Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Demons Again

My demons have the upper hand right now.  They are mocking me, belittling me, making me feel empty and worthless.  They have seized upon a moment and their grip is strong, much stronger than I expected, and I don't know how to get away.

I haven't talked about it on this blog - partially out of pride, moreso because I didn't feel this was the place to talk about it - but I am among the far too many people in this country who are currently searching desperately for employment.  To be truthful, I have been under-employed since 2008, when the company for which I had worked since 1997 took its first hit in our collapsing economy and laid off 90% of its employees.  Those of us who stayed on took a pretty deep salary cut, but worked hard to try to save the company.  To our credit, we kept it afloat, barely, for another three years before the doors finally closed last April.  I have been essentially unemployed for a little over a year now, scraping by on the meager crumbs of whatever freelance work I can find.

I am at a crossroads now.  There are no more unemployment benefits available to me to supplement my partial income.  In fact, I'm being asked to repay some of the benefits I did receive, because in the eyes of the PA Unemployment Commission, the fact that I have been doing freelance work makes me "self-employed," and self-employed people cannot collect unemployment benefits. I would have been better off being a lazy bum who sat on a couch and just collected checks from the government.  But I never wanted to be that person.  I took work where I could, but because I was not on payroll as an employee any of the places I did work for, and because I am an honest person who reported the small income I made so that my benefits could be properly offset, I am actually now in debt to PAUC and no longer qualify for future benefits.  Our government in action, folks.  (Or should that be "our government inaction"?)

I have burned through nearly all of my savings.  I am proud of myself that I have maintained excellent credit throughout these past few years, and as I write this I am not behind on any bill.  But August 1st looms large on the horizon and at the moment I have no idea how I will pay next month's bills.  (Of course, since I am unemployed, I no longer carry employer-provided health insurance.  I'm on COBRA, which actually adds an additional $300 a month to my bills.  Losing a job doesn't just mean you lose an income; it can actually cost you more money!)

I have pounded the pavement, knocked on doors, utilized my network of friends and colleagues, and sent out so many cover letters and resumes that I ought to qualify for bulk mail rates at the Post Office.  And all I have to show for it is a fistful of rejection letters, most of which were sent in lieu of even a perfunctory interview.

The truly scary thing is that I am far from alone in this experience.  Friends I know who are in the same or similar situations are running up against the same dead ends.  Local news reported today that two local companies are shutting down putting another 300 people out on the streets to compete for jobs.  It is easy to feel defeated in this situation, and I do.

And that is when my demons pounce.  They waited patiently this time, as they always do.  I can tell you exactly when they made their move:  Sunday night was a sleepless night for me.  As I lay in bed trying to shut off the swimming thoughts and get some sleep, I felt it in the pit of my stomach.  I felt it behind my eyes, which had begun burning.  I felt trapped in my own head, fighting to get out.  And I heard the demons whispering in my ear:  "You're going to lose the house.  You're going to lose your insurance.  You're credit will be ruined.  You have nothing, you're worth nothing, you're a failure. No one will hire you!  Look, they won't even interview you.  They read your resume and laugh." And their infamous refrain that I have mentioned on this blog many times before: "You're not good enough!"

It's panic.  And it has been gurgling in my gut and pounding in my brain since Sunday night.  My usual coping mechanisms are not working well this time; the rational side of my brain that recognizes what is happening and normally works to quell the demons' uprising is not doing the trick this time around, and I am spiraling down.

I have good friends and a wonderful family who are supportive, and they all want to say or do the "right" thing that will help me turn the demons away, but I'm in a place now where, despite their good intentions and despite my great gratitude for their support and caring, I need them to stop trying to help - it only aggravates things, if that makes any sense.  Motivational quotes and positive affirmations and lists of what's good in my life and all those other things are, I know, meant to help, but they don't.  Not right now.  Right now this one is my internal struggle, and the best thing those who want to be supportive and helpful can do is let me go through this cycle, and be there when I get to the point where I'm ready to reach out again.

I know this cycle.  I've lived with it all my life, and even if it is presently not strong enough to do anything about it, there still exists that rational side of me that recognizes this for what it is.  I know my thoughts are cycling irrationally - that's what the OCD Demon does.  I know the physical reactions in my head and stomach are the result of the Anxiety Demon flooding my system with adrenalin in an effort to keep in full panic-attack mode.  And, I have not given up the job search - nor will I.  I have a few leads that I am following up on this week, and more places to apply to.  I will get to the other side of this.

Will it get worse before it gets better? Maybe. I hope not, but I recognize that it could.  As usual, writing this has actually helped a bit.  I beg your indulgence if I write more - it's been awhile since I've had to discuss my demons.  With luck, before long, my demons will be the ones on the unemployment line!