I have been a single mom since my boys were four and seven, so money has always been tight. When I lost my job almost four years ago, I had one child still in college. When working, life was comfortable, albeit financially stretched with college added to the regular cost of living. My children never did without the important things, but they had to help pay for their own cars by working and they have college loans.
Without a job, I was devastated financially and emotionally. I had only a few months of savings and was completely unprepared to be unpaid. Worse than that, I hated to disappoint my kids. We had planned a trip to Spain after the final college graduation. I had been prepared to handle the cost because I had been saving for some time. Even now, it makes me sad to see the travel books gathering dust on the bookshelf. They were very understanding, but I felt like a dismal failure and that feeling hasn’t entirely subsided. After all, I have been both parents to my kids for much of their lives and I felt ashamed and very sad that I was not the provider that I wanted to be.
My unemployment was unrelated to job performance. I thought with my excellent background, I would not have trouble finding work. That was not the case. Every month has been a struggle and for a while, broken appliances, dental bills (two crowns in four years), added to the cost of daily living, had me frightened nearly to death.
I have applied for nearly 800 jobs, many of which I was over qualified for. My consulting work provides a little bit of income. I host foreign guests in my home in exchange for a stipend. I do odd jobs for people. I enter every contest that has a cash prize. I am careful with my money and am very fortunate that I had savings, although it was supposed to help with security for the future, which has been increasingly of concern. I never intended for it to be used for basic living expenses at this point in my life.
My situation isn’t at all abnormal. Many of my friends are unemployed or underemployed; most of them are not single, which is sometimes easier. No matter the circumstances, it is painful to deny your children things they had been accustomed to but you can no longer afford. It breaks my heart and makes me feel like the biggest loser ever.
Emotions can run in a cycle or come hurdling out of nowhere. I have to keep a regular schedule, never allow myself to stay in bed past 6:30 am and consider myself to be “at work” most of my day. If I didn’t I would be so paralyzed I couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes it is so hard to face my friends that I have backed out of plans, unable to do anything but cry.
My life has no doubt been shortened by some months, even years, because of the long-term stress of unemployment. It takes away your joy, sucks your energy, and leaves you lethargic.
Initially, I was reluctant to appear weak by asking for or accepting help. I was deceitful about the real impact of unemployment and I was far worse off than I would admit. One dear friend put it to me like this, and I recommend you use this language too, “You will honor me by allowing me to do this. I know you would do the same for me.”