I shouldn’t feel mentally healthier while unemployed.
Before I say more, I will acknowledge a few things.
One, most of the country (and world) can’t afford not to work. A lot more people live paycheck to paycheck than we realize. According to CareerBuilder, 78% of U.S. workers live this way. This is either because we make good money but overspend, or don’t make enough money compared to living costs. I would be willing to bet it’s more the latter than the former.
Until 2017, I lived paycheck to paycheck. The cost of living in Atlanta continued to increase, and I had a spending problem. I was perpetually broke. It took a mix of making at least $21 an hour and better spending habits for me to break out. So as a second acknowledgment, I’m fortunate, and I realize it. I can withstand being fired from a job as I was almost two months ago.
Being unemployed made for a good six weeks. It shouldn’t be that way. Not because I shouldn’t find calm in not producing income. But the life of being employed in the U.S. shouldn’t be so stressful that being fired feels more like a relief than a panic.
It’s stunning (or terrifying, depending on how you view it) how American work culture creates stressful environments while simultaneously impeding on our ability to manage it properly. Unless you own a business or can genuinely say you love what to do, you, like everyone else, are doomed.
We’re going through a ridiculous five-day work cycle. We wake up with negative thoughts toward work. Then, we have to travel to the workplace we dread. We spend the next 9+ hours dealing with managers who bring little positive to the environment while engaging in conversations with other employees who don’t like the job. We finally go home to relax, only to realize we have to do it again the next morning.
You’re probably thinking, but Damion, aren’t there things we can do to cope with the stress? Yes, there are.
We can better support our nutrition and exercise. We can build social networks outside of work. We can get better sleep. We can try to find satisfaction out of our work. We can create better habits in the workplace.
These are all things we can do, but after devoting at least 45 hours to such a mundane task meant to give us meaning in adulthood and ensure our survival, the energy to do these things vanishes.
Do you feel like fixing five days worth of food to take to work? How about hitting the gym or going for a jog every day? Can you honestly say you get at least eight hours of sleep a night? Didn’t think so.
I showed every sign of a person affected by workplace stress: headaches, constant fatigue, irritability, social withdrawal, and seeking bad coping mechanisms. So when I tell you the day after being fired was one of the best feelings I’ve had waking up in the morning in nearly a year, I mean it.
Initially, I enjoyed having the time to do all the things I had wanted to do. After a couple of weeks, I actually had the energy to do all the things I had wanted to do. I felt free. Free to write, travel, go to the gym, sleep, cook.
This was living. The day was mine to do what I wanted with it. I wondered if this was how a healthy work-life felt. I spent each day doing a hobby I loved, maintaining the energy to focus on my well-being without any financial concerns. The stress had left my body, confined at a cubicle I had left behind.
That was until my bank account was close to depletion.
That might have been living, but that wasn’t my life. I was reliant on a paycheck every week, and I understood I had to work what would probably be a repetitive and menial job to get it. The stress came back, the enjoyment was gone, and the need for income was real.
I am gainfully employed as I type this. I get my first paycheck this Friday, just in time to pay rent and get caught up on bills. My workplace offers a future in technical, design, and content-creating jobs I can find more satisfaction in.
For six weeks, I knew what it felt like to live again. One day, I want what I do for work to get me as close to feeling as possible.