Category Archives: Unemployment

Interviewing With A Difficult Head

Okay, exciting news! I’ve been invited to interview for an admin post.

Less exciting news! I have absolutely no idea how to interview.

I get the principles of interviewing just fine – go in, be confident, be friendly, don’t ramble, think about answers beforehand. But actually doing this in practice is a completely different kettle of fish, because my head just does not work on interview days.

Thanks for that, brain.

It’s hard to explain, because it isn’t just interview nerves. I can deal with nerves, but I can’t deal with not being able to function. On interview days my anxiety kicks up a gear, because it actually matters that I convince people that I can function, that I’d be able to work for them. It matters that I struggle to get through an interview.  In an interview, I might be trying to ward off a panic attack, where it hurts to breathe and it takes so much energy to keep the panic from spilling over that I can’t really think clearly. I might be so exhausted and so drained from the anxiety-depression that it is hard to be enthusiastic and confident. And it’s particularly hard to cover up the fact that I am not well, because my brain works so differently on my bad days. I end up trying to act out ‘good-day’ me, but that’s hard too, because trying to connect all the different aspects of functioning together is near impossible. I become a parody of myself.

And the other major problem is, how much information do you give potential employers? I do put down anxiety / depression on the equal opportunities forms, but knowing how much to reveal is hard because you don’t want to put employers off. Day-to-day, I know that I am mostly functional…but other people don’t know that. In an average spell, my bad days will just see me be more tired and less enthusiastic than usual. I work more slowly and need more breaks, so while it’s not ideal, I wouldn’t be the worst employee in the world. I certainly work hard the rest of the time to make up for it. But interviews show me at my worst. Employers do ask you to say if you need any special arrangements, but I don’t know what would help, apart from not interviewing! You can’t seriously rock up and explain that the best thing they could do to help is to ignore you and not take your interview seriously.

So it’s particularly problematic since there is no alternative to interviewing, and it’s even tougher because the longer I’m unemployed, the harder it is going to be to get a job. Interviews will become ever more stressful. So I need to interview successfully now. Pressure much?

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Legally Speaking, I Am Disabled

Writing this post has been really hard, but it is one I need to finish before I can say any more about what my life is like at the moment. I can’t find the words for what I want to say, or I find words but they don’t quite come out right when I go to put them down on paper. So I’m going to post something I wrote for the ‘Mind Your Head’ campaign at Oxford but that never got used. It doesn’t capture the experience of living like this precisely, but it’s nearer than not writing anything. As ever, if you have any questions, please get in touch.

Living with anxiety / depression

I guess many people who know me in person will probably already know or suspect as much: I have anxiety and depression. Nor is it a short-term thing: I’ve just finished my degree, but I have been depressed since I was 13. Which, when you’re 22, seems like an awfully long time.

On a day-to-day basis, this means it can be much harder for me to cope, with people, with work, or with just getting on with the normal tasks of living. When I’m in one of my bad spells, my head can make me feel drained, with no energy to do anything I am supposed to or want to do. I struggle to hit deadlines, because it can be hard to concentrate or even just to get up in the first place. At other times, it becomes hard to sit still to focus.

Furthermore, I worry about what others think and am properly terrified of hurting them. I will generally feel like a burden, and will apologise far too much or over-explain myself in an attempt to make sure that I am not being a nuisance or hurting others. (One of my tutors, to prove this point, kept a tally of how many times I apologised in an hour. It honestly worked out as about once every three minutes).  Making plans with other people becomes impossible in one of my bad spells. Partly this is because I just don’t have the energy to do so but partly, this is because however much I care about them and would like to see them, I find it stressful to organise meeting up in case I am imposing on them and their limited time, or in case I can’t cope when I am around them. It becomes really difficult to get myself to leave my room and engage with others because it takes so much energy. At these times, I can’t hang out in big groups of people – mainly big, intense groups where people are debating or arguing or where there is an undercurrent of unease or unhappiness – as I pick up on people being stressed in this way far too easily. In this respect, when I am particularly ill, I become a bit agoraphobic and get particularly anxious around or because of people. I generally have very little faith in myself, and struggle to believe anything nice people say about me.

Lastly, in particularly severe spells, just functioning becomes something of a mythical goal to be aspired to. My mood can slip pretty easily, which is really scary when I’m trying to keep steady and keep going. I can end up in tears fast, and even little things cross from being difficult to being impossible: for instance, it can take me until 6pm to leave my room and get lunch. Of course this was the case during finals, but (I think) has happened a little more often than people have realised over the past three years, just because I’ve been so ill and so much has been going on. During finals themselves, this sometimes turned into proper panic attacks, when my chest hurt and it would become hard to breathe. Oddly enough though, my mind remained clear at these times, and it was more like observing what was going on with my body without being upset or scared, just hurting. When my chest hurt, I would be unable to sleep properly, sometimes for days in a row. One particularly terrible holiday, I became unable to leave the house even to go to the supermarket as I felt so sick. Even thinking became something I had to be careful about, since thinking about things that were bothering me would very quickly make me sick. Sometimes I become scared that, maybe I’m just being lazy, or that I’m being ridiculous, though I know I really am properly ill at these times and that it is just the anxiety talking.

