The Dirty Little Secrets of Our Unemployment and the Road to Recovery

It was a rough couple of years, wasn't it.  My husband and I thought we were prepared, with three month's salary in the bank.  Ha!  Three months?  What about weathering unemployment for two years, due to the Great Recession?  Luckily, we were able to hold onto our house and cars, unlike so many others out there.  But, that came at a price.  We had to cash in one of our retirements, and I had to go back to work to support the family.  We traded paying childcare costs for having health insurance.  In addition to the monetary losses, the strain unemployment put on our relationship was intense.  But, after FIVE years, we are very slowly, moving to a better place in our lives.

In 2009, my husband lost his secure, professional position that allowed me to work from home while caring for our first son.  While we were blessed with a supportive family and friends, the last five years have been incredibly difficult on my husband and I.  At first, we didn't believe that his losing his job was going to have too much of an impact on us.  We thought he'd find a new job quickly.  Even though we were aware of the recession, we really didn't think it was going to impact us so much.  Now, we know differently.

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My husband lost his job during the summer of 2009; we were on vacation when we found out.  Nice timing, right?  Actually, it has left long-term scars on us.  We can't even think about going on a vacation without that memory popping up.  Good thing we don't have any money for vacations, right?  Upon our return, I begged for my previous teaching position back.  (Prior to my first son being born in 2008, I taught at a local business college.)  Thankfully, I was able to jump back into a full-time gig, but I had to accept a pay cut.  In hindsight, I should have advocated for myself more, but I was in a vulnerable position, I had to put food on the table, right?

Over the next two years, I was the breadwinner of the family. And by bread, I'm really referring to biscuits.  If it weren't for the house and my retirement, we would have been eligible to collect food stamps.  It's unbelievable to conceive how two educated professionals, who were supposed to be on the upswing their lives could have fallen so low.  Having weathered the loss of a sibling in 2002, I found strength that I would not have had otherwise.  I reminded myself daily that money wasn't everything.  But for the majority of those two years, it certainly felt like it was of the utmost importance.  I received a promotion at work to become part of the college's administrative team, but it really didn't change our bottom line very much.  You know, much more responsibility, but a salary that doesn't match the title.  Still, at the time, I was happy for it.  I was happy for any scrap of hope we could find to help us put food on the table just one more week... 

With the new position, I was suddenly stressed to the max and every penny mattered.  I received invitations to go to weddings, and I couldn't even afford to keep my fridge stocked with food.  I couldn't afford to send presents to loved ones, let alone find the money to travel to an event.  And I tried to save.  There was nothing to save though.  Every single bill I had increased: gas, electric, cell phones, cable, phone, etc.  If their was something to cut back on, I did it.  Mostly, I cut back on the things that I could live without.  (I didn't want my son, or even my husband, to be without something.)  But other things got cut, just because there was no way to fund them.  Every project we hoped to work on inside of the house was put on hold.  Investing any money into the house was laughable, because there was no money for those things. 

Last year, 2013, was the first year that I can remember buying something new for myself.  I bought a couple of pairs of shoes.  Prior to 2013, I went without visits to the doctors, the dentist, the hairdresser, and on and on.  People would give me gift cards to buy things for myself, and I would use them to buy clothing and things for my children.  They needed it more than I did, right?  

Loved ones could clearly see that something wasn't right with us.  But, the interesting thing about our culture is that no one wants to hear the negative that is happening to your family.  I think if they ignore it, it isn't really happening.  With cancer, people can collectively come together and have something to fight.  Everyone knows that cancer is bad and we can all rally for that cause.  With unemployment, no one knows what to do.  Just get a job people said, even when there were none available or my husband was overqualified for the positions.  It must have been that we did something incorrectly.  Maybe I went to the wrong schools, mixed with the wrong people as a teenager, or generally have a black cloud hanging over my head. 

Who knows what people think, however, my husband and I realized very quickly that no one wanted to hear about our money issues.  People want to complain about their husbands being jerks and not attending to them enough.  There have been countless times that I have felt utterly and completely alone, because the nonsense that others complained about literally went in one ear and out the other.

Where was our peer group?  How come we would watch the news every night, and we knew the country was in economic distress, but our friends were still able to go on several vacations a year?  "Ugh, I'm SOOOO in need of a vacation; I can't wait to get away next week to Disney (a cruise, the beach, Hershey, Pittsburgh, Florida, Boston, Cali, and so on)." echoed in my ear from daily mutterings from friends and family.  I couldn't (and still can't) help but think, "How are they able to afford this?"  And it wasn't just one person; we have the impression that we were the only ones truly impacted by the recession.  And trust me, they thought they needed a vacation.  Until they have lived through their own unemployment or the unemployment of their partner, they have no idea about needing a vacation.  Let's just say that, still until this very day, I feel like I am running on fumes with the possibility of cracking at any moment.  --They need a vacation, my ass!-- (Please comment below if you have had a similar experiences.)

