By June, though, I was panicking. The savings had dwindled at an alarming rate. I had about enough to keep me going for another month, and then, frankly, I was screwed. I was lying awake with my mind going, as minds do at night, to the worst-case scenarios. People called me a “lady of leisure”, as though I were swanning off to day spas and lunching on champagne with my friends rather than fretting about whether I'll be able to pay the mortgage, and avoiding hassling phone calls from the credit card company (who, incidentally, ignored every letter I wrote to them regarding a managed payment plan while I was unemployed, choosing instead to bully me – thanks, Nationwide, for increasing my stress level tenfold).
I'd been unemployed before so none of this was uncharted territory. I'd also ended up suffering from depression and anxiety disorder, though, so I knew the signs to watch out for, and to be frank, there were days when it took a huge mental effort to fight off the black dogs, especially as time went on.
The unemployed are somewhat demonised by the current government – as though we're all happy to live high off the hog on our massively generous Jobseekers' Allowance. (have you ever tried living on £67.50 a week, when you have a mortgage and bills? Don't bother. I'll tell you now – you can't. Even if you're one of the great ignored: someone who isn't a family but just a single person, trying to make it on her own.) Well, believe me, I'd rather be working.
Being unemployed, for me, meant social isolation. I could go days without talking to anyone. When I am in social situations, I've noticed that I find them much more difficult and a little bit scary – it seems that social skills need to be exercised like muscles, or they atrophy.
Not that I've sat around doing sod-all for three months. I've already written about the volunteering work I did, which was hugely rewarding. I painted the spare room and the kitchen. I started this blog.
I even stopped smoking. Family members reading this, who live a long way away, may be surprised to hear that in the past 10 years or so I've become a heavy smoker, smoking 30–40 cigarettes a day. I added up how much I was spending on them, and that wheezing cough, to my list of worries, and decided it was time to kick it. It's been difficult, and I'd be lying if I said I don't miss smoking sometimes, but it's an achievement I'm happy to add to my list of stuff I did while unemployed.
I didn't tick off everything I listed in my “To Do” list – the front door still needs painting; the garden's still a tangled jungle of weeds – but I'm proud of the things I did manage to cross off.
I did everything I could to keep busy and keep my chin up – although as the savings have dwindled and the rejections from employers multiplied, that's become increasingly difficult.
But I'm also excited. I'm going to be a useful member of society again! I won't have that embarrassing moment when people ask me what I do and I have to say “nothing”!
I hope I don't repeat what I did on the first day at one of my jobs, when I got stuck in an underground car park and then in a hallway, and couldn't get out because of the intricate security system. I hope I don't delete the entire home page of the website, the way I did once when trying to get to know the new content management system at a new job. I hope I don't make a prat of myself, generally, and I hope the job is as exciting and enjoyable as I thought it would be when I applied.
That “first day” feeling we all remember from school never goes away. But after three months fallow, I'm ready to start breaking ground again. Wish me luck!