just another girl on benefits street

I’ve got a job interview in a couple of hours. This will be my fourth interview since being made redundant last October.

I’m as prepared as I can be. I’ve done some research on the company. I got a good night’s sleep last night. I had a good breakfast this morning. I’m nicely dressed, my hair and my nails are freshly done.

Job interviews make me nervous, though, happily, the nervousness does not show and it doesn’t affect my performance whilst being interviewed: I don’t get all red-faced and sweaty and inarticulate. No, it affects me in unseen ways….my heart pounds in my chest and my stomach cramps and churns.

As this is the fourth time I’ve been made redundant since 2010, one would think I’d be an old pro at this by now. But one never gets used to this: the wait for the invite to interview, the wait for the results, the hope that you’ll get the job you really want, and then having that hope become a desperate prayer for any job at all.

Various factors come into play when you’re job hunting. Will the potential employer think I’m too old? Because, sadly, ageism exists. Will I they trot out that tired old “you’re over-qualified for this post” line again? This is something I’ve heard a lot, and it infuriates me. Why should I be made to feel bad for having gone to college, for having worked hard in a variety of sectors? All the work I’ve done, all my employment experiences only adds to the store of knowledge I can bring to a company.

I hate being unemployed….it wreaks havoc with my self-esteem and my mental and emotional well-being. I hate hearing the slam of the front door as the other tenants in my building leave for work. I’ve always been proud of being self-sufficient, and now I am forced to ask for help from uncaring government agencies: help with council tax, housing benefit, and Job Seeker’s Allowance. I have never in my entire life been on benefits on either side of the pond, and I have found the whole process draining and depressing. Mind you, I am grateful to have been awarded the help I’m currently receiving. But I would much rather work.

Being jobless at Christmas time is the worst. Big SALE signs in shops and TV adverts which remind me that I have limited funds and most likely won’t be buying any presents for anyone apart from my Mom and my BF this year. Everyone who knows me that Christmas is my favourite time of the year; as an American, my tree always goes up the day after Thanksgiving, which I still celebrate even though I live in the UK as my BF likes the whole ritual of Thanksgiving. But in my current jobless state, the thought of the looming holiday season makes me want to crawl into bed, pull the duvet over my head and not move.

The days all run together when you’re unemployed. My whole comforting routine of get up-eat breakfast-shower & dress-go to work-work-come home-have my tea-make lunch for work tomorrow-iron clothes for work tomorrow-watch a bit of telly and then go to bed was destroyed in a 30-minute meeting.

My sleep pattern has been destroyed as well. I sleep more when I am depressed, and although my GP has increased the dosage of my anti-depressants, they help little. Thus my new routine is:

• get up at 6:30 like I still have a job to go to
• check email for invites to interview and/or “you’ve been unsuccessful” messages
• fill out job applications online until 10 or 11 (unless there aren’t enough suitable ones that day)
• shower & dress
• force myself to eat something (I skip this step 2-3 times a week)
• clean the flat (which seldom needs it)
• lie on sofa with Eeyore & the duckie blanket to watch TV only to fall asleep for 1-2 hours

This routine changes on those days when I’m fortunate enough to have an interview or on Tuesdays, when I am required to attend at the Job Centre to prove I’ve been looking for work. My “work coach” is a nice woman – she thinks I’m “great.” She’s used my CV (details removed) as a model for the other clients at the Centre, and raves about the spreadsheet I created as a tool to keep track of all the posts I’ve applied for: a detailed seven-columned, colour-coded wonder that lists the name of the company, the post applied for, date applied, and all the requisite contact and follow up details. She’s shown my creation to all the other work coaches at the Job Centre, and they all marvel at my “inventiveness” and Jenny’s luck in having a client like me.

But I don’t want to be a “client”. I’d rather be an employee.

I’ve got two friends on benefits – neither of them have worked in years. They don’t understand my grief and depression over losing my job and what I see as my failure to get another job quickly. They keep telling me to “relax”. “There are benefits to being on benefits,” they laughingly told me. Because they’re my friends, I laughed along with them, realising they were only trying to cheer me up. But truthfully, I found their attitude distasteful – the entire benefits culture that exists in the UK is appalling to me.

Luckily, it’s not an attitude I have to share, and I don’t. So as I get ready to leave for this interview, I say a silent prayer that I will soon be blessed with a new full-time post. It’s the only Christmas present I really want.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

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