I’m unemployed.* Two years and one month now. Which I still can’t freaking believe. I don’t want to scare anyone out of getting a French degree, but…. well. I’m just saying. Two. Years. I started out teaching high school French, against my better judgment. But that didn’t work out. As in, I left during Christmas break of my third year. But that’s all in the past. Or so my mother tells me. Only it’s not, really.
Another sparkling gem from my mother which is well intentioned but only Serves to Infuriate™ is, “you and 10 million others.” Again, I can’t really argue that. And at first, determined not to throw a pity party for myself (I gave up on that about two months in), I agreed. But around the one year mark, I started to reply, “you know mother (which is what I call her when I am extremely peeved but trying to contain it because the woman changed my diapers), I know you’re right about that. It’s not just me. But saying so doesn’t really make me feel any better. So, you know, stop saying that. Please. Can we just go to lunch now so I can medicate with food? Thanks.” At least I’m polite about it.
In the last two years, it has chapped my ass to no end the things I have heard people say, although I recognize that I’m mostly exhausted with myself. I understand that most of these things are said with good intentions by people who, like acquaintances at a funeral visitation, really don’t know what to say. I realize I’m kind of equating unemployment with death here, but really it *is* a major life transition, like divorce or death. But unlike a Big D, when you lose your job you’re expected to just suck it up and see it as an “opportunity”; a word which I swear on all I hold sacred I am actively waging a smear campaign against in hopes that the general public will turn on and launch a Twitter war against it until the people at Merriam-Webster bow to public demand and remove it from the dictionary.
So. For all those out there who have been lucky enough to ride out this economic bitch slap relatively unscathed, I congratulate you on your good fortune. And if you have taken your unemployed friends out to dinner or for a beer, forcing them to shower and take of that nasty bathrobe and put clothes on and leave the house for the love of all that is holy, and NOT tried to make them feel better with any of the following phrases, then you are doing the Lord’s work and He gon’ bless you for it. But for those of you who know unemployed people and just don’t know what to do with them, I offer the following guidelines of what NOT to say. Please.
1. “Oh, you’ll find something soon. (in a few months, by Christmas, etc.)
The fact is that no matter how smart your friend is, you have no idea how long it will take to find another job. At least not one that he or she really wants or that will pay the bills. It could be, say, two years or more. And when people are in this situation, they desperately cling to any and all words of hope they hear. Then a year down the road, they start thinking, “hai! Where my job at yo?? Errybody keep telling me it’s gonna happen soon! Ding Dong man! Ding Dong, Ding Dong yo!” (sorry, I started out speaking in some weird rap dialect and then I started thinking about Weird Al Yankovic’s video for “Fat” and it kind of all went to hell from there.) Anyway, point is, please refrain, in your enthusiasm to bouy up your friend’s confidence, from making giant cosmic promises or assurances that you know damn well you can’t guarantee. It sets up false hope. And really, hope is all we’ve got people. And almost as bad as being a year into unemployment and finding those assurances unfulfilled is when you realize that your friends have finally stopped offering them. It’s like your medical team has finally realized it’s futile and they’re ready to call life Hospice for your sorry ass. Just avoid the whole promise thing altogether.
2. “Look at this as an opportunity! I read about this guy who…”
Okay let me stop you right there, Oprah. First of all, the great unwashed unemployed masses don’t give a rat’s ass about the guy you heard started his own company and became a millionaire after losing his job by just Following His Dream and selling hand-wrapped garden manure packets with photos of the cow whose ass provided them and a personalized letter from Bossy thanking you for “living green.” Actually, making a note of that. It could work. BUT. Seriously, by and large, it’s like telling an overweight person about the 700 pound woman you saw on Dr. Oz and how SHE lost all the weight and you can too! And look, here are some Women’s World magazine articles about people who lost over half their body weight! MAKE SURE YOU CATCH DR. PHIL ON FRIDAY HE’S GONNA HAVE PEOPLE WHO HAVE LOST WEIGHT OMG I SAW AN INFOMERCIAL HERE LET ME ORDER THIS FOR YOU DIDN’T YOUR COUSIN ROY’S HEART ATTACK MAKE YOU WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT…..
what was I talking about?
Yes. Silver linings. Fuck em. Don’t want to hear it. I know I could take this opportunity to do volunteer work or finish my novel or go back to school to be an embalmer (things I have actually considered doing, #15). I. Know. But just assume before you ever say it that the unemployed person to whom you speak has already heard this about 8.2 bajillion times already. And is already trying to force herself to believe it every day. So unless you have an actual “opportunity” to offer, then just… just stop talking. Please. In all Christian love. Shut it.
