Or the jobless, for that matter? I think the most emotionally debilitating part of this situation has been the isolation it has created. My interactions with other adult humans are pretty much limited to brief chit chat with the checkout clerk at the grocery store, a comment exchanged with another parent while we await the dismissal bell, and two minutes of conversation with my daughter’s basketball coach at the end of practice.
The kids are less affected as they continue to attend school, have play dates and are involved in activities like basketball, choir and the school play. But my social circle, small to begin with due to our moving around and unconventional lifestyle (being a single mom to four by choice, a rare thing, even rarer in professional circles), has essentially disappeared. You don’t realized just how important work is for social interactions until you no longer have a job. As blogger Joe Malik, in “Unemployed in Tacoma” remarks with a measure of humor:
“Until I was summarily booted out of the place, I didn’t realize how much I had come to depend on my workplace for social connections. And that’s the really pathetic part, because most of the people I worked with were generally annoying, or downright despicable human beings.
So why do I miss some of them so much?
Well, the people you work with – whether you like it or not – are kind of like your surrogate family. You see them every day. You know about what goes on in their personal lives… most of all, the workplace seems to be one of the few places that many of us have a chance to make any sort of deep, personal connection with people.”
It is sad how that ‘deep, personal connection’ turns out to be the most superficial of connections once it’s severed. Former colleagues (one of whom recently characterized my blog as a “depressing website” in an email to another former colleague) are the first to disappear off your social landscape. Another place for making those connections is church, but since we left our church (in response to what I considered an unfortunate change in leadership) shortly before becoming unemployed and homeless we discovered those ‘friendships’ to be similarly superficial. As I’ve remarked before group membership (even unofficial) is what counts. When you are out, you are really out!
What about friends and family, you ask? Friends, and family, while initially concerned, seem to grow increasingly uncomfortable with and tired of your unemployed/homeless status the longer it lingers on. Compassion fatigue settles in. Your status overshadows everything, and while you are both bored with the subject, like an elephant in the room, it cannot be avoided. So instead they avoid you. New acquaintances are both curious and repelled by your situation – offering generic words of comfort while withdrawing from interactions with you the way one might do with someone infected with a peculiarly grotesque and contagious disease. They marvel, “How do you manage?” while backing away. Who invites a leper out for drinks?
Even social networking falls by the wayside as your experience begins to vary substantially from your connections on LinkedIn, your ‘friends’ on Facebook, and the members of all those yahoo groups to which you belong. It becomes harder for you to relate to their lives and events which begin to seem increasingly complacent and superficial to you, while your struggle with very essential, bottom-line issues is foreign and discomfiting to them. BTW- along this line I plan to start a 2nd blog for single parents in this situation in which there can be multiple authors and points of view, support and resource exchange. I guess if you lose your group memberships you need to find, or start, new groups!
It’s odd the way this isolation makes itself felt at times. For instance, most recently, the kids’ school was having one of those jog-a-thon fundraisers to fund future fieldtrips and each family was supposed to find sufficient sponsors to raise $150 per child. Where do you turn, school fundraiser, or Scout cookie or nut sales, in hand? To your colleagues, friends, members of your church and the other organizations to which you belong. And although so starved for conversation that I’ve frequently engaged the checkout clerk in lengthy exchanges to the despair of the people in line behind me, I haven’t been able to bring myself to solicit jog-a-thon sponsorships from complete strangers!
I’m not the only unemployed person to feel this sense of isolation. In “The Lonesome City Blues,” Pulitzer Prize winner and former LA Times columnist, Al Martinez, blogs about the loneliness of being unemployed; saying of the jobless, “We occupy a landscape of spiritual desolation.”
Among the unemployed, blog after blog is filled with tales of isolation and loneliness, with the feeling of being cut off from the world around us. Some people struggle with depression, others tell of the loss of hope, and anxiety about the future.
And a column in USA Today, titled, How Joblessness Hurts Us All, states the following:
“Recent studies confirm the results of research during the Great Depression — unemployment badly frays a person’s ties with his community, sometimes permanently. After careful analysis of 20 years of monthly surveys tracking Americans’ social and political habits, our colleague Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin has found that unemployed Americans are significantly less involved in their communities than their employed demographic twins. The jobless are less likely to vote, petition, march, write letters to editors, or even volunteer. They attend fewer meetings and serve less frequently as leaders in local organizations. Moreover, sociologist Cristobal Young’s research finds that the unemployed spend most of their increased free time alone.
Moreover, beyond civic disengagement, places with higher joblessness have more pervasive violence and crimes against property. They have more fragile families with harsher parenting, and higher rates of mental disorder and psychological distress among both the unemployed and the employed. These social consequences are a powerful aftershock to communities already reeling economically.”
Our social landscape is changing, shifting and cracking, in ways the still gainfully employed and big financial institutions may not initially notice but will surely feel in the future.