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Unmoored by Unemployment

I left the country for the first time when I was 23. I stood in line to board the plane, trying to stifle my panic attack, certain that I and everyone else on the flight was going to die, such was my intense fear of flying back then. I thought about turning around and running, regardless of the fact that my luggage was already on board and that I’d look like a maniac in front of everyone. In the end, I remember this sense of calm coming over me, a feeling of well being and security and comfort that on some level, I have yet to feel again. I think a lot about that feeling these days. I’m starting to wonder if I imagined it.

I’ve been unemployed/underemployed/searching for a job for almost nine months now, and to say the least, my consciousness has been shifted. In the past, I’ve believed that all the different parts of myself — the writer, the feminist, the Jew, the educator, the vulnerable, angry motherless child — could not just coexist, but grow each other, make each other stronger. These days, this whole person business seems like a myth. I’m having trouble focusing. I’ve actually stopped following the news. (Apparently there’s been a revolution in Egypt and some white men are trying to redefine rape?)

Of course, this is about more than my compulsive need to follow the news being interrupted. My self feels segmented, compartmentalized like those children’s toys where you fit a block into a space of corresponding size. It seems impossible to think about feminism or art or anything that’s nutritional for my soul or my politics, when I’m so deeply entrenched in panic and fear and the inability to imagine my future. I’m perpetually rubbing my eyes, trying to see things clearly, developing routines and plans and then scrapping them, approaching the world with gusto and then getting exhausted by the possibilities.

For a while, I was spending every afternoon in coffee shops, watching people around me huddled over their computers, taking enormous comfort in what I saw as our mutual longing and confusion. I never talked to anyone I saw, so I don’t know if those folks felt as scared and ashamed and hopeless as I did and still do. I suspect that we’re too afraid to talk about how exhausting it is to forge ahead every day without structure or stability.

Someone told me recently that losing your job is the equivalent of having your spouse die. In my head, the best version of myself would rally faster. She would push harder, her anger and disillusionment would have moved her forward and not back. She would have remained in constant motion, making things happen, instead of waiting for the voice in her head to tell her it’s going to be okay. She would know that the ability to glimpse herself beyond and amid the fragmentation is what will see her through — if she can get there.

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