Steel Strong

This piece is a doozy and deals with everything from my self-care routine to my most current emotional struggles.

I choose to express these struggles in writing as I created this outlet to share mine and use writing therapeutically. Plus, maybe someone else can relate to my situation and find strength and hope within themselves in that they’re not alone.

People sometimes ask me why I wear makeup to work in a steel mill.

By no means do I go full glam but I wear enough to create a barrier between my skin and the harsh manufacturing environment that I work in after discovering that the dust would adhere to my pores during the day and was difficult to remove before bed.

It would take me a weekend to clear my skin only to repeat the process Monday mornings; so I found products that worked for me in terms of anti-aging and maintaining healthy skin while working in a dirty environment.

I don’t care if others find me attractive; I only care if I do and I have been obsessed with maintaining my appearance since I was twelve and cognizant of aging.

On some days the products that end up on my face are:

Olay Age Defying Advanced Moisturizing Gel Hyaluronic Acid
Olay Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle SPF 15 Lotion
Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Touch of Foundation Moisturizer
Physician’s Formula Bronzing Products
Maybelline Infallible Powder Foundation
Essence Highlighting Powder
L’Oréal Paris Voluminous Mascara – for 20 years now!
Revlon Colorstay Ultimate – These lipsticks never fail me as long-lasting bases
And depending on my mood…

Almay Lip Vibes in Treat Yourself
Burts Bees Tinted Lip Oil in Caramel Cloud
Burts Bees Glossy Lipstick in Rose Falls

And on the days I don’t wear any makeup due to time constraints or because I simply don’t feel like it, I always throw on Olay’s Hyaluronic Sleep Mask in combination with Olay Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle Cream so at least I have a moisturizing barrier for my dry and sensitive skin.

It took me trial and error to curate a product list worth repurchasing that worked for me and my skin and I noticed that a lot of Olay products actually did what they said they would; Olay quickly became my favorite line for skincare products whereas my teen-self loved anything Neutrogena or Biore.

My younger skin craved salicylic acid products and my older skin enjoys hyaluronic acid; I still use benzoyl peroxide for pimples but Accutane took care of a lot of that for me when I went on the medication as a youth.

Your list may look completely different – or you may have no list at all – but what I enjoy about taking care of my skin is taking the time to direct energy in caring specifically for myself and the home my soul resides for its time here.

We can’t stop the aging of our vehicles but we can perform preventative maintenance to get the most out of your ride with the least amount of worry.

Watching several of my family members become ill or die due to cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption made me exceptionally aware of how sensitive our bodies are to long-term consumption of toxic substances – including meat…but that’s for another time.

I love comparing self-care with mechanical terms lmao because it’s generally the same idea – we are complex machines but instead of being made of steel we are made of skin; we have valves and pumps inside with gas and water storage so you try and tell me we’re different lol.

We tend to dissociate ourselves from our environment and dividing things into two categories; ourselves and the other.

But when I started to take notice of the way I am affected by my surroundings and how I in turn affect them it changed my perspective on self-care and things like cleaning and maintaining my body and mind became healing rather than a chore to do.

I must wear makeup so other people will find me attractive –> I must take care of my skin

I hate doing the dishes, laundry, housework, etc. –> I deserve to live in a clean, safe space

I hate going for groceries –> I am grateful to purchase nourishment for me and my family

Caring for myself and figuring out the way I worked really gave me the leg up in learning about my trade; I had been so fearful of looking out of place as a woman or looking really stupid because I didn’t know anything but eventually I found the confidence to ask questions.

When people meet me and find out I work in a steel mill I’m often met with a look of puzzlement.

It’s dirty, loud and very masculine.

And I am the complete opposite of all those things lol.

The guys will tease me every now and then about the shit I do (lol) but that’s part of the fun in being myself; I enjoy demonstrating that even though I may be classified as a stereotypical female from my appearance I have all sorts of things going on inside this brain of mine.

Recently I got a work request to order some spare bearing blocks that had to be fabricated and installed.

I was going over the drawings with our trade specialist and asking about what is required, what the equipment does, etc. and it took me back to my first week as an apprentice when I touched a bearing heating up on an induction heater.

I wanted to know what the bearing was and I had no clue what it was doing and before the tradesman I was with could bat an eye I put my finger on it and said “what…FUCK!”

I wanted to say “what is this?” but my finger singed immediately and I jumped back about ten feet in surprise.

