After a while, unemployment starts messing with your mind. Akin, perhaps, to a tide encroaching upon one’s solidly built sand castle, it takes you through several stages. At first the impressive edifice seems impervious to watery invasion ; after all, its construction benefited from one’s extensive experience from building sand castles. Angular moats surrounding the castle deflect momentum of the onrushing waves, dissipating the sea’s destructive might. The seaward wall, bulwarked with evenly spaced towers, withstands the first few encounters with surf. Inside the walls, the castle proper seems secure and unfazed by the seaside assault.
But as the tide rolls in, wave after wave fills the protective moats with eroded sand and clears an unimpeded path to the reinforced battlements. Soon enough, a powerful surge slams the exterior and, shaken to the core, the seaward wall collapses. Wave after unrelenting wave swamps the castle’s interior courtyard.
Panic ensues. Wall after carefully sculpted wall comes tumbling down. Fear rises. Experience, the great teacher, fights to calm the consternation. But no amount of experience can withstand the overwhelming tumult.
The waves win. The castle is no more.
As with all things, one’s position on the overall path of life affects perspective. A young person experiencing unemployment for the first time might not be as upset as an older person. Young folks tend to think themselves’ bulletproof; they have their whole life ahead of them and expect to rebound from temporary setbacks. An individual whose life’s work has involved mostly manual labor may be comforted by believing those tasks to be a necessity in some form or fashion. A single person might not feel the same urgency for a return to gainful employment as one with a family to nurture.
Now, those aforementioned statements are very general. I do not presume them to fit each person in those categories, and make them merely to illustrate how varying levels of experience, age, and possibly education affect one’s view of unemployment.
What I can tell you, specifically, is how unemployment has affected me. But please be aware, reader, that just as every person is unique, the effects of unemployment may not resound similarly for everyone in the category comprised of 59-year-old, white, male, Southern, heterosexual, collegeeducated, married, jackof-all-trades-master-ofnone people.
My situation began innocently enough, in May, 2008, when I elected to become unemployed by accepting an “early out” package from my employer. I cashed a small 401 fund before the Wall Street debacle turned them all into 101 funds, and that along with the benefits offered bought me two years of “early retirement” which, in actuality, amounted to voluntary unemployment.
The monetary funds provided by my employer were channeled through Georgia’s Department of Labor, you see, for technically an “early out” means that should the employer have to furlough or lay off employees, those close to the bottom of the seniority list would be among the first to be terminated.
When my “early out” benefits expired, however, since I had no job despite seeking one, I was eligible for Department of Labor unemployment benefits. But, and this is unique to my situation, after I began substitute teaching, the DOL ruled me “employed” although the Newton County School System holds that I am not an employee since I am not under contract. Thus, I can receive no benefits from DOL due to their interpretation of my status, yet the Georgia Department of Education will not allow me to easily renew my teaching certificate because I am not an employee under contract.
Thus, I’ve applied to every Georgia school system online through www. teachgeorgia.org, to no avail. It’s not technically age discrimination, for I’m at the top of the pay scale, and any system can hire two beginning teachers for the price of one experienced teacher.
Beyond that, I have other meaningful expertise. I’ve worked extensively in commercial and charter aviation. I’m a former radio DJ, and a freelance newspaper columnist. I’ve held jobs spanning the gamut from human resources to public relations to radio dispatching to minimum wage job experiences.
But after more than a year of applying for upscale positions and menial ones, after dozens of interviews ending with “we’ll get back to you in the next couple of weeks,” after becoming an expert house husband, unemployment starts messing with your mind.
You start to wonder if you ever really worked. You were a teacher, a coach? You ran ground ops at the world’s busiest airport? And you start to think it might’ve all been just be a dream.
In my experience, at least, unemployment just eats away at your very essence until, in the end, you’re left wondering what in the world it ever was in you that led you to think you were special.
And the waves roll in. And the sand castle crumbles until it is no more.