her that marijuana kept me from reaching the unbearable point of wanting to die and that was the truth. It also did not cause me seizures or to feel emotionless. When I was at the worst of my depression, I could barely eat. It also helped with that.
My woes were a far cry from experiencing the death of three loved ones in under two years. But before knowing pain like that, the pain of being a directionless student with no purpose and several failed relationships was enough to push me over the edge.
After their deaths, I began to consume marijuana more consciously.
I always ensure that it acts as an aid rather than a crutch, and still frequently take breaks if I feel like I am over-consuming.
It is part of my well-being toolkit alongside meditation and conscious consumption of material items and food, but it is not the entire reason I am managing a clear head these days.
It is the combination of an array of natural healing techniques with the occasional toke of pot to keep my vibration at its highest and my brain functioning with utmost clarity.
After years of working as an apprentice and now mechanical maintenance planner and after years of suffering mental health issues and overwhelming grief, I write this for others who may stumble across the same difficult experiences and are looking for some answers.
What has healed me above all is reading about the lives of other people and realizing how immensely connected we all are.
I was green once. I was depressed once. I suffered immensely once.
But today, I am happy.
I wake up each morning with a smile on my face because I am alive.
Because I chose not to give up and it lead me to a life that I could not even have dreamed about before.
Because I would not have believed any of it had it have not happened to me.
My skills have flourished into mechanical proficiency and I can wield an angle grinder like I have been doing it all my life.
We all have to start somewhere.
I remember myself in those first few hours after my mother died.
I remember having my cousin sleep beside me so that when I would wake up and remember that it was not a nightmare but reality, she could hold me while I screamed.
I remember the first time a grown man told me I would never make it in the skilled trades.
I remember thinking of him as I picked up my college diploma to hang next to my university degree. I think of him every time I get praised for a job well-done or a raise. I remember thinking the day he retired that it was one less asshole for others to experience.
We are all unique and we all have a purpose. During this pandemic we have globally recognized just how important our teamwork is and how privileged we are to have a functioning supply-chain and advanced medical science.
We can still connect through the internet and I grew up mostly without internet access at home.
I am only thirty-one years old. I see our society progressing fast.
We live in a future of luxury and privilege; even finding vegetarian food options during my university experience was all but impossible. And it definitely was not cheap.
We are also realizing how fragile we are when stripped of these luxuries and privileges.
To keep sane during this time, I have focused on the cycles and patterns we all experience and know full-well that one day soon we will see another high point. We are experiencing a low together for the first time in years.
The last time change of this magnitude happened on a global scale with respect to lifestyle changes, technological advancements, manipulation of the societal process and more is during the attacks of 9/11.
That crisis forced us to re-think the way we live in a totally different way, but change was the result of this crisis, just like change will be the result of this one.
To put things into a more mechanical perspective, remember that we are just like cars.
Treat your body like the most precious vehicle you ride in and offer it the premium stuff. Plants and water are excellent life material and we can ingest different plants to enhance us in different ways. Dead animals are…well, you are what you eat.
If you only care about the external parts of your vehicle, you will die a very nice-looking corpse.
So go on, put that face cream on but eat that sugary shit. Time will help you to see.
Life is extremely complex yet simple, too.
It takes more bravery than intellect and a person can acquire intellect if they are brave. I know this because I did it. I did not know that eating meat was affecting my conscious awareness until I was made aware of it. I did not know the benefits of having skilled trade knowledge outside of a career until I had to do home renovations during a pandemic.
Things like that.
PTSD still rears its head for me.
I will be vacuuming when the memory of mom’s death explodes in my imagination and it used to suck the breath from my lungs. Nowadays I am able to watch it fleeting past without attaching to it. That is one of the ways mindfulness has helped with my mental health.
Developing conscious awareness and mindfulness helped me in my work life, too. I was able to envision fastener sizes off the top of my head and my visual imagination grew extremely useful while out on the floor.
“I remember the last time we changed this roll, we put the sling there! It will help.” I would say.
“How the fuck do you remember that? That was three months ago!” My mentor would ask.
“Visual memory!” A skill I didn’t even know I possessed until Mom died.
There are times when it takes me a little longer to get out of a depressive state of mind than other times, but this occurs when I become so busy with regular life that I neglect my spiritual needs.
