Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unemployed for a year

February 13 had an extra special distinction this year: it marked the one year anniversary of my unemployment. While I was hardly celebrating the date, I couldn't help but dwell a bit on it. A whole year. Without a job. The enormity of that statement is pretty soul crushing.

I still remember that day vividly. We were sending the April issue to the printer, and I had come in early to help Michelle go over the PDFs before we sent them off. I had had a bad feeling all week, and my boss wouldn't answer any of my pointed questions -- as in, "Will we have jobs next week?" -- with a direct answer. So I knew something was looming, I was just trying not to think about it.

At 8 am, she called. From the tone of her voice, I knew what was about to happen. Then she said, "Gather your people and meet me in HR at 8:30." So this was it. I had been fretting over it for months, and it was finally here. To be honest, my first feeling was relief. At least I knew now, and I could move on. No more sleepless nights and trying to stay positive (and failing, mostly) for my staff.

We trundled down the stairs to our doom at exactly 8:30. My boss, the director of HR and the publisher were gathered in the room. After going over the technical details of our severance and what not, we were told we needed to vacate our offices by 5 pm. Back in the relative privacy of our offices, we sent off the issue and packed up as quickly as humanly possible. A little after noon, we were throwing boxes in my car, turning in our badges, and hightailing it to Bottletree to wallow in our collective sorrow and rage. It was a low point for all of us.

For me, at least, it got even lower as the months went by. I was drawing unemployment, which was a lifesaver, but I wasn't even getting nibbles on my resume. Doors I had always assumed open to me closed in my face. I was competing against more and more of my friends as magazine after magazine folded all around us. I became ever more disheartened, and finally I just stopped looking.

Depression sunk its black claws into me again. I slept for fourteen, fifteen hours a day, tired of just existing. I stopped communicating with people, didn't answer emails, didn't go to parties or events that I used to enjoy. Part of me wondered if I would ever work again -- sounds dramatic, I know. But when so much of your self worth is tied up in your job, it's hard to see things realistically.

Fortunately, I got tired of being tired and morose. I forced myself to cold call people for jobs, I put aside as much pride as I could and I asked for help. Slowly, and not so surely, I began to get my footing back. Life didn't seem as hopeless as I had thought. I got a couple of reliable freelance clients, and I went on some promising interviews. I didn't get those jobs, but I felt wanted a bit more.

So here I am a year after that dreadful day, and I still feel like I'm fighting to keep my head above water every single day. When I open my eyes every morning, I have to make a choice to be positive or give in to my natural pessimism. Sometimes pessimism wins. I am not naturally positive and it's hard work for me to remain so. But I do it.

To my fellow unemployed (sorry -- "freelance") friends, you have my unwavering love and support. If there is one important lesson I've learned above all others this year, it's that misery loves company. Just kidding! It's that having friends who understand makes all the difference. It does make it easier to get up in the morning, and to get through an entire year being unemployed. I hope we have no other such anniversaries.


  1. Hey Tina,

    I really am sorry - you are a very gifted writer. Please don't kill me for this but as a spectator it seems that after a year you still have some anger and hostility built up. It is certainly understandable - but you really need to let go so you CAN move forward. You will come out a better person and a more talented writer in the end - I am a believer that wounds create intellect.


  2. Great writing, Tina. I think your thoughts about jobless-ness and identity are so dead on. When you lose your job, after years of building a career, it's bad enough. But when you then find there's nowhere else to go, well, let's just say I've slept for 14 hours before, too.

    Let's toast to what must be brighter futures ahead over chips and salsa soon!

  3. Tammy: Thanks for the compliments! And you're probably right about the anger. I think part of the problem is that we weren't really allowed to talk about what happened, and as a writer that's deadly. For me to let go, I MUST write it down and share it. Believe me, it is vastly better than it was a year ago.
    Laurel: Agreed, agreed, agreed. I am up for lunch whenever you say the word.

  4. Even though I voluntarily quit my job almost three years ago, I really understand. In the past year or so, every time a publication I've written for folds or has to "cut back" on their freelance budget it feels like being laid off. I've had some disappointments that I still have a hard time thinking about, some also having to do with the Bham News. My attitude at this point is that it truly can't get much worse than it is now, so it has to get better! Right?

  5. You're right, Lori, it certainly can't get much worse! *Looks around nervously, knocks on wood*