For a perspective on depression that I really like, see here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/2013_05_01_archive.html


The Day-to-Day Routine Of An Unemployed Girl (Part 1)

Pff, there is no routine.


Job Seekers and Rhetoric

If this is an economic recovery, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

Being young and applying for jobs at the moment is incredibly difficult, regardless of how well-qualified you are or what experience you have: so many other people are looking for jobs too, and there is always someone better than you.

Actually, for me, just finding a job for which I can consider myself is a challenge. Most posts ask for a lot of experience in that field. It’s understandable, but it does make it hard when you are a recent graduate and from a low-income household and from a rural area, because there are few good opportunities around here, and I could never afford to take up internships in London or to travel abroad.

When you do find an entry level job, you immediately are up against absolutely everyone else who is in the same position as you. I recently applied for an admin role with a charity in London. Their work looked really interesting; the people looked really nice. Unfortunately, 819 other people felt the same way. I kid you not.

We all need experience to get a job, but we need a job to get experience.  And getting a job feels impossible when other older people, who do have experience, are also applying for those same posts.¹

However, if you listened to the press and the government, you’d believe this was our fault. We, so the rhetoric goes, are lazy scroungers. If we fail to get a job, if we end up taking out Job Seeker’s Allowance, then it is our fault. We have airs above our station and think that having a degree entitles us to walk into a good role at a workplace.²

The government says the hard-working taxpayer should not have to support people like me.³

Honestly, I have tried to get a job. Lots of times.  And I am still trying. I am applying for literally anything that I think I might have a shot at. This ranges from jobs in the departments back at Oxford, to Christmas jobs, to admin roles, even to a part-time secretarial position at a primary school (and there, neither the hours nor the pay were good). And I’m not on JSA: I still have some savings left, enough for a couple more months, and I want to avoid being subject to all the changes the government are talking about making for as long as possible.

I have good grades, have taken part in lots of extracurricular activities and people say my CV is looking fine.

It’s still not good enough.

This isn’t just happening to me, though I’m writing about my experience because it’s my life at the moment, I can best describe what it’s like. Very few people I know have jobs – at last count, it was 6 out of everyone I have spoken to, and this includes some of the most educated and capable people I have ever met.

I’m grateful for what support there is for the unemployed, because so many people in the world don’t get any help at all. But
seriously, all people like me could get at the moment is £8 a day.⁴ Does anybody really think that we would choose to keep ourselves in a situation like this, where food shopping would be a struggle? And do people really think we’d choose to have nothing to do all day? I do not like being unemployed. It feels like my life is on hold.

I’m not saying that the system of the last few years is right – I really don’t have enough accurate knowledge about it all. However, to me, this rhetoric is concerning. It’s like we’re back in the Victorian times, where people believed that the poor were to blame for the fact they were poor.⁵ Furthermore, the rhetoric that people are deliberately scamming the system to get rich off benefits isn’t even accurate: back in August, the DWP statistics showed that only 0.7% of total benefit expenditure was due to actual benefit fraud.⁶

To me, this rhetoric is dangerous. It doesn’t take into account people’s lives and ability to get jobs, what jobs that they
can accept and what work is available, and it targets those who are already in difficult places. A more subtle and balanced picture is needed. ⁷

¹ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nearly-a-million-under25s-still-unemployed-despite-growth-8935723.html

² See, for example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9095050/Iain-Duncan-Smith-its-better-to-be-a-shelf-stacker-than-a-job-snob.html

³ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24369514

⁴ For 16-24 year olds, JSA is £56.80 a week. It also assumes that people don’t get sanctioned and lose their JSA
payments altogether. See http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/08/sanctions-welfare-poverty and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24829866 and http://www.theguardian.com/society/the-northerner/2013/apr/18/benefits-cuts-welfare-jobseekers-allowance

⁵ Over 100 years ago, Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree examined poverty in London and York. They concluded that a lot of people were in desperate situations because of unemployment, underemployment or low wages, not because they were lazy. For more information on Booth and Rowntree, see the following: http://csiss.ncgia.ucsb.edu/classics/content/45/ and http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RErowntreeS.htm And for a neat little summary of their conclusions, see this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/history/liberal/motives_lib/revision/1/

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/may/13/welfare-fraud-error-universal-credit

⁷ See also, http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/02/language-people-poverty
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/29364  http://www.jrf.org.uk/topic/mis  http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/01/no-jobs-housing-young-people