My mom likes to say that everyone has their sh!t, it just happens on different days; meaning, no one is going to understand what you are going through, until they see it for themselves and until then, it doesn't matter to them.  I guess...It's something to believe anyway; it's better than thinking ill of the human condition.

Well, it was lonely.  The very last thing I wanted to do was to complain about my feelings to my husband.  He, understandably, wasn't happy about our situation either.  I must admit that I'm sure he's suffered in ways I can't possibly imagine.  He, too, lost his peer group.  None of his friends (or family) could empathize with his situation.  No one could understand why he couldn't just get a job.  That was easier said than done.  He knew there was pressure to make some revenue, somehow.  Due to the recession, it was unheard of the upper-management type of position he was in to be open.  Unfortunately, we live in a rural part of New York without the types of professional opportunity that you might find in a more urban location.  However, I had a job and we had childcare (some of which was free, due to family member assistance), so we were stuck in western New York.  (And we often thought, even if we were able to move, would we be able to get jobs wherever we moved to?  It wasn't really a gamble we were willing to take with our toddler running around.)

So, my husband looked for work everyday, everywhere he could think of.  But even though he tried to stay positive, he was depressed.  I mean, who wouldn't be.  Not only have you lost your job, but also you can't provide for your new family.  Your wife is working overtime for minimal money in order to just scrape by.  Needless to say, those days aren't the days I like to remember.  Those were the days that I was resentful, that I could imagine myself single, that I could have just gotten in my car and driven to a far-off place...you get the idea.  I looked terrible and felt even worse.  I wasn't sleeping, I was working constantly, I had a head full of grey hair, and I couldn't seem to lose my baby weight.  Have you ever wanted to beat the sh!t out of your husband?  Well, I never did (not that I physically could), but there were definitely some days that I was a tiny bit resentful.

Yet somehow, we survived. 

Throughout all of our troubles, I have always been deeply in love with my husband.  If we were any less of a couple, we would've gotten divorced.   Period. 

After two years of considering all of the possible ways to find him legitimate employment that could make us secure again, my husband decided to start his own landscaping business.  While it was a departure from his desk job of marketing and public relations, I supported him fully in this endeavor.  From the moment I met him, his heart has wanted to be outside.  He has always liked to work with his hands, and with people, who, he claims, are honest.  Yes, I agreed, it was time for a change, and he might as well make it a big change. 

In 2011, with the founding of his new business, the recovery started for us.  However it wasn't (isn't) an immediate relief; as I mentioned earlier, we have been dealing with the repercussions of this misfortune now for five years.  Honestly, I have been dumbfounded about how long personal economic recovery actually takes.  Maybe we will never truly recover.  My hope is to send my children to college one day and to retire.  However, this is going to be a long road for us.  We still have to manage paying all of our bills, which is an ongoing struggle.  We have to rebuild our retirements, which is going to be extra difficult, since my husband has to fund it solely on his own. 

For the last three years, all of our resources have been invested into the business.  Thank God, my husband is good at what he does.  He is honest, a hard worker, complete in his jobs.  He has vision that others lack.  He can see what a landscape is going to look like three years down the road.  It's truly impressive to watch; I wish I could see what he sees in the future.   

In 2012, we welcomed our second and final child into the world.  While we knew that we wanted to have two, the idea of having any more with our financial uncertainty has scared us into settling for two children.  The children always come first.  Whatever they need, they get.  (Now, I didn't say whatever they want, I said whatever they need.)  So I'm still not being great about getting the care that I need, because coats, mittens, boots, food, medications, etc., are all way more important than a haircut.  It's great to feel good about yourself, but nothing makes me feel better than knowing my children are being cared for and that they will have the heat on when they go to sleep.

Click Here! So, we are working as hard as we possible can.  My husband is taking on all the work he can handle.  I continue to look for opportunities that allow me to be successful in my career and to be a present, caring mother to my children.  Will we ever have everything we want in life?  Probably not, but we have learned that we are a good couple.  We both work hard toward the same goals, and even though we lost many of our friends and family, we still have each other. 

How have you gotten to your recovery?  Have you found any relief yet?  What suggestions do you have to help us all find relief in a turbulent economic recovery?  Please share your comments below.