As a journalist, I’ve covered my share of uncomfortable stories. I’ve interviewed families of murder victims, rape victims, human trafficking victims, recovering drug addicts, gang members, etc. The look of despair and hopelessness in their eyes was always unsettling. Oftentimes, I carried their stories home. Many of them remain with me today. Stories like that are pretty hard to let go.
So, when my boss asked me back in April to fly to Wichita, KS, to cover a story about some 2,000 (yes, 2,000!) people being laid off from a local aerospace company, I thought I was more than prepared for what I was about to see and hear. Turns out, I wasn’t.
The tears. The long, empty stares. The questions of “what am I going to do now?” The stories of having just had a brand new baby. A brand new mortgage. Having to deal with a chronic illness with no health insurance. Though – at the individual level – no where near as tragic as death or being the victim of a heinous crime. Those are permanent. I have to say, however, collectively, for me, the overall sense of despair and widespread feeling of hopelessness was almost just as unsettling.
“Wichita is to aerospace what Flint, MI, is to the auto industry,” said one of my co-workers. When nearly the entire city either works in or is dependant upon a single industry, mass layoffs have the potential of decimating the entire community. Parents don’t know how they’re going to feed their children. Local businesses have fewer customers. And, with a smaller tax base communities begin to cripple.
Indeed, the emotions I was witnessing are not in isolation. As the unemployment rate races full speed ahead towards double digits, some 30.2 million people – including those involuntarily working part-time and those who want a job, but have given up on trying to find one – are struggling to come to terms with the idea of not working. Not being able to provide for their family. Feeling as if they have no “purpose” for getting out of bed each morning.
Suicides and domestic-violence, according to LiveScience.com, are on the rise. “Freddie Mac CFO Said to Have Committed Suicide”… “L.A. Man Upset Over Lost Job Kills Wife, 5 Kids, Himself”… “In Notes Left in Family’s Killings, Md. Man Details Debts, Depression”… are just some of the most recent headlines, to name a few.
“I expect an increase in such incidents over the next few years,” said Sampson Blair, a sociologist at University of Buffalo, “because economic strain on families provokes depression and desperation.”
“I think certainly when people are stressed out, overwhelmed, feeling pressured,” says Washington, D.C., family and relationship therapist and best-selling author Dr. Audrey B. Chapman, “and then you have pressure at home from family members, worried about being able to feed your children, keep a roof over their heads, and that kind of stuff… You start to feel like ‘What’s the point?’”
The bottom line is: going from employed to unemployed can be a huge change for many people. And, change can sometimes be hard.
Dr. Judith Rich, a teacher in the field of transformation and consciousness, put it best in her article “When the Shift Hits the Fan,” when she quoted author Marilyn Ferguson:
It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear…It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.
In her own words, Rich goes on to say, “Talk about being in between trapezes! We can’t even see if there’s another one coming our way. You know that feeling when your stomach suddenly takes up residency in your throat? I think the term for this sensation is ‘free fall’. We’re there.” (NOTE: This is an awesome article! Please read it, and pass it along to your friends and loved ones.)
So, what do we do now?
Because I’m no expert, I’m going to, again, defer to Dr. Rich’s article and highlight just a few of her thoughts I thought were on point (Again, please, please do yourself a favor by reading the article in its entirety. This blog entry doesn’t come close to doing it justice). Dr. Rich says:
“We’re confronting change on a scale that is beyond anything we’ve ever learned to comprehend, much less believe in… The key is not to try to hold on to what was, but to learn how to fly with what is. Get used to being uncomfortable. And then re-invent yourself. There will be people who will learn to thrive in the difficult times ahead. Why not you?
“The only way out is through. Being a human being on planet Earth in 2009 is not for the feint of heart!
“If you’ve always identified yourself as the work you do or where you live or the size of your bank balance and those things are suddenly ripped away, who are you now? Here’s an opportunity to reframe who you are and how you see yourself.
“Don’t be afraid to fail. If you don’t have at least one failure under your belt, it means you’ve played too small, stayed too comfortable and never dared to color outside the lines. Now’s a great time to get your feet wet! We’re all out here searching for new ways to navigate this slippery terrain together.”