Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pop Idle

In the course of the occasional day of work that I manage, I take pleasure in talking to people who know things. Smart people, who answer my calls in offices that are cluttered with books and theses and unfinished papers, whose heads are filled with thoughts that could change the world, or at least make it better.

I interview these people, take shorthand notes, and then help in the process of media that will impart this knowledge to the masses.

(Some call this journalism)

This week, I spoke with an academic who has studied the effects of unemployment, psychologically as well as socially.

He talked me through Year One. How the initial stress and nail-biting over bills and mortgages fades into feelings of depression, of failure. The gradual and growing feeling of becoming invisible.

The back-end of Year One is a watershed, for if Year One becomes Year Two, then the unemployed person is statistically unlikely to ever work again. They are then classed as long-term unemployed. Bye-bye fulfilment, farewell dignity, rest in peace all the hopes and dreams of that fragile human being.

It is not that they are suddenly useless. No, it is because over the months of nothingness, they become the disappointed parent to their own situation; they fill their heads and their sleepless nights with criticisms of how they have let themselves and their families down.

Their confidence is an early casualty, they become depressed, they start staying up late and losing the best part of the day to a lethargy that doesn't lift until noon. They falter their way through a calendar's worth of groundhog days, until they sink into dependency, and then, they stay there.

This conversation was of an enormous amount of interest to me, mostly because the feelings described were familiar.

I asked him to differentiate between levels of damage: the impact of being out of work as a result of this blasted recession VS the impact of not working because you are sick.

He told me all his hefty books would say there should be a world of difference. Being able-bodied and idle should have worse consequences than being unwell and unproductive.

On those weeks when I’m not working, I panic and I give out to myself. I feel like I am wasting my time and wasting what talents I have, though for 29 years, I have struggled to really pinpoint what those talents are.

I can’t give myself a break, and I can’t forgive myself for countless days of contributing nothing, achieving nothing, earning nothing.

The funny thing is, those who know me have made a running joke of my laid-back nature, and my default setting that has always been set to a preference of snoozing or lounging.

It is true my work ethic has improved greatly with illness.

But they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot, and you don’t know what you got, nor what you can be, until it’s gone.


  1. This is the most recognisable thing about unemployment I've ever read. The feeling of complete worthlessness can completely devour you if you're not careful.

  2. Andrew - It's terrible the way we value ourselves on the basis of our work, and our level of output, that can be measured in hours spent at some office or other.

    You have to rage against all that though. Get up relatively early and fill the day with chores and tasks to pass the time.

    She says, as she contemplates whether it's time for a nap yet.

  3. That is exactly it about unemployment, in a nutshell. I've been in both situations and I'm currently off work long-term due to injury. I can say for me that the feeling of uselessness is worse when unemployed but the frustration I'm feeling at the moment that my body won't heal as fast as I want it to makes me just as unhappy. And the guilt for being off sick (despite it being completely justified) constantly interrupts my sleep and makes me upset. It's ridiculous that we all define ourselves by what we do, but we all do it. I hope that the current economic situation will make people both employed and unemployed to reevaluate their senses of self and realise it's what you are rather than what you do that counts. I'm trying to, anyway.

  4. eyetotheviewfinder - From our first days in school, we are conditioned to define ourselves by what we become in professional terms. "What do you want to be when you grown up?" It's difficult to undo all of that.

    The frustration you describe I can well relate to. It's tough when your body lets you down, and fails to keep up with your plans and your ambitions. But you have to rise above it, no other option.

    Thanks so much for posting.

  5. "On those weeks when I’m not working, I panic and I give out to myself. I feel like I am wasting my time and wasting what talents I have, though for 29 years, I have struggled to really pinpoint what those talents are."

    Hi Regina,

    I hope you read back over this paragraph and ... see how wrong it is! The very fact that you write this blog shows that you know what your talents are and that you are using them very well.

    Today, I read about you in the Sunday Business Post. Over the past year, I don't think anyone has done more to raise awareness of the needs and frustrations of people waiting for transplants in Ireland. You have given a voice to the voiceless and shown some of us a side to life we've never known.

    As for the guilt about not working, apart from the need to put food on the table and pay the rent-mortgate, I think it's just part of our Irish 'Catholic Guilt' complex.

    This time last year in Thailand, enjoying the best year of my life, I almost felt guilty at times for doing something I loved every day (scuba diving) on a gorgeous island instead of suffering in a 'real' job in an office. There was no logic to such feelings!

    Keep up the good work, this blog will be some record of your experiences, highs and lows, when it all comes good for you which I am sure it will,


  6. Hi Ciaran,

    Thanks for that well-put argument! You're probably right about the source of the guilt. Jebus - or should I say the Irish version of the Jebus religion - has a lot to answer for.

    I figure the only thing my only valuable contribution to the Awareness campaign is through this blog and appearances in the media.

    Some are great at fundraising and organising events - I'm real good at ranting!

    Hope all is well over west and that the simmering talk of revolt always present in the Trib is keeping you entertained!

  7. Regina. Being on disability since last summer has been a difficult thing for me, it has been one of the hardest adjustments of dealing with ESRD and dialysis. The feeling of physical weakness and dealing with the useless felling of not working are not a good combination.

    I send you a private email related to this topic

    J Harper
    Regina, SK