UBC Day 2: Standing By, All Hands on Deck

When I began this challenge, I told myself that I wouldn’t discuss Covid-19 and its effects on me or the impact that it has made around the world. I like to dwell more on the positive, but I also realize that since this is my blog, it is important to me that I am honest and authentic. With that said, please take care of you. If you don’t want to read about this, don’t worry. I’ll probably have something a little lighter tomorrow.

Spring is springing in Washington state. When it isn’t deciding to hail, rain, or suddenly give a rage-filled thunderous boom, the sun is shining, and the birds are singing a joyful tune. The outside looks so normal, so calm, so safe. Yet, yesterday I did something that I honestly had never considered.

I filed for unemployment. I’m on standby at my job and this was a step that needed to happen, but I felt this knot of anxiety in my stomach. Technically, I’m still employed by the company but it feels like clinging to a ledge by one hand while the rock slips slowly.

It took a very long time for me to finally have the confidence in myself to look for consistent work. I tackled inaccessibility of software in a previous job, the great drug test mix-up of 2014, learned how to be assertive and speak my needs. When I started working consistently, someone happily stated, “Welcome to the 25%.” Which sounded congratulatory at the time but now strikes me as very elitist and puts a sour taste in my mouth. This number is indicative of the amount of blind people who are employed, which lets us know that there is an astounding 75% unemployment rate, although I’ve never been certain of just where those statistics are being drawn.

When I realized that this would be a step I would have to take, I felt a wrenching twist of fear. After all, the message of being in the 25% club is very clear, ‘Now that you’re here, you better stay here or you’ll go back to the standard of living that you used to have and won’t be able to handle it.” After all, this is what all those job search boot camps, mock interviews, resume writing courses, job preparedness classes, and successful blind mentors lay the foundation for, right? The foundation of finding that job because it’s the most important thing that you will ever do and it’s how you make something out of yourself and change your circumstances.

Well, I did it. I changed my circumstances and learned a lot of things that they never teach you in job preparedness classes, such as how to have the hard conversations, how to stand up for yourself and when to pick my battles for a better day, how to negotiate your wage, how to know your worth as an employee, navigating through aggressions both micro and macro, dealing with issues of equity, how to be a part of a team, recognizing what my true strengths are, how to build around my weaknesses, and whose food dish to always gravitate toward at the company potluck. Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming anyone. Knowing how to get the job is important and there are some lessons that you can only learn by experience. I do, however, believe that there is an entire scope of getting that job that no one tells you until you find out for yourself.

All the lessons I have learned have been crucial, but none of them prepared me for the emotional gut punch of filling out a form for unemployment benefits.

It was a daunting task with so many different screens, a lot of questions, a system that timed out if I took too long, all while I sat at the keyboard trying to tell myself that I just needed to get through this part.

What I do have going for me, besides a rampant case of anxiety, is a ruthless kind of practicality that tells me that it doesn’t matter what my feelings are in the moment, I just have to do the damn thing. It may not be the most emotionally healthy way of thinking, but it keeps me from getting stuck and remaining stagnant.

Yet, I know that I am not alone. Many, many of my friends are going through the exact same thing. They are feeling scared and worried because this is new waters that none of us thought we’d be navigating. We’re all in this together. People that I don’t know are dealing with the impacts that rightfully flattening the curve is having on the economy and infrastructures. People from all walks of life, different careers, different paths are all struggling with this. There are people who do not have this option, or maybe their benefits haven’t come in for a while because the system is very backed up. I try to keep all of this in mind.

But none of those things invalidate the fact that I feel scared and sick inside. I can’t help but feel that I have somehow failed since I obviously didn’t choose a career where I would be considered essential.

Because as a blind person, once you’re in the 25%, you’re not ever supposed to leave. You’re supposed to always strive for better, want for more, and be certain to keep yourself in the vocational Hotel california.

My coping mechanisms are to remember what I have, allow myself to feel that unreality, and then just keep on moving. Sometimes that moving is being gentle with myself. Sometimes, that moving means telling myself to just suck it up and push through. But all the time, I am not moving alone. I have an amazing circle around me and eventually, this too shall pass.

I’m good at that. I’m a coping, internalizing machine. But wow, is this hard.

And that’s okay. I can handle it. If I can’t, I know I’ve got my people. I just wish I didn’t feel like such a jumbled mess.

Guess what else I have? I have a warm fuzzy feeling because this is my second post in this challenge, so go me!

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