What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What unemployment feels like

You ever get that feeling of defeat deep within the caverns of your body's core?  That sinking feeling, of utter emotional despair that rises up from the depths of your lower abdomen, consumes your chest and drops your neck and head, overtaking all other emotion?  I've felt this before.  I was so competitive as an athlete, I took defeat really hard.  Losing a football game that every ounce of your body gave something to, picking your defeated self up off the track after your dive at the finish line was too late, even sitting with someone you care about knowing you've done something unwittingly detrimental to your relationship.  But these sinking feelings only last for a moment, an afternoon or two.  The pain that I feel right now lasts.  It lasts through the summer, the winter, the days, the nights, the weeks and the months.  It's not just that utter feeling of defeat that you feel deep down though.  Its the anxiety you start to feel in your chest, the adrenal reaction to the despair emanating from your core.  Your soul is touched by it, it moves throughout your body; up into your throat, raw and tight, around towards your back where it pulls your shoulders closer to your spine like a winch being slowly cranked and knotted up.  Your legs tingle, your arms lose luster and feel listless.

The physical manifestation of pain and despair, of hearing back from another job that you didn't get, of putting in another job application only to be told you are overqualified, underqualified, or nothing.  The hopelessness of hope.  This is what it feels like.  Everyday you put in another application or two, and every day you hear nothing back from an ever increasing number of "hopes" - the essence of what every cover letter essentially is.  You read through the want ads, you get email notifications, your friends send you things.  You slowly weed through all these options to the ones that really grab your experience by the jugular, you've done this! you can do this! this could be the one!  You prioritize them all, the "perfect" ones come first  then the good ones, and then the ones that you know full well that you can do without even batting an eye but might be a bit out of your expertise or the experience you can show on paper.  You slave and slave over the letters, free writing, drafting, copy pasting from other letters, proof reading and proof reading.  Every time you reread your resume.  Is there anything that you can change or tweak to help on this application?

You're applying to lots of stuff, none of it is the same.  Just anything you think you can or would do.  Yeah, of course there is always that perfect one that you bump up to the top.  But those are the worst.  Those are the ones that you do extra research on.  Extra hoping!  You read around and Google the specifics of the industry, maybe even talk to people.  Searching for the way in.  You slave and slave, hope and hope.  but end up again in despair and despair.  You are capable of doing all of these things you are asking to do, but incapable of getting the chance to.  This is where the pain comes from.  Each effort is a test of your capacity to hope and your will to succeed.  Interviews make it even worse.  You look someone in the eyes, you shake their hand, develop a moment with them that you hope will turn into many moments.  You feel this immense pressure writhing across your back and scalp, penetrating deep down into the complexities of your heart.  You know that your life hinges on every word you say, every expression of your face, the slightest glimpse into even a singular fear or doubt residing within you.  You slip up, you don't, what does it matter at this point anyway?  You feel so much pressure either way.  You've been trying for so long now, have so much riding on this.

You won't know anytime soon.  At least not for sure.  You walk out of the interview with a hunch though.  It is usually easy to feel the energy in the room, the demeanor of the interviewers.  You know it, they know it.  Either you have it or you don't.  Sadly, for the unemployed, you have less of it each time you stretch out your welcoming palm and make that manufactured smile and piercingly assertive gaze.  Everytime you sit down in that chair and accept that glass of water you are setting yourself up for the pain of hope.

It never ceases to go away.  For every time you stand up and are escorted back to the elevator your chances are less and less.  Thanks for coming in...  (Your over qualified, your underqualified, you won't stay, you don't have this precise experience).  It hits you when you get home and start waiting.  You hope and hope, living within it even.  There is this chance, and that one, maybe even in this case you're right.  But hope fades to despair.  You didn't get it.  You didn't get it.  You didn't get it.  Is that an echo, or just reality?

How long do you hear this before you start hearing this?  I mean hear it in your throat, in your chest, your back, all the way down to the depths of your core, your self worth?  How long is it until you start learning from it?  Reacting to it.  Feeling the despair take control of you, eating you from outside in and back outside?  There is no escaping it.  Your meals get smaller, your appetite wains, your passions become listless pursuits that don't mean as much.  Then comes the roof over your head, when will that go?  How much time do you have?  What else is going to break, to wear out?

And there is no help, no one to work with or stand by you.  They all try.  You reach out more and more, become needier and needier.  Your soul needs help.  Words akin to advice and surefire ways at getting jobs morph into sympathy and solace.  They want to help, they even start feeling your pain.  Which is getting sharper now.  It runs the whole length of the right side of your back.  You wish someone would stick a knife in the knots just to release them.  What else could possibly slice through them?  Your throat is openly closed, your neck seems stiff, like you've already broken it.  Yeah, your support network doesn't feel that though.  Not to that extent.  They feel their pain for you, they care.  But they don't feel the knife.  They don't feel the intensity of the weight you feel.  They have a place to live, something of worth everyday, palatable meals to come home to.  Nothing tastes the same for you.  Its just nutrition at this point.  You know in your mind you have to eat, but you don't feel the urge to.  Not like you used to, at least not enough to go to the store.

In fact, you are wholly depressed in the worst of ways.  You are completely conscious of it.  Watching the train wreck without being able to pull away or react - fully cognizant of its happenings and even solutions.  There is no internal condition, no genetic abnormality manifesting itself somewhere deep within your psyche, not even a long standing personal trauma subtly undermining your esteem.  No this is the pain of overt confidence mixed with surreal destitution.  You know you are capable.  You've done this work so many times before, but there is no outlet now.  The world has no interest in you and your skills, even if you do.

The confidence of despair is the only thing that keeps you going.  But it dissipates ever so slightly, ever so daily.  Ups and downs mix within the cycles of applying and waiting, hearing nothing or hearing something.  You try to get out, to network.  But how do you talk to these people?  Don that fake smile while you know deep down inside you are decaying?  Looking them in the eyes without your soul.  How can they not see your desperation?  How do you not start to beg?   

The pain is transcendent.  Deep hopelessly hopeful pain.  Eventually though, that hope fades into hopelessness.  Eventually though, the despair outweighs the aspiration.  You sink.  You sink further into the depths of your mind and into the internal physical manifestations of economic catastrophe and personal solitude. You want to escape, to run away, but instead you stay at home, confined in pain.  You need people, you need a hug.  The only thing that seems to bring any ounce of life from you now is applying for more work.  It is both the cause of and cure for your pain, the only way out of this destitute cycle of agony.  Will it ever come?  There is always hope.  Which of course brings us right back to where we started...

No comments:

Post a Comment