The Truth About Unemployment
Or at least mine, anyway.
I think I romanticized it, to be honest. Before I quit my job and moved to England, I could only dream of the days when I could sleep past 5:00AM and wouldn't feel like I was constantly on call at work. I was going to read, learn how to paint, get in shape, plan my wedding, explore my new city, and start every day with a quiet morning, sipping tea and being still as the sun poured through the window and birds sang outside. And of course travel at any opportunity.
I knew traveling would be a bit of a stretch for us while living on one income and with Luke's personal days dwindling down to the last 10 or so. (Yes, you read that right, Americans!) Wouldn't it have been perfect if we had the means to travel while I didn't have a job tying me down? We could have seen the whole of Europe by now! But that's okay, there's still plenty of time. And besides, we did go to Germany, Scotland, the English Countryside, and--this weekend--Wales. So it's been a pretty great summer in that regard.
No, the truth is, I think I wasted my time off. It's coming to a close soon and I've finished exactly one book. I've used exactly one page from my watercolor notebook (and someone could easily think a kindergartener got hold of it). I haven't worked out more days than I have done, my wedding doesn't feel any closer to being planned than it did before I left, and I haven't seen nearly as much of Birmingham as I could have by now. The truth is, I've watched five TV shows in their entirety and all eight Harry Potter movies and seem to default to switching on Netflix first thing in the morning.
It's hard to admit it, but it's also just as hard to extend myself some grace. Since I landed in my new country, we've moved twice, and moving is THE WORST. I've started cooking regularly for the first time in my life. I really try my hardest to get the house tidy when Luke comes home and succeed almost every day. I've even carried an overweight shopping bag half a mile home from the shop more than once! I'm learning a new culture. I'm getting used to being on the other side of the car. And I did do that one watercolor.
I've never been good at self-discipline or self-control. I over-indulge at every opportunity, it seems. It's not just one episode of the show, it's half a season. It's not just a few crisps, it's a whole bag. It's not just one rest day, it's a whole week. They're terrible habits that I've let manifest throughout every aspect of my life during my unemployment. So instead of having a summer of self-discovery, becoming the person I've always wanted to be, I've grown into a caricature of all of my worst qualities. Some days the only thing I can even hang my hat on is the fact that I have what I affectionately call my "puzzle cardigan", a sweater I keep in the front room for when we work on puzzles. (In the interest of full disclosure regarding my recent 97th birthday--which I'm fully embracing, by the way--yesterday I casually let slip to a friend that Luke and I end every day with a crossword puzzle.)
So yeah, unemployment hasn't been the walk in the park I hoped it would be, literally or figuratively. Last week was my rock bottom, and I'm sure wasn't a coincidence that it coincided with Luke going from being out of the house for work 10 hours a week to 10 hours a day. That and I'm out of furniture to paint. So now I'm desperate to turn things around while I still have a chance.
The only problem is, what comes next is somehow scarier. That job I always felt on call at? I loved it. I realized last week when my former bosses asked me about an account login that I had set up with my personal information that I never seriously thought there would be an end to my tenure there. I'm going down with this ship, I always thought. Well now I've jumped ship and I have no idea what's on the horizon. (Riding out that full metaphor, thank you very much.) It makes me want to do everything in my power to steer every conversation away from me and work. Amidst all of those lofty goals I had for the summer, I thought I'd surely know what I want to do next by now. And I still don't even know when I'll be able to look for work since it's all pending my next visa.
This feeling is horrible. To some extent, my lack of a vision for my professional career keeps me locked in my house. I know while I'm here I won't have to answer those questions. Outside, I meet new people all the time. They notice my accent and they want to know what brought me across the pond. "Work or studies?" Regardless of that, isn't "what do you do?" the first question you ask another adult when you first meet. Our society puts so much emphasis on work--it is how you spend the majority of your time after all--that it's hard to separate your identity from your profession. It's like at the end of Sex & the City when Carrie quits the newspaper to move to Paris. "Carrie, you can't quit your column, it's who you are," Miranda says in the street outside of a funeral. "No, it's not who I am, it's what I do."
Without the separation of the two, who am I?
So I don't really know what's next. I don't know where I go from here. I don't know where I'll find myself in the coming weeks, or who's name will be on the first paycheck I deposit in England. (If they ever let me open a bank account!) I don't even know how to wrap up this post right now. I suppose the problem with that is I'm in the middle of all of it. It feels like I'm starting to pull myself out, to head in a direction I want to go. I can only take it one day at a time, one choice at a time. I wrote last Friday that I was struggling for the first time since the big move and I was going to try to get out of the house for a walk once a day. Today, I'll walk down to the shop to see if I can replace Luke's tea mug since I knocked his off the counter last week, resulting in a ridiculous amount of tears, courtesy of my aforementioned rock bottom. Who knows, maybe tomorrow I'll even start looking into jobs.
Luke bought me lilies last week and I've been watching them bloom over our kitchen sink for days. I can't help but think about how they grew into what they were meant to be outside of their comfort zone, having been detached from their support system. Maybe I too can do that. Maybe I too can bloom where I am planted, wherever that may be.