When I was unemployed, my idea of a good time was to sit a friend down at my butter yellow kitchen table in my tiny studio apartment, fix them a cup of tea, and bake cookies. I baked chocolate chip, molasses, sugar cookies, and many more. I also acquired an ambitious collection of cookie cutters. Even an expensive cookie cutter is the sort of thing that’s priced right for shopping therapy for the unemployed.
I found baking cookies to be therapeutic. It had a start and a delicious finish. Instant gratification. I certainly wasn’t getting any of that job searching.
Baking cookies also offered structure. First mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, then add the dry gradually to the wet, and voila – try not to eat all the dough. Being unemployed was like wading around in a pool, not knowing which direction to swim to find the edge, and feeling like you were going to run out of energy and drown any minute. There’s a reason why loss of a job isn’t too far down on the list of life’s most stressful events.
Without the structure of a job, I tried to create my own. I made up a schedule which detailed what I was going to do in 15 minute increments. That little experiment lasted a few hours. Every morning, with the best of intentions, I made a list of everything that I was going to accomplish. Email so and so. Call so and so. Dust (cleaning was free, unglued me from my computer, and offered the illusion I had some control). Write so and so a thank you note. Go to networking lunch. Mop the floor. Try not to go insane and check your email every 30 seconds.
Weekends were mixed with dread and relief. No one was going to email. No one was going to call. I felt I shouldn’t take a break. I felt like I was going to go crazy if I didn’t.
Lack of structure contributed to my anxiety to the point of apathy. I knew I needed to send that email to so and so, but I barely had the energy to do it. What was going to happen anyway? Probably nothing. When I was working I could pat my tummy, stand on one leg, and send an email all at the same time. Why was it taking so much energy now?
In addition to losing structure, I had lost a large component of my identity. I had no idea what to do next. Even if all four edges of the pool had been an arm’s length away, I wouldn’t have known which direction to swim to save myself. Anxiety was paralysis which led to more anxiety.
A good friend of mine is currently unemployed and job searching. Watching him, I see all my unemployed behaviors manifested in him. “What did you do today?” I ask. “Sent an email.”
I have to squelch my desire to launch into a series of rapid fire questions and suggestions. I ask one question, make one suggestion – not twenty. I have to separate my unemployed anxiety hangover from his experience. I want to help, but there is no quick fix. No bake 10 minutes until golden brown solution.