I'm the funny girl. Or at least I'm supposed to be. I'm the friend who always has a laugh in her pocket. The friend who wears a smile more than a frown. The girl who'd rather die than make you cry. It's funny what a little unemployment (or in my case, a lot of it) does to the girl full of sunshine. It turns her into the girl who's full of anger and flames. The friend who doesn't always call back, who can't always be there. The girl who secretly cries in the shower.
I had everything. I had the perfect apartment, the perfect lifestyle (whatever that even means), the perfect husband, the perfect dog, the perfect job. I was bouncy lollipops and rainbows happy. That is, until it all fell apart faster than you can say downsizing.
I knew that things were going south at work. I worked for a company in Chicago that was moving the majority of its operations out of state. But our department was doing OK, they told us. Things were going to be OK, they told us. I had just been recognized nationally for my performance. I had talent. I was great at my job. I'd be fine, I told myself.
I'll never forget the day I was called into my boss' office. Thinking I was going to be shifted around, priorities changed -- but certainly not fired. Then, feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Feeling ashamed at my hubris; feeling angrier than I had ever been in my life. It was the week before Thanksgiving, but they asked, "Can you work until the week before Christmas?" "Sure," I said, too humiliated to say anything else, too shocked to fight for myself. I left her office, walked into the bathroom, and crumbled to the tile floor like a ton of bricks, hugging the toilet like it was my best friend. Reliving lunch in a way I can't say I had expected to that day.
I haven't been the same girl since. Not that anyone is supposed to stay the same in their lives; but my family, my friends, my husband will tell you -- my fire simply went out. I spent most of my career begging people not to define me by who I worked for or what I did -- and here I was. Defining myself because of who I worked for and the work that I did. In the subsequent months, after my (in all honesty very generous) severance ran out, we began to panic. I made a decent chunk of change, and now I wasn't. I thought I'd find a job in no time -- I mean, my resume spoke for itself, right? Oh, how wrong I was.
We began to rely on the plastic. Hard. We couldn't afford our rent in our swanky apartment, but couldn't find a sub-leaser either. So we charged -- and we pretended like nothing was wrong. We soon accepted the reality we'd have to face -- moving back in with the 'rents. And we did -- we moved back in with mine. It'd be for a year, we thought. We'd pay off our bills, we'd fix the mistakes we made with our money. I'd find a job, it wouldn't be so bad.
I applied for jobs. I went on interviews. I never heard a word back, even after a follow up. I applied for more jobs. I went on more interviews. Again, nothing. I applied for even more jobs, but soon received less interviews, which meant even less communication. I worked for a budding tech company in Chicago for a year. Making $12 an hour, no benefits...but hey. We had an entire refrigerator of free pop whenever we wanted it. AN ENTIRE REFRIGERATOR, YOU GUYS. But, as my luck would have it, it ended up that I was debugging the software that would end up replacing me as a person. I was laid off without so much as a second thought.
And so the cycle started again. Apply, interview, silence. Apply, interview, nothing. And now? Now we were in big trouble. Unemployment at this time isn't an option. I turned down another hourly job at that same tech company that had laid me off in the customer service department. I just couldn't answer phones for them all day. And because of that? Because I turned down an opportunity that surely would have had me put in a loony bin -- I couldn't collect unemployment from the state. A decision I honestly don't regret. But it's going to be fine, right? I will find something else. My resume speaks for itself!
At this point, it had been months and I still couldn't find a thing. I applied for jobs I was overqualified for, and was told I was too overqualified. "But I don't care!" I said. Weeks went by. Months went by. I didn't want to get out of bed, let alone shower. My marriage began to suffer. I was miserable to be around. I didn't laugh... hell, I didn't even SMILE.
A funny thing happens to you when you start to live like this. The embarrassment, the shame -- becomes overwhelming... even though you know it's not your fault. It's not anything YOU did. But you know what you are? You're a glorified peddler. Sure, you're not on the streets begging for change or selling your body (thank god for that, because with these thighs...) -- but you're peddling just the same. You're asking everyone you know if they know anyone hiring. You're asking your parents to slide you a $20 so that you can go buy a damn box of tampons. And all the while, you feel completely ashamed of who you are, and flaming angry that you feel that way about yourself. You take jobs for the money. You find yourself bending over backwards for an hourly job with no benefits -- a job that is temporary. Why? So that you don't have to beg your parents for extra cash to buy feminine products. You work hard for the money. So hard for it honey -- but not for any sort of fulfillment.
I don't blame anyone for the predicament I'm in. I don't blame this president, or the one before him. I don't blame my former employers; I'm not even sure I blame myself. My life is a perfect storm of mud and muck and just utter crap. But it's a life that I am now OK with. Why do I say that? The thing is, it could always be worse. I didn't write this to gain sympathy, or to make someone feel sorry for me. I wrote it to tell a story. To share it with someone out there who might be in the same boat. Even after everything I've spilled here, I know that there are people in this country that have it so much worse than I do. And what I'm saying now may not help anyone. But if I can just help one person through this, to tell them that they're not alone, then it was worth it to me.
I'm in the worst trenches of my life -- so far. But I woke up today. I have all of my limbs. I have an actual roof over my head, tons of family and friends who think I'm pretty fantastic, the ability to take hot showers, to have a home cooked meal almost daily, to live with and spend time with my truly wonderful and amazing parents. I'm up to my eyeballs in debt, losing my current (hourly and temporary) job this May, and have no health insurance. But I'm not a failure. I'm not pathetic. I'm just me. If I can say one thing, it's that perspective is everything. Am I in pain? You're damn right I am. But this is light years beyond a teachable moment for me. I'm learning to scrape every penny together. I'm learning to be smarter with my money. I'm learning that it's OK to make mistakes, as long as I learn from them. And I'm learning to look at myself from a place of love. Things will get better, because well... they have to. Someday I will look back on this part of my life and wonder how I got through it. But when shit hits the fan again, as I'm almost certain it will in one way or another, I'll know exactly what to do. And for that? I'm very thankful.
Katie Gibson, radio producing rockstar, proudly lives in her parents' basement in the suburbs of Chicago, with her husband Matt and their three-legged wonder dog, Olive.
Katie'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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