I Don’t Know How Much Waiting There’s Left in Me to Do

Illustration: Jim Cooke, Gizmodo
Illustration: Jim Cooke, Gizmodo

Have you been laid off or furloughed? Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Faeqa Wilde, restaurant industry, Kansas

My mum died in December, right before all of this started happening. I’ve been struggling with my mental health ever since. I lost access to a therapist I was seeing, who was the first one in a while I’ve made progress with, and I also lost my job [in mid-March]. I worked at a bakery/café, and with everything being restricted at the time, the establishment had to downsize.

That’s around the same time shit got crazy and people were mass shopping and filing for unemployment. The phone lines to the unemployment centre were constantly busy every hour of every day. I could never get through to anyone. I sent two emails to two different addresses. After about a week, I got a response from one of the emails, and I responded to it and didn’t hear back. Shortly after I got laid off, the company ended up permanently closing all stores within the metro area.

On May 4, I finally got through to someone, but as of today, my account status states that “payment is pending upon determination.” I called to inquire about this, and the gal I spoke to stated that a determination on my unemployment would take 8-10 weeks due to the massive workload they have to sort through. I didn’t ask at the time, but like a determination for what? I knew it was out of her hands, and that someone above her rank was in charge of approving benefits and shit. I didn’t know what to say honestly. “OK, thank you,” was all I could say. I was just awestruck.I don’t understand why it’s been this difficult to get immediate assistance from my state government. My former manager became unemployed two weeks ago, and he’s going to get his first unemployment payment tomorrow. The system is flawed. If I wasn’t living with family right now, I’d probably be homeless. How are people doing this, surviving? I can’t wait a potential 8-12 weeks for a decision.

I don’t believe we’ve been locked down for long enough. My state started reopening slowly the beginning of this month. I’m around children most of the time. I’m not trying to catch something and bring it back to everyone. All I’ve been doing is waiting because I understand that all these agencies are backed up with huge workloads. I don’t know how much waiting there’s left in me to do. The only person who has my back at this point is myself.

Since we’ve last spoken, I found out that my claim for unemployment benefits was denied. I’m low-key salty because I’ve been working since I was 19 years old. I’ve definitely accumulated enough work quarters or whatever it’s called.

I also got a job! Yay. I started today actually.

Anonymous, auto industry engineer, Arizona

Financially, I’ll be ok. I’m a somewhat frugal person with savings and investments, as is my partner. However, our beloved kitten just started treatment for an otherwise terminal disease and the treatment is ~$US8,000 ($12,133) all said and done. That treatment cost is much harder to swallow now that I’ve been laid off. I know many would put the cat to sleep without a second thought, but he’s young and responding extremely well to treatment. By all accounts he should have another 18 healthy years after this, so we’re committed to seeing the treatment through.

People tend to think engineers have it made looking for work. I absolutely can’t deny that I’ve got it easier than most, but I can tell you that there are some unique cultural issues: for example, it feels as though the “half-life” of an engineer on the market is incredibly short. Because of the cultural stereotype of engineers always having plenty of work, if you’re an engineer who has been without work much longer than a couple months, there is a perception that you must not be any good. Interviews turn really quickly to interrogations about what you’ve spent the last months doing and why you’ve struggled to find work.

I’ve also learned that there are two different kinds of “entry-level” engineering positions. There are ones with almost no details that are intended for fresh graduates, and then there are more detailed postings intended for existing professionals trying to make lateral career moves. Those ones ask for 5+ years of experience. So where is my 2ish years of experience supposed to go? I get thrown out of the first pile because I’m not fresh out of school and I get thrown out of the second pile because I don’t have enough experience. So I just apply to everything. They say “no’s are free”, right? Only if you don’t count the emotional cost, I suppose.

OI saw a firm post two new positions- a Senior Principal Mechanical Engineer and an Entry-Level Associate Mechanical Engineer. They both asked for 5+ years experience! The “entry-level” position demanded years of experience in a specific (and uncommon) CAD program on top of structural analysis experience, vendor relationship experience, and leadership experience. The principle position rambled about vague leadership responsibilities, a “strong resolve to work independently,” and requested “some CAD knowledge.” I applied to both. I received word within a week that I was no longer being considered for the Entry-Level position even though I checked every one of their annoyingly specific boxes. I’m still in the pool for the Principal Engineer position, though! It’s a goddamn mystery sometimes.