“Are you okay?! That’s hot!!!!

Well; no shit Sherlock lol.

“Oh God I’m so sorry I didn’t know you were that green.

I was like “it’s okay lol” but in my head I was like “Dude I don’t even know the difference between a nut and a bolt lmao I’m going to die here…

I told him I was okay and smiled while I excused myself to go to the bathroom where I ran my finger under cold water and cried for ten minutes…lol.

I cleaned myself back up and took a breath before returning to work with a whole new appreciation for putting my hands on things that I don’t know what they are lol.

Needless to say it wasn’t the first time I’d be bumped and bruised but because the culture of my workplace is so safety oriented with procedures and guards put in place, the only times I’ve ever been hurt were due to my own ignorance.

Like the time my journeyman told me my gloves were too big but I didn’t want to walk all the way to get small ones.

So I started using my angle grinder and it sucked my glove – and finger – in but stopped because I let go; it cut a wee little slice into my finger but I was okay and never used over-sized gloves again.

The best piece of advice I can give a person interested in the skilled trades with regards to safety is to maintain awareness of self and appropriate procedures and you’ll be fine; and make sure to ask lots of questions.

I had no idea that your eyes will literally burn if you watch someone weld without the proper shield protection; talking with an experienced welder about his past experience with arc eye demonstrated how severe this condition can be and offered me context to required PPE.

And I thought being electrocuted was the worst thing about welding…lol.

I choose millwrighting because I dislike that electricity is invisible; I’ve always said I’d rather be crushed as a millwright and see it coming than be an electrician and be electrocuted lol…Too far? Haha.

Anyway I’m not trying to scare you; I don’t want to fluff up the manufacturing industry only to have people enter the workplace and think “what the fuck did I get myself into?”

My initial intimidation of the steel-making environment almost sent me packing but now I work there in a highly valued career as a trades-person and I love it.

My career is valuable to me because each day I go to work it’s like going to school only I get paid for it!

Learning and constant adaptability to new procedures and technological development are a must for what I do; mechanical proficiency drives me to create useful work orders for tradespeople out on the floor performing the jobs that I once did.

My career has taken all sorts of twists and turns; typically mechanical maintenance planners are licensed tradespeople or people with a technological degree but my university plus college education and trade proficiency allowed me to apply for this job to get off the shop floor when I was pregnant.

Now I work in the office to maintain flexibility in my schedule so that I can still be a mother to my daughter while maintaining my career and I will be licensed as an industrial millwright mechanic in the very near future.

Everyone does it differently; I worked out on the floor with another apprentice who was a forty-five year old man who decided to quit his career in finance to learn the millwright trade and was thriving.

My university experience was totally different from my college one; in university I wrote essay after essay and read numerous course texts while researching and citing until my fingers bled…lol.

In trade school I developed more interpersonal relationships between my fellow students and teachers; some of the teachers there will always be close to my heart because of what they said and did for me after my mother died and I respect them highly for their guidance and support during those difficult first days.

While I was laying in bed early the other morning as I continued to hit snooze trying to stay in my warm, cozy bed I took another moment to appreciate where I am at in my life.

Tim walked in to give me a kiss on the forehead before he left for work and I thought to myself:

“Yeah, I’m going to be just fine.”

As I continue to work toward future me and all the surprises that await her I will just keep plugging away at life; appreciating the good times in contrast to the tough ones.

Currently, my father is suffering from liver cirrhosis in addition to the Reiter’s Syndrome that’s ravaged his body for over thirty years and I don’t think I’ve really talked about him a lot but I’d like to.

Mom was his caregiver and the love of his life – losing her was devastating for him and for all of us.

They met in grade nine math class and dad borrowed her math book which he returned with grease (he was a car mechanic, too) and though she was a sparkling clean perfectionist with a strong academic career and was pissed lmao but she smiled and happily offered to tutor him.

They married soon after graduation.

He’s a very strong person and I get my stubbornness from him; he’s an old Irishman who always has a smile on his face though he’s experienced the most suffering I’ve personally witnessed a human go through.

His body is failing him while his mind remains intact.

And it makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs.

It’s especially hard to witness because he is a sincere, kindhearted human being who worked for others his entire life; he’s the kind of person who cares for other people before himself even if it is to his detriment.

He retired the day after my mother died from the same steel manufacturing company I now work for; I roam the same dark areas in the mill that he’s familiar with.