Practicing tarot and witchcraft daily, including crystals and spell-work is the way that I maintain a positive mindset. Every night I make a little time to meditate, journal and to reflect on some questions while asking my cards.
If I look back over the past few weeks or months in that journal, I can see change or pattern development/dissolution.
And my cards have not lead me astray.
We are energetic beings having a human experience. When I manipulate tarot, the energies of my higher self and deceased loved ones (guides) work together to provide me with photographic cues (cards) which I can then translate into a clear message.
Before, I was receiving all sorts of messages but did not know how to decipher them. Almost like a movie running in my mind but I don’t know the cast, plot, genre, etc.
Essentially, tarot is my Rosetta Stone. I have read for other people and have known things I could not have known, which has only amplified my own personal belief in the tools and the magic that surrounds us.
My social media is a portrayal of who I am and it is as fluid and fluctuating as I am.
Taking photographs is my personal expression of art just as doing my makeup for a selfie is. People take social media way, way too seriously and it took me some time to navigate online bullying.
The key is to make damn good use of the block feature.
There is a common misconception about spiritual people that we do not like to work.
When my coworkers first found out about my spirituality they asked why I was in a corporate job. I told them because my purpose is to make a difference within that corporate job; the place and the job were irrelevant.
To be honest, the mechanical skills and knowledge became a bonus after I realized what my real purpose as a female tradesperson was.
Sure, I was collecting all sorts of information about the steel manufacturing process, equipment and reading mechanically engineered drawings, but I was also adding femininity to a very masculine environment. I still do. And it puts food on my family’s table, keeps my water running hot and allows me to purchase items and food that I want.
That is luxury to me. Barely any experience tops my morning showers.
A person’s career isn’t everything but it can be so meaningful.
What drove me towards the skilled trades in the first place was my desire to look for work outside of my chosen major: Sociology.
My cousin was a year ahead of me in the program and she had accepted a job as a social worker after graduation, but upon hearing her work stories I knew I could not emotionally handle the magnitude of some people’s situations.
“Machines don’t bleed and they don’t have feelings, I’ll fix them instead…” I thought.
Well, they do bleed but that’s another story!
When things felt right, they felt right.
This is where bravery comes in; some people mistake excitement for fear and abandon their process because of it. What kept me going in the beginning when I was a very green tradesperson was that at least I was learning something.
“Hell…” I thought to myself.
“If I learn what even one fastener size looks like per day, I’ll be winning.”
Those days added up and eventually I could read measurements and recognize fastener sizes effortlessly.
Once fear was taken out of the equation, I thrived.
New experiences still cause me some fear which requires a process to work through.
Being pregnant for the first time, having a baby for the first time, becoming a mother for the first time, becoming a mechanical maintenance planner in addition to an apprentice, being a wife, all of those things scared me at first.
Ultimately, there are things we can control and that which we cannot.
This saved my mental health while pregnant. Pregnancy is the land of the unknown.
That guy doesn’t want to show me how to use a Vernier? It is in my control, I can ask another guy.
My mom died but I wanted her to live? Out of my control. It would be redundant to overthink the “what if” scenarios because they did not happen and what happened did.
This mindset can help those who struggle with bad experiences. The experience is over, take the lesson and move on. To allow it to keep hold of you and to cause ongoing pain and suffering is simply not worth it and only furthers its grip around your neck.
Being more mindful has caused me to refrain from saying things I will regret and has allowed me to move on from people who trigger a negative emotional response. It takes time.
Take the time to recognize what can and cannot be controlled in your own life, and you will see progress unfold, too.
Not many people are equipped with true patience, especially when the gift comes wrapped up in a different ribbon than expected.
Acceptance of what is, living in the moment and the ability to be flexible will help you if you wish to move in a more positive direction.
When it becomes too much inside my head, I shut it down like an overheated computer.
Meditation is the ultimate relief. Again though, it takes time and effort to get the hang of it.
Remember, “Resistance is futile!” as Arnold would say.
Struggling against the inevitable is what will cause some people to live long, miserable lives of suffering and pain.
I wish you luck and success on your journey, whether you’re green as an apprentice or anxious and depressed, or maybe you are just looking for your purpose.
Either way it is going to be one hell of a ride…That’s what the cards say.
Thank you for reading.
Kaila A. Notto
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