I count myself lucky to have survived two tough years of unemployment with mounting financial problems during the period after 9/11 right up to the SARS epidemic. My family had just returned from overseas as we were away for a year on study purposes. The situation was made worse when we decided to buy a private house burdened with a mortgage loan. It was one of my worst personal decisions.
Although my wife works, it was tough to make ends meet with only one income. We also had a young daughter to raise. I faced sleepless nights trying to meet the minimum income payments for all my credit facilities especially when the bank account dried up. There was an unforgettable day when my ATM bank account showed a balance of less than $20. The worst moments of my life came when I had to borrow cash from friends to tide over. This is when you realise who your true friends are and whether they will stand by you when you are almost down and out. To this day, I am thankful to the few who volunteered financial assistance to me during this trying period.
During that period, I hovered between desperation and panic. Naturally, the relationship with my wife was not at its best. We often argued over financial matters.
After about six months of unemployment, I realised the first step was to manage my emotional health above all else. If I could manage my emotions better and stay positive, I had a better chance of coming out of my financial crisis stronger. I also drew up a timetable so that my days could pass by fruitfully.
When one does not work, one has much free time to idle and often negative thoughts flood our minds. I hope to share some personal experiences and strategies and, if possible, help some who are depressed and affected by the current financial crisis. I would not say that these strategies are surefire solutions but at least they can provide hope to the depressed and fuel optimism in those who are unemployed. For readers who are still employed and unaffected, it is also good to be mentally prepared for a retrenchment as it may come like a thief in the night without any warning.
When unemployment hits, we may be too shocked to face up to it. Share your tensions and frustrations with your family. Our loved ones are the closest to us and they yearn to share in our happy and sad moments. By cutting them out of our darkest moments, we deny them a chance to support and help us. Though my wife did not speak to me much during that tough period, her unwavering support and toughness to hang in there with me helped me to tide through that difficult period.
Seek help if things are too overwhelming. I was fortunate to have many good friends and a good support group in a church that met weekly. They gave me the platform to raise my needs and shared my frustrations. It was a relief for me to know that people cared how I felt. It would be disastrous to face unemployment alone. So learn to share and be humble.
Network more than ever. Many job seekers stayed at home due to depression, more than anything else. Like many, I sent applications to prospective employers and attended countless interviews, to no avail. Much later, I managed to secure a part-time job through a meeting with a long-lost friend. Although it paid only $6.50 an hour, finally I was relieved to know that there was income coming in after 20 months of unemployment. More importantly, my self-esteem was boosted by the part-time work. That experience helped me land in a full-time job six months later. To date, I am eternally grateful to the friend who recommended me. So don’t stay at home – go out and move around. Opportunities are out there, but if we stay at home we cannot seize them.
Think positive although this is often easier said than done. I read a lot of motivational books during that period, so that my mind was full of positive thoughts. This was often done immediately after I woke up and right before I slept. This helped me start and end the day with the right frame of mind. If not, our mind is always filled with negative and depressing thoughts.
Indulge in physical activities. I turned to jogging daily to preoccupy myself more than for health reasons. However, I discovered after every run that I felt light hearted and positive about myself. My mind was also free when I jogged and it was very therapeutic. I later realised that, when one exercises, feel-good chemicals called endorphins are released and this help one stay calm and relaxed. I still run regularly and have taken part in the annual Standard Chartered Marathon.
Spend time with your loved ones. I began to spend a lot of time with my mother and daughter, which I did not have the opportunity to before. This helped to occupy my free time and diverted my attention temporarily. It also allowed me to indulge in a meaningful activity. My mother remained as the most influential person during that dark period, allowing me to recover fully.
Face the situation bravely. I learnt to face relatives and friends when I met them. It was sometimes difficult as I had to explain why I was still unemployed after so many months. It could even be depressing if questions were raised insensitively. So I prepared my answers before I met relatives and friends in social gatherings so that I would not be caught unprepared. I also realised that such meetings can be used for networking purposes.
I hope this will help many friends who are in the same boat. Remember, that this is not the end of the world and you do not have to face this alone. The storm will pass by but you must have the determination to persevere and face up to the many challenges.
What does not kill you, makes you stronger. –Gilbert Goh, Philippine Star