WORDS: Eliza Lawson
Hello. My name is Eliza and I am a statistic. In my short 31 years on this earth I have been defined by society as many different things, but never more have I felt like a statistic than I do right now.
Child, working class, school girl, artist, student, singer, partner, mother, employed, girlfriend, victim, performer, client, customer, abused, service woman, parent, tenant, tax payer, contributor, single mother, benefit claimant, patient, socialist, comedienne, friend, survivor, lefty...unemployed.
The second that word is mentioned, everything else about you dissolves.
‘Lovely to meet you, so what do you do?’
I hadn’t realised how much people love to compartmentalise you, pop you in a little box with a sticker on that defines who you are by what you do.
Somehow we have created a society that attaches so much stigma and shame with being out of work that it visibly embarrasses some people when you tell them...
‘Hello. My name is unemployed.’
You then become, scrounger, benefit cheat, depressed, lazy, drain on society, tax dodger, dole office dweller, idle, job seeker, fraud, tax credit claimant, council house tenant, to blame, in debt, frightened, inactive, out of work...redundant.
Even when you look up how the word is defined and how it might be used in a sentence, the negativity is overwhelming...
‘Unemployed...eg. The problem is that there are millions of people who are unemployed.’
I am not a problem. I am a person. I am one of those people that are being defined as a problem.
6 months I have been society’s problem. I am aware that this isn’t a particularly long time when compared to other peoples situations...but I can only talk from the heart about my own personal experience, so that is what I shall do.
I graduated a couple of years ago having completed a full time degree, as a single mother to a child in first school while holding down 2 part time jobs in a cafe and a pub and singing jazz covers one night a week in a wine bar. I had a great deal of support with childcare so that I could do this, but none the less it was hard work. I felt a real sense of achievement when I graduated. I had a qualification that would now propel me into greater employment opportunities...wouldn’t it?
It hadn’t occurred to me that I was no longer able to start at the bottom and work my way up. I was in some cases, more qualified than the person reading through my application...am I now a threat to their job? Over qualified? Surely not? That can’t be a reason to not give me an opportunity to be interviewed at least...can it? Is it that competition is so fierce that having worked to better myself, engage in a higher form of education and specialise in something just isn’t enough anymore?
I genuinely started leaving my degree off my list of qualifications just so that I might have a better chance of getting an interview...It comes to something that because so many highly educated and skilled people are out of work that you either have to be at the very top of your game, or seen to be a ‘safe and non threatening’ bet.
What they don’t tell you about applying for a job these days is that it’s not just a matter of submitting a CV and a good quality cover letter anymore. No, it’s way more complicated than that.
For every job you identify as something you may want to spend your days doing, after trawling pages and pages of varying job websites, you have to fill in a separate application form which is often several pages long. This is to accompany your CV which is attached to the email, which of course you have had to spend a considerable amount of time tweaking to make sure you have made it relevant to the position you are applying for...and then there are the questions. All of the questions...So many bloody questions...but it’s essentially the same question asked in a slightly different way, with a slight variation in its formation and aimed at a slightly different area of the role you are applying for...and they give you space for 1000 words...FOR EACH QUESTION.
‘Give specific details of an example, of a time when, a situation happened, and you were there and give as much information as possible, you must describe it moment by moment, frame by frame and create a spectacular visual image of this particular situation where you demonstrate every aspect of why we should employ you...while adhering to our company motto and demonstrating highly skilled and wonderfully charming grammar... but answer it so you don’t sound like you have firmly shoved your nose up our corporate arses. Thanks.’
And then my favourite bit is when they say...’If you need more space then please feel free to continue onto a separate sheet of paper.’ Whereby you’re left feeling like you haven’t done enough because you only had 473 words...
It’s like a bloody test of mental endurance. Where you may once have been able to apply for several jobs in one day, you are now restricted to 1 or at a push 2...if you can stand it.
Six months worth of job applications is hard graft for anyone, believe me. I am not a weak person. I like to think of myself as being strong, driven, self motivated and determined...but woe betides you allow your personal life to get in the way of your job search. You’re not allowed to let anything get in the way of your magical quest for employment...and why would you want to!? How could you possibly want to miss being patronised, judged and swimming in the deep end of a pool of condescension at the jobcentre? Or miss out on the pitying look the bank teller gives you when you go to withdraw the last £7.34 from your bank account so that you might afford food/electricity/gas/bus fare.