There are a lot of stories about my dad that I’d love to share one day in due time.

But what I’d like to highlight today is the fact that I’m struggling significantly with facing his health hardships without my Mom and grandparents here to guide me; I’m now his primary caregiver and have been working to try and arrange the home care he so desperately needs and deserves.

When I met with the CCAC case manager a mature ladyshe said “Why don’t you write to Mike Holmes about your Dad? He’s such a lovely person I’m sure someone out there would be willing to make his house accessible. I’ve never appreciated how severe Reactive Arthritis can be on a person until I met your father and I’ve been doing this my entire career.”

And I told her that I have lol.

I’ve written to Mike Holmes, Ellen DeGeneres and more; but never heard anything back from anyone.

It’s okay, though; I know other people are in need and God knows the amount of “help” these people are asked for on a daily basis.

His health is declining and I’m having an extremely difficult time emotionally handling the severity of the situation, our prospective future and trying to manage a young family and care for him at the same time.

When my grandmother was ill she had all of my aunts and uncles taking turns to support her but with dwindling family sizes it’s just my sister and I; we’re young with young children and it’s hard.

Like hard, hard.

What I wish is for as a result of writing this detail of my life is that the kind thoughts and prayers of other people potentially make their way to my dad and I during this time as we navigate our new normal.

If I were a millionaire we’d be set lol.

He was born in the dining room of our home – true story! – and plans to live there until the end of his days; something both he and my mother had expressed for a long, long time.

She died on the kitchen floor; not exactly the most romanticized way to go but she did indeed pass in the house like she wanted to.

It’s also made it difficult for some of her siblings to enter the house postmortem; some have never been back (which mostly makes me sad for my father).

It is very hard to make our family home accessible for his increasing disabilities and trying to afford the required care is difficult; a lot of it isn’t covered by OHIP but thankfully many of his expensive medications are.

Like he has said…if they weren’t he’d be dead by now and that’s the truth.

That and thank GOD our shared placed of employment has excellent benefits and rate of pay.

He worked day in and day out for 41 years to support us and experienced significant bullying early on in his career due to his health issues but he always credited his coworkers for stepping up on his behalf when an incident would occur – he’s still good friends with many of these people and I thank them wholeheartedly for what they did for him.

They aren’t my stories to share but perhaps I’ll ask him for permission one day – they gave me an appreciation for the good people of the world and a taste for how low human beings can sink.

Some of his friends still help to support him and they’re angels to us and the neighbor that once saved Mom’s life routinely helps him do grocery shopping and other tasks which I am appreciative of.

She’s had a rough go of it in recent years too and our families are bonded through the joy and the sadness experienced together as neighbors; as family.

Dad was on medication that destroyed his organs just to take the pain away so he could keep working; advanced medicine with lesser side effects weren’t discovered until more recently like Remicade Intravenous which replaced the liver-damaging medicine he took for years prior.

His entire history of health issues stems from childhood trauma and though I’ve never met my paternal grandmother I have such a strong dislike for her that I refuse to engage with her energy until I can find the space to forgive her.

Yet you won’t see the man without a smile or hear him complain; even while he was having two units of blood transfused during the most recent Christmas holiday he was talking about his roommate James who never had visitors and had seemed to have given up.

He’s always thinking about others.

The other day he went out shopping by himself and landed hard on the ground during a trip and fall; he can’t brace himself with his arms or he’d likely break his wrists/hands/arms due to brittle bones so he landed directly on his face.

This. Breaks. My. Heart.

Like makes me scream to the heavens in disbelief that a person can continue to suffer like that; but I’m reminded of his determination to stay independent while facing the most extremely challenging obstacles.

Dad is my hero.

In relying on spiritual guidance to support and guide me during this difficult time I am reminded to let you know that my dead family members do still offer their support and guidance behind the scenes; they tell me to express this struggle in writing so here we are.

Perhaps it will help someone else out.

Here’s to moving forward and facing the most challenging situations like my dad would; with a smile and a laugh and like he’s always telling me…

“You can’t kill an Irishman!”

Lol so it appears.

Glad I have your genes, Dad!

Have a blessed day and remember to hug a loved one; what we know as normal today could turn itself into something completely different tomorrow so please take a moment to enjoy the people around you while they are still here.

Until next time..

Kaila A. Notto

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