3. “Well you’re in good company. You and 3 (6, 10, 12, pick a number, any number) million others are in the same boat…”
*sigh* Okay. Listen. I understand that I am not the only person who was wrongly terminated from a job in the last few years. I know other people have been screwed. I know some of them have kids or disabled people living with them they have to take care of. I understand that some people are in this boat and have cancer. AND no shoes. AND a poor, blind, three legged dog to feed. I get it. But although a lot of unemployed people understand that things could be worse, still, that doesn’t make us feel any better. If I may revisit the death analogy for a moment, it’s kind of like telling someone, “hey, you know thousands of people lose someone every day, so you’re in good company.” Or, “you know half of all marriages end in divorce. Just get back out there!” As I tell my mom, “…and I feel for those people, really I do. But that doesn’t make me stop feeling sad about MY situation. I still hurt about it. I’m still embarrassed about it. The emotions are still there. And the knowledge that other people are going through the same thing, sadly, does not fix my feelings.” Which brings me to:
4. (as seen on FaceBook) “I read that the economy is picking up and 100,000 jobs are being created. So what are people still complaining about??”
My response to this post was something along the lines of, “well, that’s awesome but what I am complaining about includes but is not limited to the fact that my house is in the process of foreclosure, I have no health insurance but I need to see a doctor, I have been unemployed for so long that my unemployment benefits have now run out, and I STILL can’t seem to get a job.” And then, like I do, I immediately felt guilty about it. But before I could go back and delete the comment, the person who posted it apologized for my situation and said she hadn’t meant to offend and that she was actually referring to the situation in Haiti. Now, I call shenanigans on that assertion, but I do get that at the end of the day, at least I don’t have to worry about getting Cholera from the drinking water. Well, at least until Wells Fargo decides it’s had enough of my sorry ass and taps into my water supply. I think most unemployed people understand that It Could Be Worse. We do. Really. But the statement “what are you complaining about?” just smacks of “let them eat cake” to me. You haven’t struggled with this so you have no idea what you’re talking about. So before saying, “I don’t really see what all these starving peasants are complaining about, everything looks fine to ME,” and heading off to the opera, let’s make sure we’re not logged into a public forum, okay Marie Antoinette? Thanks.
5. “I would LOVE to take some time off!” “Man, you’ll be glad you had all this free time when you’re working again!”
(rolls up newspaper and swats you on the nose) No. NO. BAD. Unemployment. Is NOT. A. Vacation. Not. Nnnnnnot.
When you are not employed by a tax paying, paycheck giving official employer? You still have a full time job. And that job is shitty, with no benefits, no paycheck and it is debilitating. When you are unemployed, your full time job is worrying. Stressing out, and worrying. And being embarrassed. And hustling. And lying some here and there. And handling harassing phone calls from creditors. And trying to figure out “how am I gonna get rid of all this crack?” (sorry, Chris Rock reference. Just came to me.) And sometimes struggling with depression, which is like a second full time job in itself. Looking for a job and trying to pay your bills are your full time jobs. And they are exhausting. This is not a vacation for us, people. We’re not kicked back on a beach doing some light reading and drinking fruity drinks while deciding what color to repaint the living room. We probably don’t have the money to buy paint. And if we face losing our homes, we’re damn sure not motivated to fix them up so the mortgage company can make more money on them when they resell them. Please, if you disregard everything else on this list, PLEASE do not indicate that the unemployed are “lucky” for being so. We are not lucky. We got handed a big steamy pile and we are doing everything we can to CHANGE the situation. Just… no.
Again, I realize that most people who say these things are really saying, “dude, I’m sorry, that really sucks. I think you’re really smart and cool and I hate that you’re in this situation. I wish I knew what I could do to help you. And of course if I hear of anything, I promise I’ll let you know.” Only instead of actually saying that, they feel like they have to keep things light! and cheerful! for you! Or else try to fix the Situation. The Situation being, of course, your attitude. I appreciate the friends and family I have who have been supportive. And I won’t lie, I’ve been dropped like a bad habit by a few who have found me to have “lost that sparkle” in the past two years (I was as shocked as you are.) I love that people care enough about me to at least make an effort. But all I’m asking is that the unscathed people of the world try to understand that unemployment can be seriously traumatic. Maybe not in a Darfur refugee camp kind of way, but still devastating nonetheless. You don’t have to fix us. Well, unless you own your own company or are sleeping with the HR person at one and can get us into a job. But barring that, just listen, feed us if you like, call or text our asses from time to time, and please don’t send us magazine clippings or ask us to turn on the t.v. to watch this one interview. Unless it’s with Charlie Sheen. Because I may have been unemployed for two years? But DAMN. Could be worse.
*In the last two years I have made money by: temping, dog-sitting, acting, writing, being a camp co-leader, and a brief maternity leave gig. I am not just sitting around living off the gub’mint. I have interviewed for a number of great jobs that were looking for snarky overweight red-headed French degree holding Virgos who are from Nashville and are named Rachel. I have not gotten any of these jobs.