I imagined the FIFO lifestyle would be the ideal working situation. Company funded jet setting across the countryside, racking up the frequent flyer points, set roster, good money and the chance to pursue a fantastic career opportunity on a $150M+ construction project.
The truth is, I really struggled with the FIFO lifestyle on a personal level. I was very unhappy being away from my wife and two young girls. Life always felt temporary, living out of a suitcase, the work was hard, stressful and being in Central Queensland, it was pretty fucking hot.
It wasn’t easy for my family either. Apart from dealing with my general absence, when I was home, I was not exactly a delight.
When I would arrive home for my 3 days off after working 11, my little family had moved on with life without Dad around and had their own routine. I was an outsider, struggling to adapt to the home routine without completely upsetting the apple cart. I failed miserably at that… apples everywhere.
To my kids, I was the cranky guy who would show up occasionally, try to tell them what to do, then leave. To my wife, I was the cranky husband who would show up occasionally, cause fights, then leave.
I was stuck in a depression loop. I felt sad before heading back to work (not just the typical Monday blues, but properly sad), and I struggled to sleep the first night away. After a few days I would eventually settle into my away routine. This mainly consisted of going to work then back to the accommodation to drink myself to sleep. Then it was just repeating the bad habits until it was time to travel home where I would feel like an outsider all over again.
A consistent and extremely unhealthy cycle. It was time to instigate some changes.
My wife and I decided that the career opportunity was too good to pass up, so I worked on accepting the FIFO component. I started by attempting to establish a healthy routine which I believe to be the key element for improving mental wellbeing.
Alcohol is fantastic for temporarily helping you to forget about your issues but unfortunately in the long run, it only serves to make everything worse (revelation, I know). So, I went cold turkey and participated in Dry July whilst actively raising money for the cause. This really did have a positive impact and I felt generally healthier.
I began exercising in the afternoons after work instead of drinking. Just simple jogging down the road and listening to Nike Training Podcasts. It was a great little stress reliever and mood improver. I continued this habit in my breaks and my wife even commented on my mood improvement following a run in the afternoon. There’s a lot to be said for the link between exercise and mental wellbeing. The exercise habit made me want to eat healthier and the effects of my new healthy routine were compounded.
It had the added benefit of reducing the size of my beer belly.
To help me get to sleep I began practicing meditation before bedtime. As a self-professed, hardened construction worker, I was extremely sceptical of meditation. I thought it was a hipster wanker trend, but I was desperate and gave it a go. I have to say, I am absolutely converted and meditate using the free guided meditation sessions on the Headspace app nearly every night.
I also actively tried to be more involved with the kids and their routines when I was on my break. I learned more about their habits, the food they liked and didn’t like and just simply spent more time with them. This, along with the healthy habits I worked on while I was away generally improved my mood, and my relationship with my wife who was always super supportive.
My situation has now changed and I am in pursuit of a different career opportunity. Unfortunately, I am still doing FIFO work, but on a better roster (5:2) than the last project. Long term this will also lead to a position where I can be home every night.
So, why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through this? For me, it was a financial and career path decision. Ultimately, it was the best way I could provide for my family. However, it got to the point where I was doing more harm than good, and something had to give.
During the 2 years on the project, I had the opportunity to speak with many other workers on the same FIFO or DIDO arrangements and to my surprise, every bloke I spoke to was dealing with the same issues as me. Some were coping better than others, but we were all in the same boat and this highlighted the importance of simply talking about it. There is comfort in knowing you aren’t alone and there are things you can do to help deal with the many shortfalls of the FIFO lifestyle.
There is also a fantastic organisation in the Construction Industry called MATES in Construction which provides mental health support to workers and will even speak at toolbox meetings on site: http://matesinconstruction.org.au
If you can relate to this, please reach out either to a work mate or via this forum. You definitely are not alone.
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