Written by Jessica Carter
There’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has turned many of our lives upside down. Here, one writer who lost her job overnight shares her story – and some calming words of reassurance to those who might find themselves in the same position.
Trying to make light of the whole losing-my-job situation, my mum joked on the phone about me moving back in with her – a plot she’s been hatching since I, the youngest and therefore eternally the baby, moved out. A decade and a half ago.
Was it really a joke, though? Hours later, I was wondering whether my old room – long-since commandeered by my nephew, its walls now plastered in monkey stickers, his Spider-Man curtains hanging at the window – is where I’ll find myself sleeping in the next few months. In the single bed, with a Cars duvet set to hide beneath.
Like so many people – so, so many people – I was laid off from work just under two weeks ago, amid the chaos of the Covid-19 outbreak. Disaster had struck with speed and precision. It happened literally overnight.
I was working in food media at a company that had not been in an ideal financial situation for some time. When, on 16 March, Boris Johnson advised everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and avoid restaurants, pubs and bars – basically, all of the businesses who we served and were funded by – we had no work, no income.
Industries across the board have been similarly affected, of course: everyone from cab drivers to architects and construction workers have been thrown into financial uncertainty.
“I was basically told I wouldn’t be paid after this month. I was in complete shock,” one friend tells me over text. “I think I’m going to have to go back to my mum’s, even though I’ve built a life in Bristol. It’s all being swept from underneath me.”
Her bosses then updated her to say she’ll get a fraction of her salary for this month, before they swiftly “disappeared off the face of the earth”. I guess they’ve got their own issues to sort out.
Not only did so many of us lose work, but we also found ourselves in a job market that was now swamped and soon to be practically non-existent, as companies hurriedly took down adverts and cancelled any new recruitment.
Another friend, an educational psychologist with an eight-month-old baby to look after, tells me: “You obviously plan for your maternity leave and know you’re going to be scraping by for the last few months, but the idea of my husband losing his job when I can’t even go back to work if I want to (with the schools closed) makes me feel pretty terrified. I thought we were quite secure. I can’t believe how quickly things can change.
“I also feel like I’m sitting at home not doing anything – then there are people out there working really hard like my mother-in-law, who’s a nurse.”
My own phone call comes when I’m working at home. When the word ‘redundant’ drops, I brace myself for the panic, wait for the clamminess, prepare for the familiar feeling of a falling stomach that alerts you to the fact the proverbial has well and truly hit the fan. But, weirdly, it never comes. Instead, I feel a perverse sense of calm.
Since then, mind you, I have cried. I cried down the phone to the estate agent who was calling me about the house I was finally halfway through making my own. That’s swirling around in the toilet as I write. I cried again when I found out my mum had a bad fall – I couldn’t visit because I was quarantined with a dry cough. I cried at the thought of having to tell my friends what happened, and see them take pity on me. And, in all honesty, I’ve come close to tears wondering if I’ll be young enough to have the kids my partner and I were planning when we’re eventually back on our feet. Nothing is as it was.
It seems a lifetime ago I was happily making arrangements to meet mates at the pub (remember pubs?) and ordering clothes online that I couldn’t afford, even with a full-time job. I can’t help but feel I was complacent, too comfortable in my future’s certainty.
Still, for the most part, I’m eerily serene. Maybe it’s denial. Perhaps it’s shock. I’ve come to realise, though, that I’m very much here for both. Our survival instincts – despite betraying anxiety-spiked beings like me with a fight-or-flight mode that rarely switches off – are on our side, after all.
Also finding herself in a “strangely philosophical” mentality is a self-employed professional I know, who went from working with 11 regular clients down to one in the space of a couple of days.
“This new normal has forced me to take a step back and look at what’s really important, and it’s not what I thought it was,” she says. “That’s not to say it hasn’t been emotional. I cried most of last week and I’m already climbing the walls with only my cat and Houseparty for company, but I do think we’ll all come out of this as a better version of ourselves.”
Of course – bleak picture alert – no-one knows what the lasting outcome of this will be, and things will likely get worse before they get any better (many of us have no immediate prospects for a steady income nor relatives with spare cash to help us get by, for instance). But that just makes me even more grateful for this space, and the gap of calm my mind is affording me – however odd it might feel.
Because surely what we need after having the rug pulled out from under us is to slow down. Assess. Regroup. Seek solace in the community of others in our position. And, of course, catch up on Netflix.
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