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.