14. Unemployment and anxiety

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Everyone tells me not to think about other things right now—unemployment, for example—and to focus on getting better. But anxiety is not an easy issue to tackle, and I’m already worried what will happen when I stop taking the meds. This is another thing they tell me not to worry about: don’t think about what problems you’ll be facing in a month of two, they say, just concentrate on the here and now.

But, how can I?

The job situation is difficult. As a mom of two in traditional—code for sexist—Bavaria, without real-world experience in a real-world job, and having drifted in academia for years without really publishing and without becoming an expert in one subject, the chances of finding employment at my age are, let’s say, not stellar. I’m now finally unemployable in academia—not that I want to reenter that soul-crushing space, Urban is adamant that I should leave that behind for good. And industry sees someone with no job experience or expertise in one specific subject as a liability.

Sidenote #1: If you thought industry values versatility and breadth of talents, you’re wrong. They mostly like dedicated workers who don’t get too many ideas, even when their job is to get ideas, like for example in consulting. Don’t ask me why, it’s just one of those bizarre facts of life. You’d almost think HR departments don’t understand the skills of astrophysicists.

Anyway, in the past couple of months, and as I was heading at breakneck speed towards burnout, I felt more and more like I couldn’t handle the normal loads of work, family, career, home. I knew a full-time job would be near-impossible for me to balance with the responsibilities of kids and with my passion for writing, and this was another cause of intense anxiety. We have a mortgage, after all, and there’s the added insecurity: what will I do if my husband gets hit by a bus? I made him buy life insurance, but that kind of money doesn’t last long. I need to be in the position of finding a job, of earning a living on my own—anything else causes me too much insecurity. But I also need some time off, to recuperate from all the stress, to figure out where it all goes from here. And I thought it would be difficult to stay afloat only on Urban’s salary—which is exactly what is going to happen in three weeks, when my contract with my current employer ends.

Urban tried to apply for some well-paying positions, some of which he could probably get, but this freaked me out even more: more money, yes, but he’d be out of the house (he works from home now, even pre-corona) and there’s just no way for me to reliably take care of the kids day in, day out, every day. I get debilitating tension headaches. Then, you have the hemiplegic migraines. And now, there’s this new adventure, which forces me to stay away from sources of stress, and I’d say job-hunting would be one huge source of stress. All doctors are unanimous: I absolutely have to take it easy!

But I also can’t take on the role of housewife. I need someone to take care of me, too. It’s not even unfair: I worked and took care of everybody for years. Now, I just can’t. And I can’t even heal on my own. Urban is in a bad situation: he has to earn all the money, take care of the kids and of the mentally ill wife, too.

My anxiety rose to red shortly after the breakdown. How would I manage if he really got offered another position that would require me to be the caretaker on weekdays? I could barely walk from the couch to the bathroom in those first few days—who knew that anxiety and a mental breakdown could cause very real bodily fatigue—but he said he wouldn’t accept another job offer, which reassured me, big time. Still, how will we survive?

It turns out, now that we’re keeping careful tabs on what we spend, expenses are not as huge as I thought they were. For the past couple of years, and even though I had a small salary of my own (did you expect part-time researchers get paid a lot? Nope), I rarely ever had a couple euros left at the end of each month. But now, with Urban working only part-time thanks to covid and me saving my whole salary in order to survive the months of unemployment that I know are coming, our situation is not that strained. What happened?

Urban is what happened. For years he spent money, without my knowledge, without keeping track of what he spent and when. You see, he’s a little like me: when he gets obsessed with something, he goes all in. His latest hobby is fountain pens, and in a few short years he’s accumulated a fuckton of them, and I don’t know how many hundreds of different inks, and notebooks, and pen pillows (google it, it’s a thing), and I don’t know what else. I don’t even mind that—his hobbies are important to me, as my hobbies are important to him—but what I do resent is all the stress it caused me. Racking my brain how to make a couple hundred euros last me weeks, with grocery shopping and the kids’ needs—never mind the stress I feel now, when I’m thinking that my mental health problems might ruin us because of my inability to contribute financially. The times I felt guilty for buying expensive fruit! Why? Why?

This bothers me more than I can express. I can forgive a lot of things, but someone causing me this level of anxiety is hard to swallow.

Urban makes spreadsheets now to track our income and expenses. When I get stressed all over again, he shares the spreadsheets with me, so that I know exactly what’s going on, in real time. He’s promised full transparency and to continue keeping track of everything.

And it’s not that I’m completely without talents either. Today, I organized my writing and editing space in the attic. It’s a room where I feel completely in my element. Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be able to bring in some small income from my new activities too.

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