When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, April 29, 2016

Unemployment: A Full-Time Job

I'm not going to lie to you: poverty sucks. There are many things that are awful about being unemployed, not the least of which is the lack of income for basic necessities. There is also the shame associated with not having a job or career. Americans (and possibly other countries as well) define themselves by their jobs. Most Americans will introduce themselves by stating their name and then their job or the company where they work. When you are unemployed, you lose that crucial piece of your identity.

I've been without a steady paying position for two years. I made a choice to move down to Orlando based on a job that turned out to be something completely different from what I signed up for. My leaving was a mutual dissolving of the work relationship. I have not had any position besides the odd temp job, the longest of which lasted a mere 3 months, since that time. I do my best to deflect the question when people ask me what I do. My resume is admittedly padded with the volunteer catechetical teaching I've been doing for my parish so that the huge gaping hole of time in which I have not drawn a paycheck looks a little more diminished than it actually is. I do my best to hide my unemployment from my daughter's school for fear that they will kick her out if they thought they wouldn't get their tuition money. They claim that they have tuition assistance, but I know that is not for someone living in poverty. It's reserved for families who suffer a sudden loss, not those who had nothing to begin with.

So, what makes unemployment a full-time job and where is the silver lining? Until recently, when I started to spend more time concentrating on doing things for my parish and with my daughter, I would spend more than half my time each day combing through emails and job postings. I would send off and fill out as many applications as I felt I vaguely qualified for. My resume, in all its revised editions, has been received over a thousand times, and that's not an exaggeration. I'm at the point in this sisyphean game in which I'm too tired to apply to jobs with the same gusto I had two years ago, or even one year ago. I get phone calls from 2-5 recruiters every other week and I send them the information, fill out the forms, give them the requested resumes, for which they ask, with no results. I really do spend at least 15 hours a week now applying for almost any kind of work, 45 hours a week up until December when I grew despondent, filling out the same forms with the same employment information over and over again. Anyone who is desperately unemployed has probably spent more time looking for a job than they would have spent being paid to work somewhere. That's not counting the time on the phone talking to recruiters or on phone interviews. That's also not counting the time spent driving to and from actual face-to-face interviews that leave you feeling confident for about 10 minutes and then either depressed or jilted afterward because you know they're not going to call you back. I actually relish the rejection letters I get because that lets me stop anticipating any possible positive outcome (I don't have "hope" anymore; see my hope blog post).

Okay, where's that positive spin that encapsulates the primary point of this blog? I will say that the time I don't spend hunting for a job, especially now when I'm losing a lot of steam, can be spent on other things. I have more time for my daughter. Being able to drop her off and pick her up from school at the regular times, instead of from after-care, gives us more time to talk and gives her more time to get homework finished. We are able to actually eat dinner together almost every day, the exceptions being when we are involved in something at the church in the evening. I am able to spend some of my non-job hunting time during the day to work on my crafting and sewing projects. I am able to take naps, which helps a lot when you consider how messed up my sleeping schedule is at the moment (insomnia + sleep apnea + bouts of depression do not allow for standard sleep cycles). When I am not worrying about how I am going to put gas in my car, or saying copious prayers that nothing happens to break down my car or computer or anything else major, I am actually a bit less stressed than when I was working. My days sort of flow now instead of fit together in blocks of time-crunch anxiety.

Don't get me wrong, unemployment and poverty suck. It's when I feel the crunch the most that I am in need of finding the positive in the situation and making better use of my involuntary free time. Luckily, I've always been pretty good at keeping myself occupied.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Home of My Own

It took me quite a while to realize that this is the first time in my life that I have my own home. It's an apartment, not a house. I don't own, I rent. It's not large or roomy and we don't have a yard. It's not even in an ideal neighborhood. Only my daughter and I live here, though my mother is listed on the lease because I don't have a job at the moment. And though my parents are graciously covering rent for me until I can afford it myself, this is still MY home.

That's saying a lot. My. Home.

I don't have a roommate. I don't have siblings or a spouse to share it. It is only my daughter, myself, and our turtle, Evan. For the first time in my life, I have my own personal, private sanctuary, a place I can truly call my own. I don't have anyone to criticize me for my chaotic organization. I don't have anyone nagging me when I'm too tired to wash dishes or laundry and put it off for one more day. I am answerable only to myself and the occasional request of my daughter. I am free to be me in a truly judge-free zone.

This is why I don't invite people over to my home. I know it's far from clean. As a creative person, I have projects spread out everywhere. I know where things are and I will get around to them when the right motivation strikes. I don't use my mop (a Swiffer counts as a mop, right?) or broom or vacuum cleaner too often. My sink isn't often completely empty. There are projects, papers, class things, books on many of my seating surfaces in the living room and the tables in my dining room are not cleared and pristine. I don't always put all of my non-refrigerated or non-frozen groceries away immediately after coming home from shopping. My laundry sometimes waits a day or two after washing before it's hung up or folded into drawers. [I don't have a washer and dryer in my apartment, so laundry is an all-day affair that involves packing up, carting, loading, unloading, etc., everything to and from a local laundromat.] In a word, by anyone's standard my place is a mess. It's a livable mess, though. I keep food (i.e. eating) localized to the kitchen or dining area to reduce bugs. Bathroom trash stays in the bathroom until the rest of the household trash goes out to the dump. Our turtle doesn't make a mess, claw or bite things, or do much, really, that other four-legged pets would do. Organic refuse is kept under control. Most of our mess is paper-based stuff or items that were taken out for one purpose and await their return.

I've never really had this much freedom before. I always had to worry about invading someone else's space or accidentally taking someone else's food (I'm EXTREMELY sensitive about food ownership because of childhood experiences) that I thought was open to everyone. Even when I was married I worried about eating "his" food or I was constantly nagged about taking over "his" space or watching "his" TV. The house was NEVER mine--it was in his mother's and grandmother's, later his and his mother's, name. The furniture was his mother's and/or his grandmother's. Even the linens were theirs. Nothing in that house was really mine except for some of the portable things like my books and computer and clothing, the things I took with me when we lost our home to his new family. I put up with this dehumanizing treatment, but it hurt the most to see my daughter treated the same way. She never felt like his house was her home or that she was ever allowed to do anything in it. It was bad enough feeling like that when she visited other people, especially his mother, but to feel that way in what should be one's own home is appalling.

In our little apartment, my daughter and I are free to be who we want. We are free from having to "behave" so that others feel comfortable (read: they get to be them and we have to adapt for their preference, putting aside our true natures). This concept is so new to my daughter that she sometimes still asks me if it's okay that she does something in her room or if I mind if she fixes a certain snack for herself. I pray that she will finally get over that anxiety, at least with me. I had 30+ years of this kind of entrapment, she only had 12 years of it. I don't want her to suffer like I did. I want her to figure out who she wants to be and accept herself for that, not have to make others comfortable at the expense of her own natural behaviors.

My home is the only place where I am truly free from my social anxiety. I don't have to be overly mindful of where I sit, watch what I talk about, avoid eating things, pray when I want to, or acting silly if I feel like it, because no one is watching me. It is simply my daughter and myself, living free from judgement and criticism. I believe everyone deserves a safe haven where they can truly relax, let their guard down, and not worry about making any missteps that might offend someone or bring about a negative assessment from anyone. For the first time in my life, I finally have that. It will be a VERY LONG time before I give that up again, maybe never. I will let someone back into my heart LONG BEFORE I ever let them into my sanctuary (and my heart is boarded up indefinitely at the moment). I don't need that kind of stress or anxiety. I don't want it, either. I will socialize in the outside world. Let me keep my tiny piece of my sanctity.