Just over five years ago, I got laid off from a full-time job due to the belly-up economy. I hadn't been unemployed since I had lived with my parents, back when my biggest worry was coming up with $25 for my monthly phone bill. In 2009, however, I was on my own and not at all ready for the fallout that came with unemployment.
It only took a few days for me to lose my mind. I didn't realize, until I got into a screaming fight with a friend, just how much of my identity I had associated with "being important" -- dressing up, interacting with clients, being seen as a professional. Now I was aimless, wearing jeans and flip flops, and worrying about money in a way I never had before. Thankfully, I was able to draw unemployment insurance, but with it came demoralizing visits to the branch office where most employees were rude, unhelpful, or condescending. I sat in my car after one such visit, huffing that I had a college degree and shouldn't have to endure such treatment. I'm not sure who elected me queen, but I eventually climbed down off my pedestal.
In 2010, I was able to pick up some part-time work, but still found myself researching food stamps. I marinated in fear and the belief that I didn't belong -- not in the unemployment office, not at my new job with its community desk and someone else's voice on the answering machine, not bumbling around my apartment after yet another job rejection. By the time I picked up full-time employment in 2011, I was so fractured that it took months to think of myself as rescued and important again.
After fewer than two years of full-time work, company restructuring landed me back at the unemployment office. Things were harder the second time around. I qualified for about $150 less per week than I had after the 2009 layoff, and felt that bite immediately. Before long, I had to close out my small-but-viable retirement accounts. I was perpetually behind on everything and thankful I had a forgiving landlord. I got a little too familiar with counting change to buy food and begging companies to wait just a few more days for a payment. I was endlessly thankful I only had to take care of myself and two cats.
Despite anxiety, worry that never goes on break for long, and three months without unemployment benefits, things keep working out. A timely tax refund made it possible for me to breathe through March. My support system is solid. I reap the benefits of my parents' trips to Costco and have learned to survive on about 30 percent of the income I was making in 2009. I am rebranding myself as a freelance writer and editor for hire, and saving four years of stories for the book that will make me Oprah-rich... or at least keep me from living in my 22-year-old car.
Chi's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.
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