I have something difficult to share. A driver that I had run down the road with several times over the years and had come to know as another one of the hardworking decent guys that are the mainstay of the Canadian trucking industry, took his own life in early August.
None of us who knew him as I did saw it coming.
That’s why I have decided to share a few thoughts about something we rarely discuss in this industry, mental health.
I don’t have any expertise whatsoever in the field of mental health, so I’m not trying to provide any answers or solutions to the stresses we face as drivers.
But I do know how I feel every Saturday morning when I pack the car in preparation for another five days on the road and then kiss my wife good-bye.
We need to have a conversation about that.
It’s not easy just getting through the day. Anxiety, anger and feelings of depression find fertile ground to fester and grow in the mind of a long-haul driver. For me, it is a constant struggle to keep the opposing forces of my work and personal life in balance.
It is my love/hate relationship with trucking and a constant source of stress in my life.
I love being out on the road but it keeps me away from the one person I care about the most while at the same time providing financial security and stability for us both.
Life is difficult.
Trucking is indeed a great life to live as you explore the country and the continent with the added bonus of getting paid well to do it.
For some individuals, this lifestyle is all they ever need – it fulfills their one great passion in life. They are the lucky ones.
But if the high turnover rate of drivers in this business is any indicator, they are also a minority.
At some point in a driving career you must grapple with the question, is there more to life than just rolling down the road? That feeling is all about the need for companionship and stability.
Those feelings run strong in me and probably in the people that find they can’t continue to live on the road despite how much they may enjoy the trucking life.
In the macho world of trucking, we don’t talk about our feelings. It’s a sign of weakness to the male ego. We bottle up those feelings and put them on the shelf.
That’s been the story for my generation.
That’s probably why we accept the authoritarian structure in this industry without question and continue to wear hardship as a badge of honor. That’s what real men do.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. We all know we work in an industry that is classed in the top 10 when it comes to physical danger.
But what about the dangers we face mentally and emotionally? The personal example I shared of the big stressor I face every week is but one example of the thousands of mental stressors that haunt a driver as he or she rolls down the road.
The common thing all drivers share is the time alone and the long hours of uneventful driving time that the mind has to play with.
How mental health affects a driver’s daily life is yet another topic that is not addressed in any type of ongoing training program for drivers.
The hazards we face in our mental work environment are every bit as dangerous as the hazards we face in our physical environment.
That has been the rallying cry for the past few years in encouraging people to talk about their mental health issues, especially surrounding depression.
It’s something we face as drivers on a daily basis even if we don’t recognize it as such. So, let’s talk.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.