Being Unemployed Is Doing Marvelous Things for My Anxiety
by Sarah Chamberlain
On my sixth day of unemployment, my alarm went off at nine. I turned it off and lay on my side for another hour and a half. I decided I should actually get up at 10:38 a.m.. I made a frittata with tomato, artichoke and feta. I also made toast and a cup of tea. The cooking all felt very adult. My mom would be very impressed, I thought. Even though I’m unemployed now, that doesn’t mean I’m a loser. I’m making a very healthy and tasty breakfast. I watched Bunheads on Hulu while I ate so I didn’t waste any time. Then I did my dishes. I am unemployed, but I am also clean and industrious.
Then I went to the “Business Center” of my sprawling apartment complex and printed out 10 copies of my resume. I took a deep breath and opened my mailbox and was relieved to see only junk mail, no bills. And then I packed a lunch, drove to a trendy block in Venice, parked, and began walking up and down the street, distributing my resume to apply for retail jobs.
The temporary position that had eased my post-grad transition had ended less than a week before, and I still had one more check owed me. I can still pay my bills, and I have enough of a safety net that I’ll be able to pay them for a while. My parents are supportive — I will not get kicked out of my apartment or go hungry. I know my situation could be much worse, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel as bad as I do. I haven’t even had time to feel financially pinched. My brain is taking care of that for me.
My resume has three very solid temporary project positions and two great summer internships, but I scurried away from some of the stores. I thought them too cool or too expensive for me to work there. I can’t afford this $300 skirt, I thought. I cannot work here. It occurred to me that this means I don’t think I’m good enough for the retail position I had five years ago, in high school. Some people took my resume, even though most of them weren’t hiring right now.
I came home and made a caprese salad sandwich and listen to “Have to Explode” by the Mountain Goats, which was maybe not the best choice, given that unemployment has made my depression and anxiety flare up like someone pouring lighter fluid on a grill.
By nightfall on any given weekday, when I’ve refreshed my empty email inbox once a minute for the last hour, the hopeful thoughts I ate breakfast with are knocked down to depressive mantras: I will be lucky if I find a data entry job that lasts forever. Music, writing, comedy, or anything creative will never be my career. Maybe it’s fun to be unremarkable. The therapy I attended in college taught me how to fight against my own negative self-talk. I don’t yet know how to stand up to a society that calls me worthless ten times a day.
I know being supported by your parents while in your twenties is kind of having a moment right now, but I cannot feel laissez-faire about being unemployed. I just can’t. The word “funemployment” makes me angry. There are the daily stomach gymnastics while I check my mail each day. And there is the incessant job hunting. Online, on foot, phone calls, full-time, part-time, temp, dream jobs, reaches, easy targets — it could be anything, I just have to be searching as long as I am awake during normal business hours. I even thought about plastering my resume on telephone poles and just seeing what happens. I have to do everything I can to find a job today. Otherwise… Well, otherwise what?
If I took a break from job hunting for an hour or even a day, I wouldn’t exactly be losing anything. It might even help me gather my thoughts and write better applications. But I can’t do it — I’d just think about how right now, the hiring manager is looking at applications, and mine isn’t at the top of his e-mail folder. I just lost a job because I enjoyed this latte and read some of my book.
This kind of thinking has happened before. My anxiety and depression lurked through my adolescence but started to attack me when I was a freshman in college. Whenever I go through a major life transition, logic yields to worry and wallowing — Shit has gotten real, says my brain, Listen to this excessive fight-or-flight response. Now the danger has passed, so treat yourself to a good cry, take some really long naps and establish inappropriate eating habits. And while meds and therapy evened me out enough to deal with the school environment I chose (small, insular, rural, very Camp College), new circumstances are triggering old instincts.
Some good things came out of last Tuesday. I emailed a new symphony orchestra that is starting up, asking both to play flute for them and maybe do administrative work for them, too, once they need it. I met a woman behind a vintage shop counter whose father and sister went to my tiny college. Hopefully it will help her remember me.
When I go to bed, I usually listen to storytelling and comedy podcasts. I listen to people who were once more broke and desperate than me and are now brilliant artists who do okay. I have no idea whether I’ll end up like them. The only thing that puts me to sleep is repeating to myself, These things happen all the time. These things happen all the time.
Sarah Chamberlain is a writer and musician living in Los Angeles.