By Natalie DeYoung
The coffeemaker beeps in the morning, and I am not opening my laptop and shuddering at the day’s paltry excuse for job board notifications. I am not dreading the day, nor the day after, nor the day after that; my future no longer shrouded in a pall of despair. Instead, I pull out paperwork and lecture notes. I have a sense of purpose. After thirteen months of unemployment, my identity as one of the long-term unemployed has shifted to that of productive citizen. Employed.
This was not my first rodeo as far as unemployment is concerned. Graduating right into the recession, I was laid off from job after job. The economic downturn gave my health, credit, relationships and lifetime earnings a severe beat-down during these periods of unemployment (the shortest span being two months, the longest thirteen). Self-esteem? Forget it. That left the building after I had to add a second tab to my job-search spreadsheet; after an interview I was sure I’d nailed failed to even elicit a response to any of my follow-ups; after I saw my professional field shrinking before my very eyes.
Obtaining a job in my field proved impossible in the years after graduating. Various non-career related jobs kept me afloat financially, but I could never “get ahead,” career-wise (or otherwise). My skills grew stale, even as I kept intellectually involved with the latest research. Unemployment only exacerbated this problem.
However, by a kiss from Lady Luck and a well-placed reference, I managed to finally snag a last-minute position. The caveat? I had to start in a little over a week.
Suddenly, the pace of life snapped into hyper speed. Where once I could take mental health breaks and much-needed half-hours of self-soothing with an episode of Scandal and a jar of almond butter, I now had to rush from class to class, from administrative office to office. Classes needed prep-work, assignments needed creation, and my Netflix TV series queue moved to a less-crucial place in my daily schedule.
Upon returning to work as a part-time professor, my level of interpersonal interaction more than quadrupled (quintupled? octupled?) within the space of a week. I used to go for days without speaking to a single soul besides my husband. Now, I need to interact with at least sixty individuals a day. Not only that, but I have to give lectures—to perform on a stage, in front of a room full of people with nothing but a chalkboard for distraction. By the time I get home, I am drained by so much interaction after my previous virtual hermit’s life style.
The anxiety hasn’t fully retreated, either. I still awaken in the dead of night with my heart threatening to beat its way out of my chest. Do I have enough money to cover the cost of gas? I wonder upon waking, mentally tallying my current checking account balance against my credit card charges. Will I get laid off again? Or not picked up for another year of teaching? Once you have been so economically vulnerable, the tide of fear never fully recedes. You know that no matter how hard you work, it could all get taken away again without any warning.
Going back to work has been a major adjustment—a mostly positive one, but an adjustment nonetheless. Thankfully, unemployment developed in me a lasting character trait that will serve me well the rest of my life: resiliency. No matter what the future holds, I will certainly be ready for it.