Unemployment Benefits, Part IV

This excerpt is the fourth in a six-part series, reprinted with permission from an article I published in the Society for Technical Communication Lone Star Community newsletter, Technically Write, April 2002.

Jolted to a Halt

My unemployment party plans were coming right along as I received a good response from the invitees. Then on August 31, my former manager sent those laid off together from Company B an e-mail with the Subject line: Where were you….

one year ago today? Lots happens in a year, doesn’t it?

As hard as it was last year to say goodbye to everyone and to close the [Company B] chapter of my life, I wouldn’t change a thing. Just wish I could still see you guys almost every day! … I think fondly of the [Company B] gig. Thanks again for the trust, and for proving that one can truly have a fun and fulfilling experience at work in less-than-perfect circumstances.

While I understood that the intent was kind, emotionally I lost it. It had not occurred to me what day it was, and I would rather not have been reminded. Did it hit so hard because a year later I was in the same situation? Or did it just serve to remind me that I hadn’t completely recovered from the 2000 layoff?

Those of you who didn’t believe it possible to find a silver lining in unemployment might be thinking that I just got what I deserved for daring to enjoy myself. And yes, it did set me back. For over a week, I experienced a general funk. “I don’t know what to do; don’t know what I want to do. Maybe I should consider moving?” I wailed to an equally dismayed recipient of the Where were you… message. If I wasn’t very motivated before to look for work, now I really wasn’t. Maybe it was time to make a major change? Move to the mountains?

I had been having a good time planning the party, but I lost that enthusiasm, too. This dose of reality severely interfered with my delusions. How dare I make light of my situation?

Jolted, Period

Then, September 11.

And there was an entirely different reason to be in a funk, albeit a perfect opportunity to put things into perspective. I wrote to some friends:

I was having fun planning a party … using the theme of being out of work, down on my luck, penny-pinching (pretty much the way I am normally). I was on a roll dreaming up games to play and ways to carry out the theme. … But after a week of depression and then a week of HELL for this country, my bubble is somewhat burst. However, I’m going ahead as planned and am determined to have a good time, because I’m going to enlist the following day.

The party went well after all. Even the person who refused to participate in the games had to admit that the results were fun for all.

But with it behind me, it was back to the job hunt, which meant I mostly found other things to do with my time. I couldn’t bring myself to put much effort into pursuing anything. It seemed pointless in the current market. I felt aimless, trying to figure out how the crisis of 9/11 fit into my personal crisis.

The timing seemed too coincidental for me not to see its lessons as part of my divinely intended curriculum of benefits. Much bigger than myself, I shared in the personal assault of corporate grief.

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