To give you the context of a few things I have been juggling whilst trying to regain my ‘social self worth’...my 3 year relationship came to an end, I moved house, I lost people I thought were good friends, my 10 year old son was having a nightmare adjusting to life at middle school, my dog was run over and had major surgery, my cat had to be put down due to a massive blood clot...and because of two dodgy lumbar punctures last year in early November when I had meningitis I have been suffering massively with sciatica. It has literally had me floored at times. Unable to get up without searing agony...and then I lost my job...and then there have been the late night panic attacks and sleep deprivation due to stress...and all this while trying to keep my head above water, financially, emotionally and trying to maintain the level of confidence my son has in his Mummy that ‘everything is going to be ok...’ In reality, I didn’t know if it would be.
Some weeks I have been making choices about how much electricity to put on my extortionate prepayment meter so that I could feed us. This is not a reality I EVER thought I would face...but it is the truth and I know that I am by no means alone in these sorts of choices.
I am not telling you this because I want your sympathy, far from it. I am telling you this because I want to try and draw people’s attention away from the stats, the stigma, the embarrassment and the shame of being unemployed. Sometimes shit happens and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it other than ride the wave until the water calms.
At this exact point in time I am again sat on my battered DFS sofa and I am full to bursting with a complete mixture of emotions...after 58 job applications and 1 interview, I finally have a job. I have just finished day two of training and I am feeling totally overwhelmed.
I celebrated the news of my finally getting an interview a week and a half ago by telling the world via social media. I revelled in the positivity coming at me in the comments below, the sheer volume of ‘likes’ and messages from friends telling me how relieved I must feel after everything I had been through.
I was so excited that someone had seen something in my words worthy of an interview. My very first interview. The excitement soon crashed down from cloud nine to blind panic. The reality was that I was shitting myself. I had put it out there for all to see, I had announced with triumphant jubilation that I had an ‘interview’. I hadn’t even got the job! All I knew was that myself and 3 others were being interviewed on the same day for a job that would provide me with 22.5 hours worth of work per week...IF I got the job. What if I didn’t get it? What would I tell everyone? How could I pick myself up and keep going? I was already in more debt to family members than I had been in my life. I still had rent and bills to pay in the mean time. I couldn’t possibly pin all of my hopes on this....
The day of the interview came and went. I was exhausted, panicking and anxious. I had done everything I could. I had done my best it was now a waiting game.
2 days. 2 long and excruciating days I waited, I was checking my phone every few minutes. Every time the little whistle sounded signifying a new email my heart skipped a beat. I had discovered during the interview that over 50 people had applied for the job, 50. I was trying to draw positive from this; I mean I had to didn’t I? At least I had gotten this far, right? No. It’s not fucking X-Factor...there was no job for the runner up. I NEEDED this job. Could this be the email that changed everything? My son kept asking, ‘have you got a job yet mum?’ I was doing my best to distract myself...but it was there at the forefront of everything.
The level of anxiety, stress and pressure on a person who is chasing employment doesn’t just stop at finances. It cuts far deeper than self worth and job satisfaction...that stuff is a bonus if you can get it. There is so much red tape, it’s all challenging, complicated, just so mentally draining and hard.
The tears started about 15 minutes after the phone call to say that I had a job. Now this was what relief felt like. Real relief. Even as I type this I have tears in my eyes as my body easily revisits the emotion memory of how that felt. Crumbling physically...all of those months of holding it together, all those days of pushing it down, saying to my boy ‘don’t worry, I’ll have something to eat after you’ve gone to bed son...I’m not that hungry anyway.’ The embarrassment of approaching my family and asking to lend money that I had no way of paying back so that I could pay my rent and so that I could pay for electricity. NO MORE JOB APPLICATIONS. Now this was relief, and it hasn’t stopped there. I have spent so much time in a heightened state of emotion flitting between sheer joy and sobbing into my hands.
Nobody prepares you for this. For just how hard it is. I am one of the truly lucky ones. I now have a job and am utterly blessed to have some incredible people around me who have come to my aid when I have asked. I think this will take more than just a couple of weeks to sink in...even after a few weeks of settling into the job and the routine, it’s going to take far more than just ‘getting used to it.’ I think the mental state I placed myself in, a state I worked so hard to maintain and perfect, it is more than just a temporary thing. It was survival. It is survival. I’m still only just surviving.
By sharing this, by putting this out there, by making myself vulnerable in this way; I can only hope that this will reach one person who is staring down the barrel of unemployment, in the midst of it, at the end of their tether with it...opening another PDF document and readying themselves to answer yet another stream of the same bullshit questions which may or may not change their life. You. This could easily be you. Nobody is safe at the moment. There is a little part of me that feels very deeply for the others that didn’t get the job that we all interviewed for...
Keep going. You must keep going. Take every little 1% gain. Grab the tiny positives and run with them. Celebrate every completed application. Have a day off, in fact have two. Take a walk. And never, ever be too proud or embarrassed to ask for help.
Most of us are just a couple of pay days away from losing it all...
I can tell you this for nothing, I will say this to you for free...being unemployed is the hardest job I have ever had.