Sunday, October 31, 2010

The scariest Halloween. Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010.

“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?” --Chuck Palahniuk

It was exactly two years ago today.

It was Halloween, a fun day at work. Most of the staff of our publication was in costume for our annual contest. (I was a black cat.) We were looking forward to the potluck and to the weekend. And then we got word that we were having an emergency company meeting.

What followed was surreal. A room full of ghosts, goblins, witches and worlocks was informed by management that after three years of record profits, our owners were now facing bankruptcy. A number of changes would be taking place at once: we would be losing our 401K match; there would be compulsory furloughs to lower our salaries, and almost half the staff – about 150 people – would lose their jobs. Trick or treat.

To be honest, the reality of the situation didn’t hit me right away. It was too big. I survived the first round of layoffs, which I knew I would; my position is not redundant. I went from doing the job of one person to doing the jobs of three. If anything, my position was even more secure. And we were able to survive that bankruptcy threat.

But as the weeks went on, and the US economy continued into freefall, things got scarier and scarier – and I got sicker and sicker.

Of course, I had been in a battle with anxiety and depression for many years; these were not new to me. But I had never faced this kind of stress before. Every week or so there was an article somewhere about how our industry – much like the automotive industry and the real estate industry – was failing, and every day at work people whispered in the halls about friends who had lost their jobs and homes.

Layoffs continued – always without notice. People would come to work in the morning to find their belongings in a brown cardboard box. And I began to feel like I was living on Death Row. Would my job and home be next? Would we be living out of our car?

As my anxiety spiked, I talked to my doctor about it. His answer was to drastically change my medication regimen – and then, in the worst timing imaginable, he was not able to schedule me for a follow-up appointment until the following spring. The new medications made me sick, and I had to quit taking them. I got sicker and sicker over the next few months. The rest, as they say, is history.

My counselor says there are many kinds of environmental anxiety, but financial anxiety is the worst. The loss of economic security, she says, can often impact a person’s mental health more than the death of a loved one. Although it will be at least two years before the data can be crunched and a firm connection proven, social scientists believe there has been an increase in suicides since Fall of 2008, when the Recession began. Unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy are all risk factors for suicide.

It’s not about materialism. The idea of losing all our belongings – our “stuff” – isn’t what scares me, or, I believe, most people. “Stuff” can be replaced. It’s the fear of what happens next – where will we sleep? How will we be kept safe? What will we do about medical care?

And now it’s two years later. The Recession, they say, is over – but they call it a “jobless recovery.” That, to me, is no recovery at all. And people are still scared to death.

It’s been the longest Halloween ever. Boo.

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