It has been years since I’ve been out of work this long. Seven months is a huge stretch of time. Aside from the scraping by on unemployment and finding filler gigs to keep myself busy, I have to admit that the hardest part is what is happening in my head.
There is a sort of lather-rinse-repeat to my days that used to be merely boring, but is now rather demoralizing. Wake up. Eat. Check e-mail for replies to the dozens of cover letters and resumes I’ve e-mailed. Check bank balance to see if I can afford that trip to the Dollar Store for essentials like tooth paste and deodorant (which used to be purchased at the local drugstore). Make some phone calls. Write. Send out more resumes. Well, you get the picture. That’s why I laugh when people tell me they’re jealous or wish they could “sit around on unemployment.” It’s not all it’s cracked up to be and a new study agrees with me.
The study, by the Pew Research Center, found that such long-term periods of unemployment affect people in several key areas including finances, emotional well-being and career goals. It’s worth noting that people who have been unemployed for shorter periods also experienced financial problems. Still, those of us who’ve been out there longer are feeling pretty crummy.
The waiting game
Almost half of those jobless six months or more questioned in the study, 46-percent, said the situation had taken its toll on relationships. One of the reasons I broke it off with my boyfriend last week was my inability to keep a relationship going when the balance of power was so off. I’ve developed some resentment towards a family member who owes me money. I am tired of explaining to him that unemployment benefits barely cover the minimum it takes for me to survive.
Another sad statistic in the study shows that 43-percent of these same people report seeing close friends less because of their jobless state. I am happy to have friends who go out of their way to see me and also take me out on their dime. I truly hope that none of them harbor bad feelings towards me for it. There have been plenty of times, due to lack of money; I’ve opted out of doing things with people I love. Another unemployed girlfriend invited me to a movie the other day. As much as I’d like to see it, I have $30 to last me until next Tuesday. I couldn’t justify spending even five dollars on a little fun.
I try to keep myself from falling into depression, but even on the sunniest days, I feel a little cloudy. I fear I won’t find another job that pays enough to live on. I also fear that employers will wonder what is wrong with me and decide against hiring me at all. Like the 38-percent of long-term unemployed workers in the study, I feel a slight loss of self-respect. It doesn’t help when politicians start calling for drug tests on the jobless like Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch recently did. Nothing like kicking people when they’re down, right?
The sunny side of the street
Probably some of the biggest fears I’ve had have to do with money. I filed for an extension on my taxes this year simply because I couldn’t afford to do them knowing I’d owe. I’m always double and triple-checking the calendar to make sure I can pay my bills on time. My car insurance is due today—it went up $10 a payment after an accident last year. I was not at fault. My rent, due in two weeks, will be paid, but I have to do a little hocus-pocus to make sure it isn’t late. My car payment will be two weeks late—again.
While the study showed a lot of the gloom and doom one would expect, I decided to list a few positive things that have come from my months in the trenches. They are:
- More time to write. I have been a writer my whole life. My last job literally sucked the life out of me and my creativity. Eighty-hour work weeks have a tendency to do that to you. Now I can write pretty much every day. It’s a real tension-tamer for me.
- Kitty cat cuddle time. My cats will be the first to tell you they are happy I’m not waking up at 3:30 in the morning and coming home at 6:30 at night anymore. When I’m writing, they curl up next to me and get the occasional tummy rub. I get rewarded in purrs.
- A chance to learn new things. I have been boning up on things that are relevant not only to my job prospects, but also just things that interest me. I’ve learned so much about social media, researching (a thing I LOVE doing) and cooking new things on the cheap. It’s rewarding.
- Spending time with friends I wouldn’t see otherwise. My friend Amanda, a freelance editor, works from home. Whenever she’s in the neighborhood, we can have a wonderful hour where she’s away from her toddler and I get to talk to a fun, fascinating friend. Lizzie, my roller derby enchantress, works funky shifts at a factory. Having coffee on her off days is delightful and relaxing. No complaints when she shows up with gourmet coffee creamer, either.
- Finding ways to help others. I don’t have the financial muscles to do a lot for people, but I’ve been happy to drive my car-less friends places, watch kids, volunteer, promote and otherwise give to people, places and things I cherish but also to complete strangers. That’s true fulfillment.
- Enjoying nature. This summer has been a butterfly bonanza in my neighborhood. I often spend an hour watching them flutter outside my window. I find them enthralling.
- Reconnecting with old hobbies. I bought a keyboard to noodle on when I’m in need of fun like I did as a child. I’ve been thinking of doing some sculpting again. I bought a coloring book and crayons from the dollar store and spent some time sharpening my coloring skills all while drinking chocolate milk and eating cookies.
- Planning future events. Last year, I really wanted to put together a cabaret show. Now I finally can. I’m plotting a night of singing, story-telling and burlesque performances (I know a lot of wonderful performers). I will need to raise a few bucks for promotional flyers, but after that, it’s on!
- Figuring out my wants and needs. As much as it hurt my ex-boyfriend to lose me, I knew I’d be hurting myself more if I stayed. I have a long-term plan for my life that includes being in a relationship that doesn’t feel like it’s stamped with an expiration date. I’m working on ways to finish my education. I’m also writing a damned book. So there ya go!
I’m not always a Pollyanna, but I’d rather maintain a level of happiness in my life than let my whole world fall apart because of a bad situation. That’s all unemployment is. When I look at it that way, I know it’s changeable. And that makes all the difference.