Shock. Embarrassment. Despair. Obsession. Hopelessness. Sleeplessness. Anger. Anxiety. Depression. Self-doubt.
Sound familiar? If you have ever been on the proverbial chopping block at your job, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve experienced at least some of these feelings. Whether you’ve lost your job because you’re out of good graces with The Boss Man or your company is cutting back, it is virtually impossible to avoid them.
As for me, I’ve gone through the loss of my own job as well as that of my husband. The circumstances were vastly different from each other, as was the emotional impact.
A handful of years ago, I should have been at the top of my game. At the time I had 10 years of solid post-college work experience in the financial industry under my belt and a fine-lookin’ steady boyfriend. It would seem to the world that my life was completely on track, except for one thing that most folks didn’t know:
I was inexpressibly, undeniably, wiped-cleaner-than-a-blackboard tired.
Every morning as soon as I would drive into the parking garage at my job, I would have an urge I couldn’t ignore to recline my seat, set my alarm and grab a few minutes (or however long I could spare) of blissful slumber. At times in my office, my mind would drift off of work and I would fantasize about sprawling out on that crummy cheap carpet and taking a nap. The unfortunate accompaniment to this degree of fatigue is mental fog, which was one day so thick that I couldn’t respond to a caller’s question about the kinds of services our firm provided.
My then boyfriend adamantly told me that something was wrong and I needed to see a doctor. After one regrettable morning when I had to stick my head out my window like a dog with the music cranked all the way up just to not fall asleep, I caved and set an appointment. The next week I found myself in a sleep lab for a night and day sleep study. With wires coming off my head, up my shirt and down my britches, I felt like I had submitted my body to some kind of twisted mad scientist sexual experiment. The findings of this 20 hour or so marathon sleep fest? I have narcolepsy.
In the meantime while I was awaiting this diagnosis, the owner of the small insurance firm I worked for called a meeting with me and pontificated that I must be bored with the job, not just tired as I claimed. He uttered a statement that will forever sting.
“You’re just not capable of doing this job.”
From that point on, I was on a sort of probation. My boss made sure to only give me the most challenging of tasks to prove his point and work me out. I mustered every bit of focus I could to complete these assignments, but it didn’t matter. He had already resolved to find them inadequate and now had cause to fire me.
The hammer came down on my 33rd birthday.
My boyfriend’s mother was facing life-threatening medical issues and my beloved cat had just passed away. Still, losing that job which I had come to hate on my flippin’ birthday felt like another death.
Now this man with the “strong Christian values” generously allowed me to stay on for two weeks after giving me the boot. In between appointments in which Boss Man would exploit this Christianity in his attempt to gain new clients, I had the pleasure of offering beverages to the men and women he interviewed to be my prospective replacement.
I had never felt so much like a failure.
Fortunately, I had a co-worker named Sharon* still trapped at the asylum who had become my greatest cheerleader. Once my two weeks of humiliation were over, Sharon was there to assure me that I was not the problem. She reminded me of the casualties of this bully before me to boost my self-esteem. She convinced me to use this time that I was not working to get up and out of the house. To get lots of exercise. To make myself look better than ever. I recall that this particular phone conversation with Sharon took place at 10:30 am while I was lying in bed, still in my pajamas.
It turned out that this was just about the best bit of advice I ever received at a time when I needed it the most.
I don’t know if she knew it at the time, but Sharon’s challenge to me to get off my dejected fanny changed everything. The extra sleep during my jobless stint was helpful (hey, I have narcolepsy after all), but the act of becoming more active spurred on so many other positive changes. I discovered how powerful endorphins can be as a motivator. I had more energy which I parlayed into my job search. There were a total of 4 jobless months during which I got in shape, helped my boyfriend say goodbye to his mother, got engaged and finally began a new job. We rode a roller coaster of emotions during that time, but I am forever grateful to Sharon. She encouraged me in ways that compounded themselves into a creating a better version of Me: for me and as a support person for my future husband.
Later, I began my sparkling new life as a Mrs. and stepmom with my sparkling new job. My mental fog finally cleared as I had begun taking the right medications to manage my narcolepsy. I had never been happier because I knew how lucky I was. How often are we fortunate enough to know that in the moment?
Thus began my most rewarding (paid) career. Gratitude colored everything I did at my job, and my self-confidence returned times two, shining through in my work. Finally, I was being recognized for my capabilities not being called out for my incapabilities.
My Life Today
Since that time, I made the tough decision to leave this wonderful job and the workforce altogether, pending the arrival of my twins. My husband has endured two displacements of his own in that 5 year timeframe in an industry that is still pretty shaky.
While he has struggled in the past with his own emotions that come with being the breadwinner and waiting for the ax to fall as well as dealing with the aftermath, I am the lucky one. I would be lying if I claimed to never worry about the realities of both of us being jobless, particularly having young twins and a child in college. Of course there have been times during which my mind would go to a dark place, picturing the worst case scenario.
I choose not to dwell on these thoughts. Instead, I focus on the things that I can control. Supporting my husband in every way I can. Finding free or cheap entertainment for the family. Thinking twice before making a purchase. Rounding up the clothes that my kids can’t wear any more and selling them. Keeping my spirits up by staying active and trying to look my best. Maintaining my faith that, whatever the outcome of any job loss, everything for our family will be just as it should be, even if we never understand why.
And of course, always remembering the people in this country and around the world who would give their left arm to have it as easy as we do.
Readers, have you or your spouse been through a job loss? What did you learn?
If you are facing a pending job loss or are currently unemployed, please see below for helpful resources:
Washington Post: How to Survive a Lay Off – Negotiating severance, specifics of filing unemployment benefits, networking ideas and more
Chicago Tribune: How to Survive Losing Your Job In 12 Steps – Purely financial tips such as protecting credit, avoiding retirement withdrawals, etc.
Forbes – 10 Things You Need to Do While You Are Unemployed – Includes results of a CareerBuilder.com survey of hiring managers
Reader’s Digest: 10 Things People Won’t Tell You When You Lose Your Job – Coping with the emotional impact of job loss
*Name changed for privacy