Who I Thought I Was

Last year, I became one of the 5 million Americans who have been jobless or underemployed for longer than 6 months.

by Ce Ce Iandoli
coping with long-term unemployment
Ce Ce Iandoli

The long-term effects of unemployment have a power that few people grasp until it’s them. The New York Times recently reported that long-term unemployment affects the lifelong health and well-beingof the jobless. Kate Strully, a professor at SUNY,found that people who lose their jobs are 83 % more likely to develop stress-induced conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and depression. Till von Wachter, an economist at Columbia University, has even more ominous facts.Von Wachter looked at mortality rates and income records and concluded that death rates  increased astronomically for the unemployed in the year they lost their jobs.

 

Don Peck, the feature editor for the Atlantic haswritten a book entitled Pinched. Peck describes the aftermath of being out of work for more than seven months. This is what he found: More than half of the respondents were withdrawing from their friends; marriages had become quite stressful, and 15% of the unemployed had acquired a substance abuse habit. “Being unemployed is about the worst think that can happen to you. Psychologically it’s equivalent to the death of a spouse and is a kind of bereavement in its own right.”

 

 

My Second Debacle

My second interview—via Skype—was terse. Can you write research they asked me? How well do you write? Describe your educational history. Upload samples of your work, as well as a vita and a cover letter affirming your interest in the firm. My cover letter was understandably short because the firm never told me what they did. In my second Skype interview, they explained the job.

 

The firm’s goal was to write papers for college students who didn’t want to. I was tempted because I like to write and pursue answers. Unfortunately, I was also disgusted. However, this was never mentioned. I was growing up; I was cynical by now. I was improving. They hired me. My gratitude had no bounds until the next day when I quit. Apparently, I still had some ethical remants.

 

Third Time Around

My best friend gave me a job writing grant proposals so I could launch my own firm. One of the grants I wrote resulted in $858,752 dollars. The second grant was short-listed. This should be the paragraph where I grab the moon and sail into some sunset with a job. And then, my realization: I’m an introvert who can be socially capable. But never a diehard extrovert who schmoozes, who remembers to carry a business card when get apples. I’m from Boston inside, and therefore mildly repressed.

 

After the Facts

Everything is too important to me now: the length of  my  black dress, the right shoes if I get an interview. In retrospect, I wonder was my bat-like sweater too avant-garde? What day of the week was I being interviewed?

 

So, what’s a woman to do?  Resort to social media, industry leads, join LinkedIn, swap phone numbers with everyone in the grocery store?  Rent a seat at the Unemployment Bureau? Answer: All of the above.

 

The Job That Got Away

Good interview. Got the job: Exactly two states away from anyone I knew. And of course, what would I do with my husband? What to do with this beautiful warped luck? My prospective boss saw my value. Her kindness was palpable. I could restart a new life or rupture my marriage. I chose home.

 

And Now?

Fears erupt in the morning when whole days sit in front of me. Hard work feels so enviable.But really, I am just an ordinary  worker dethroned from safety. Pushed down an economic notch; lost in America’s broken promises. At least Paul Krugman understands. He doesn’t “have the impression that Americans are spoiled; despair seems more like it.” 

 

At first, my best friends assured me that every skill set I owned would rise up and save me. After 100+ resumes and six months, I knew they were lying. This is what I did with their enthusiasm: stopped listening. Hummed like a child, my hands over my ears, rejecting whatever anyone said--as though their lies were the reasons why I had no work. Or rather, fragments of work.

 

First Published February 7, 2012

What’s your reaction?

Comments

missyj 04.13.2014

CeCe,I know your pain & difficulty. After 9/11, and the difficult economy we went through, I went through 9 difficult years. Used up savings and retirement, divorced my spouse who refused to work, and I could not remain in a sales position long enough because the employer expected miracles in a down economy. I had many dark days but reminded myself I had a little one to support. After 4 yrs. a friend hired me. Eventually, her firm closed. Finally I lost everything, house, money. A friend kept paying for my car insurance. Another housed me. We survived on revolving credit cards. I couldn't get a job in retail or restaurants because I did not have experience I was told. The blessings were plenty...plenty of time for introspection, prayer, community service and new friendships. Because of the latter, a new friend helped me land a job. My valuable lesson: As much as I tried to steer my path, I learned that my days were ordered by the Man Above. I had a new found faith. I was humbled. It is still painful to recall those days. It is painful to see others go through it. Have faith. You will make it.

10.02.2013

What a well-written story, told with such courage and heart.
I am like you, without steady employment, except for me it's been almost three years. At 48, I'm finding agism is alive and well. And we are in our own Great Depression indeed. This lack of employment has caused all sorts of anxiety and depression for me and my older friends. Men and women between the ages of 45 and up can't seem to find a job worthy of their experience and intelligence. Employers want young kids with no experience they can work to the bone and pay peanuts.
To be honest, I have much disdain for the work I once found immense pleasure and joy in. Life coaches and therapist offices are filled with these people who lost their lives/purpose/self-esteem. I always defined myself by what I did, what I drove, what I wore and where I lived. Seems shallow, but we find a sense of self in what we do for work. For the first time in decades, our parents are living better lives than we are. Like so many, I live with family, unable to afford rent, food, and utilities. I am luck to have enough to pay for my cell phone, gas and car insurance. Thank God for MassHealth. What will our nation do with the millions of Americans no longer working? Our country cannot afford to support us all. There are even more than are calculated, as so many of us can no longer collect unemployment. Never in my life did I ever think I would be on food stamps. So many of us are. Ce Ce, keep writing. I'd join you in your writing group any day.

Christina 04.07.2013

Thank you for sharing. We need to hear more voices like yours. As a 50-year-old divorced, educated woman who recently moved in with her 77-year-old father due to the economy, I can certainly relate. I'm employed, but the pay is less than I made as a beginning publicist in 1990. So much for self-esteem. Best of luck to you, CeCe. You're not alone.

sarah alley04.16.2012

This is such a beautiful yet and painful view of what happens when your life shifts expectantly. I appreciate Cece's honesty describing the different phases of being unemployed. She has a great style of writing. I would love to read more from her regarding her journey.

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