I got laid off from my job last October. Soon it will be four months without a job. I haven’t written about it at all until recently. Part of that is because I’ve been trying to keep optimistic. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get a job any day and I won’t be unemployed anymore. Part of it is that, despite writing about some awfully personal things on this blog, I’m a pretty private person. But the biggest reason why I haven’t been writing about it is because I haven’t known what to say. I don’t want to come off as angry because I’m not. I’ve known plenty of friends and colleagues who have been laid off. This was just my time. And I don’t want to complain, at least not in a whiny, unproductive way.
The thing that made me start writing about it was realizing that lots of other people go through unemployment, but it’s not something that we talk much about. We see the rosy statistics on the news (the most recent statistics that I can find are that only 3.5% of the US is unemployed, and only 3.7% in Connecticut). I’ll grant, those numbers need a lot of context to be meaningful, and we are rarely provided with that context, but my point is that we never hear about the actual experiences of those 3.5%. A few years ago, after my divorce, I was going through a depressive episode and I wrote about it. Lots of people reached out to me to thank me for being open and honest about it because they had gone through similar things. I’m hoping this can do the same thing.
I should say for complete transparency that I don’t even know if I count in the 3.5% unemployment rate (there’s that context I was talking about). For most of the past fifteen years, I have had two jobs, one full-time and one part-time. I got laid off from the full-time job, but I’m still working a few hours a week at the part-time job. It’s not nearly enough to live on, but it helps slow the bleeding. I am, however, collecting unemployment, so I’m counting myself as unemployed.
The actual day-to-day experiences of unemployed people probably vary wildly. I spend my time doing all the things that everyone has to do, like taking care of my daughter, laundry, dishes, cooking, shopping, etc. And I spend a good chunk of my time looking for work. The one thing an unemployed person cannot be is lazy. Looking for work is an unpaid, but full-time, gig. Networking and going through job boards takes a long time. Each job I apply for takes at least two to three hours for the application process. Not only do they have pages and pages of questions and information requests, but I have to tailor my resume to the job I’m applying for and research the company and write a cover letter. It’s more time consuming than someone not doing it would imagine. Then, I spend whatever time I have leftover trying to take care of myself, both physically and psychologically.
That last bit is the real trick with being unemployed. For better or for worse, we live in a world designed around work. Being out of work destroys a lot of the structure in life. When I’m working, I wake up between six and seven and go to bed between ten and eleven. Without work, it is extraordinarily easy to stay up later and sleep later. It’s not good to let your schedule drift too far from everyone else’s. When I’m working, breakfast is before work, lunch is midday, and dinner is after work. Without work, meals shift around. Sometimes there are extra meals and sometimes meals are skipped altogether. Neither of those are healthy choices.
Psychological well being is even harder to maintain. There’s the obvious reasons, losing a job creates self-doubt in even the most positive person. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty and rejection while job hunting. That never makes anyone feel good. The longer a person is out of work, the worse these get.
There are two less obvious things about unemployment that can really mess with a person’s head. One is that it is isolating. Something we take for granted while we work is the social aspect of work. Everyone has work friends. And even if there aren’t a lot of close, personal relationships at work, there are a lot of interactions with other humans. That’s really important. When you’re unemployed, you can go days without seeing or talking to anyone.
The other thing is the lack of feedback. Applicants never hear back from most of the jobs they try for. The ones they do hear back from don’t tell them anything, at least not anything more informative than, “We decided to go in a different direction,” or, “You are no longer being considered for this position.” I understand that employers can’t say anything more than that without opening themselves up to lawsuits, but it’s hard on the applicants. All we want to know is what we did wrong or what we could do better, but there’s no way to find out. It’s very difficult to stay positive when nothing you do works and no one will tell you why.
So, that’s a little snapshot of where I am right now. I’m still trying, I haven’t given up, but I could be much better. I hope anyone else in my position right now knows that they’re not alone. And I’m not above asking for help. If anyone knows of anything I can do, I’d be thrilled to hear about it.