It just so happens that the posts on this blog that have received the most attention were on the subject of unemployment. This blog is not about unemployment in particular, though. And I hope as soon as possible to stop talking about being unemployed by, you know, getting a job. Proper, paid employment, as opposed to the voluntary stuff I am currently doing (and which incidentally I do not plan to stop once gainfully employed).
But I wish to talk about something that happens to you when you have been unemployed for a long time. I have not worked a paid position in seven months. My job prior to that was a temporary position that lasted just over four months. Before that, I was unemployed for four months, and my job prior to that stint on the dole lasted just three months. This could go on back in time for a while: you get the picture. Funnily enough it all started at the beginning of the recession when the orgnisation for whom I was working suddenly ran out of money and let me go without so much as honouring the one year contract for which they had employed me (did I mention I left a permanent job for that one?). It’s all been downhill since then.
For quite a long time, I have remained chipper about not working. I have chosen to view it as an opportunity. I have told myself I will probably never have this much free time ever again.
And yet somehow, the time itself becomes an utter burden.
It is not a coincidence (but it does seem unfair!) that the more time I have, the less I do. Oh, I write the occasional blog. I swim sometimes. I read a lot on current affairs. I spend a few hours at the prison. I do some reading and writing for my part-time college course – I have six assignments due by April 26th. I cook some nice meals. I read some interesting books and watch some nice movies. I apply daily for jobs (I would estimate that 1% of the jobs I apply for receive an acknowledgement of application, and a far, far smaller number than that offer an interview – I have had two interviews in seven months). But I also spend a hell of a lot of time on the couch by myself, watching television or more likely, aimlessly browsing the web. Household chores pile up around me and I ignore them. Everything becomes covered in dust. The garden becomes almost comically overgrown. Deadlines for personal projects come and go. This past week, I only went out twice. Once was to buy a less-than-half-price garden table and two chairs so that I can have coffee in the garden in the mornings. (The unmade table is still sitting in its box on the floor beside me.) The second outing was to take my 91 year old Godmother and her 89 year old sister out for lunch. Aside from this, a friend called in for coffee one day, and I had the husband-unit most evenings for company. And I wouldn’t be stuck for companions if I wanted them – I have a couple of lovely friends who live nearby who are stay at home mothers, and one or two who are also unemployed. But somehow socialising during the day feels faintly odd and guilt-ridden (SHOULDN’T YOU BE APPLYING FOR JOBS?) and it always comes with the constraints of bad weather, being broke, or the children needing naps, feeding and clean nappies.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not depressed. I have my down days all right, but mostly I am just lethargic as hell. Doing anything spontaneous seems to be completely out of the question. If an event is in the diary in advance, I can do it. But the chances of me being ready to go somewhere or do something at a moment’s notice are decidedly slim. It’s as though my head is full of air or gas. Or little blocks that cram together inside my skull, like in Tetris. I actually need to reserve mental space to process doing things in advance of carrying them out. It’s miserable. If I want to go swimming, for example, I need to decide I’m going to the pool at least the day before, and even pre-pack my gym bag. If I don’t, it’s highly unlikely to happen that day. I just can’t seem to get it together to do things quickly. You’d imagine that all that free time would create spontaneity but it’s the exact opposite. Everything that I would like to do, provided it’s low cost, is theoretically at my disposal, and somehow this breadth of choice has become crippling. I can’t seem to get any bloody thing done. It kind of makes me fearful for retirement. You can understand why some people just end up rotting and becoming eternally miserable. Even though there is an unlimited amount of interesting stuff that you could be doing, you just end up doing nothing. And although you feel quite listless most of the time, you never get properly tired out, so you never sleep deeply. It’s a vicious cycle.
There is a sort of sepia-toned stillness that comes with lethargy. I feel like I am sitting in it, even as I type this post. It sort of swallows you. It only gets punctured by things like music. And laughing. And, I imagine, running (I never run). Thankfully, an occasional epic, vital day blasts through the yellowness and bursts into bloom before your eyes, so you hang on for those.