Electrician installing wiring indoors using a lift; note the safety harness. (photo: Belvoir Army Engineers via Flickr)

Fear. Today’s post is about fear. How it eats at you. My husband isn’t worried about whether his boss invited him to a golf date. He’s not worried about a merger, or whether or not his boss liked his work. Nope. Last night he was worried about his life. Again. This post will tell the story he told me last night and help you understand the fear he faces today as he goes off to work.

I wasn’t going to post so soon, since it’s on the heels of my post not even a week ago, but this is truth. This documents how often these issues rise. We talk about torture, the effect of prolonged fear. I have started to wonder about how blue collar guys are perceived, some of their quirks, the “Archie Bunker” syndrome. As a therapist with 20 years of experience working with traumatized people, child hood abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence, trained in trauma treatment and personality disorders, (marriage between trauma and personality, oh yes) I have begun to wonder how this fear affects the whole “trade” and whether or not it might contribute to some of the negative traits associated with blue collar workers.

So last night, as I arrived home after doing my men’s group, my husband tells me about his day. He’s talking fast and he has a lot to tell me about tonight. There is an urgency to his story, but I don’t think he even knows this himself. I notice his intensity but I can’t tell yet, why. He tells me that they are having him work on the roof of the building he is working on. He tells me his frustration about being up two stories, the cold. (though this week’s temps are closer to freezing instead of sub zero).

I can’t figure out yet, why he is so intense. He says he’s frustrated because they told the head foremen about a code problem, knowing this day was coming. He explains that he can’t get to the wiring on the roof. There is no easy way to access the work he needs to do. The only way to wire it, is to go on the roof and work this way. He says this is a code issue because the inspectors must have easy access and the only way they will be able to inspect his work is if they climb on the roof. The inspectors might require that they fix this problem and he’s mad that they didn’t fix it now, so that he could work more safely. But of course, they will not spend the money unless they have to. Safety will not figure into the reasoning. His view of course, is very logical.

My husband is frustrated because he had tried to head this problem off way back last summer. (okay, I get that it’s cold, he saw a problem long before it was a problem and he was ignored…this happens ALL the time, I still can’t figure out, the tone in his voice, the urgency and pressure behind his speech.) Then he tells me “I slipped and fell when I was on the roof”. He goes on to say “It’s really slick up there, snow from last weekend, melting, rubber roof, no safety harness, nothing to attach to. It’s a two-story drop to cement. I would be dead if I fell”.

Now I know. He goes on to say, that his fear of being laid off keeps him from complaining. He said he talked to his boss about his concerns. Another trade put some cones up on the edge of the roof with a caution tape. Nice…caution tape helps remind you where the edge is, but it won’t stop you from falling. He says they want this done yesterday. He says, when my foremen saw me he said, “Are you guys done yet?”  . . .

Always, always it needs to be done faster. Always, with the threat that if it’s not done by a certain time, he will be replaced with someone new. My husband has lost the ability to see that replacing him would take longer, that he truly is the one who can complete it the fastest, that it’s not logical for them to replace him…but he can’t see it. His fear is exaggerated about losing his job…and it’s misplaced and confused in with his fear about falling. My husband has a dysfunctional reaction to the fear. Learned powerlessness. He can’t find a way to solve the safety problem. He feels helpless. He was crabby and angry all evening, and this morning before he left. He doesn’t know why, thank God, this time, I did.

During our conversation, I asked him “are you afraid?” Do you know his first answer…? Guess. “No, I’m not afraid” and he scoffs. Then, because of years of living with a mental health counselor he looks at me and smiles “Yah, I guess I am afraid”. This is when he offers the only solution focused sentence of the discussion. He says “I am going to tell them, that I won’t go up there until the light of day, I am not going in the dark early morning. I also won’t go up there until the sun does some melting today”. I said “Your life is more important than your job”. I remind him gently after he is able to tell me that he is afraid. He says…as he leaves for work this morning “Well, I’ll be on that roof today…or maybe I’ll be home early”.

This is the blue collar life.