Personal well-being

by richardhutton

When you’re unemployed, mental health can be an issue. For one thing, your life lacks purpose: you have no reason to get up in the morning. You have to bear with continually pressing anxieties such as money or food dissipating; you encounter an invisible wall of smugness, arrogance and rudeness from all comers, and you constantly have to smile politely and say ‘thanks anyway’. What psychiatrists term ‘depression’ sets in; or what people who are more sound of mind than psychiatrists may call ‘being unhappy, out of sorts, and faintly miserable about the things you have to bear with’.

For this, day-time television – while anodyne – may prove cathartic in its own unique way. Emerson once wrote ‘Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity is to genius the stern friend’. Emerson had not seen television; less still during the day (nor had he experienced the internet, and mired himself in sleazy depravity, for that matter. see ‘Blogs’ elsewhere).

When a pompous, sneerily-snarling television chat-show host berates an obnoxious guest who has at least had the decency to appear on his/her show and be humiliated in return for a small fee and a fleeting glance of fame, something within one’s heart may begin to stir. As the host is shouting ‘You have taken crack, you have taken smack, you run an organised crime syndicate – You’re seven years old! What are you doing with your life! Don’t you care about your parents? Don’t you care about your health? You are sick! You are worse than prostitution! You are worse than pimping! You are worse than paparazzi! You are evil! You are worse than Hitler!’ You may find – albeit fleetingly – that your life somehow seems to have relative merit, and a measure of value by contrast.

This can back-fire quite badly of course, and develop into a feeling of shame and remorse at taking satisfaction in such unseemliness. Such matters never hampered Phillip Larkin’s career, however, nor Virginia Woolf’s; and they only died miserable, self-pitying and bitter in the first instance; and by putting rocks into their pockets and walking into a river in the second. Take heart.

Looking on the bright side

In particular pinches of bleakness, a mood of fatalism can set in. A black dog can place its paws softly on your shoulders and clamp its maw around your neck. You may have moments of desperate questioning, such as ‘I’ve sent a hundred applications off; ninety-nine were ignored and I received one terse rejection letter. What’s the point? Really, what is the point?’ and so on and so forth. Some people may believe that this is a reasonable response to unreasonable circumstances – but no. Though I hate to say it, the problem does in fact lie with you: you’re simply not being positive enough. You’re not looking on the brightest side of things. Every cloud has a silver lining; or at least a highly polished and well-trodden one (not the foot-prints of Communism in this instance). When life gives you lemons, make Lemon curd. If it gives you oranges, you can avoid scurvy.

Consider the implications of the following:

You’ve filled out a 14 page application form that took the better part of two hours and you didn’t even get a rejection letter?
– Take heart. It’s a moral victory for you.

You’re running out of food and it’s a week until your next payment is due?
– Now’s the chance to be creative: see what you can knock together out of coffee grounds, stale porridge oats and mustard.

The electricity has been cut off?
– It’s a prime opportunity to rise to a challenge (this makes excellent material for your CV). People pay good money to rough it in national parks. You get the experience of coldness, dampness and disappointment for free – minus the overdraft penalty, and the liberty to walk away from your circumstances when you wish to.

Your Job Centre advisor gives you a patronising lecture implying that:

a) you’re out of work because you’re a crook.
b) You’re wasting their precious time which could after all be far better spent talking to their friends on the phone about dropping their children off at school that morning, if you hadn‘t so rudely interrupted them by attending a mandatory interview for which you were ten minutes early and they were ten minutes late.

– This is a good rehearsal for a first day at a new job. Especially if you’re young.

You’re falling into debt around Christmas time, you get an interview and it’s going well, and your optimism is waxing – until the interviewer reveals they haven’t actually read your CV by asking a question which invalidates your entire application when you have to reply in the negative?
– You’ve had a day out.

Your house has been repossessed?
– Well, this is providing work for bailiffs, and for the banks that employ them: it’s a boost for the economy, which – given prosperity – will see you back in work, and the proud owner of another mortgage, at another bank (or the same one, perhaps). The sleeping bag and thermos flask you need to buy will be good for the local supermarket. The small camp-fire stove will benefit the balance of payments at your local Army and Navy store. The green shoots of recovery spread their binding tendrils wide.

Why does the bright side seem like such a bleak landscape?