I’ve also been having a hell of a time stuck at home. There is so much pressure to be productive and engage in self-improvement and hobbies. It seems like it should be so easy and others on social media make it look easy. I don’t know what to think other than to blame myself or think myself lazy. By all accounts, I should have lost 23 kg and remodeled my kitchen by now. Instead, I have trouble just getting out of bed.

Anonymous, app developer, Arizona

I have certainly been one of the lucky few whose financials have not been greatly affected by the pandemic. I work at a true startup (less than 50 people), making it feel that much more ironic that we are able to weather these times. Although the work can be done from home, I would say that it can certainly be a double-edged sword for some people, who may see it as opportunity to accomplish other daily tasks.

That being said, the real changes have come in the form of my daily life. From the beginning of 2019, I began dating a woman I’d met on vacation in Mexico in December of the year prior. It was a whirlwind meeting, and we knew we had to keep talking beyond this chance encounter. The only problem was that she lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, over 1500 miles (or nearly 2500 km for you northerners) away!

So, we spent 2019 travelling — either back and forth from Phoenix to Vancouver, or elsewhere in the US, and had every intent of continuing that pattern in 2020. We had multiple flights, concert and festival tickets, plans of all sorts already booked. Then the rumours began swirling about possible border closures. Do I drop everything and take the next flight to Canada, knowing full well that there’s a strong possibility of me being stuck there for months? What about my job? My house? My pets? Could she come here? (The answer to that being a resounding “not gonna happen, eh.” Quick shout out to the US healthcare system for driving that decision).

In the end we both reluctantly decided it was for the best if we just stay put in our respective homes, in our respective countries. I haven’t seen her since January, and earlier this week it was announced that the border would remain closed for at least another 30 days. We are still going strong, doing our best to communicate in any and every form available. Video chats, phone calls, text messages, movie nights, letters sprayed with perfume, anything to bide the time and keep that sense of human connection that surely everyone worldwide must be missing at the moment.

It goes without saying that it’s been difficult. Some days are better than others, and some days you just can’t get out of bed. In all honesty, this experience has endowed in me a sense of luck and a great deal of gratitude. I feel lucky that I’m able to continue my work and continue to survive in increasingly difficult times to do so. I am grateful for the support system I always knew I had, but who have shown up in flying colours. The last few months have been a challenge mentally, emotionally, really in every way, but it has also given me a first-hand account of what resilience looks like.

Dom, marketing, New York

My fiancé and I moved in together a week before quarantine began. Both of us are fortunately still employed, so financially we’re doing ok. Speaking for the both of us, we’re sick of working from home with the constant threat of unemployment looming over.

As an employee for the local Chamber of Commerce, I’m worried for our local businesses. While we’ve been able to help many of our businesses stay educated and obtain financial assistance of some sort, our influence only extends so far. In far too many cases, I’ve had to simply tell people to hang in there and wish them luck. I’m a problem solver, and it kills me that I don’t have the answers people are looking for.

As a citizen, I’m seeing so many people in my community declare the pandemic as being “over,” “overblown,” or some sort of “hoax.” I saw it this Memorial Day weekend, where family members held barbecues with compromised people in attendance. It scares me because I know that this will result in another uptick of cases, delaying restoration efforts even further. Not to mention I don’t want to see the people that I love get sick. In so many ways, this is a complete shit show.

Personally, I’m just ready for this fucking thing to be over. We’ve had to reschedule our wedding to next summer, and who knows if this will even be over by then. We’ve barely left our apartment in months. We’ve both quickly realised that time is our most valuable commodity, and we’re losing it fast.

I miss hugs, going out to our favourite restaurants, the smell of popcorn at the movie theatre, singing songs in a crowded arena, not worrying about whether or not touching a doorknob will kill me. I’ll never take any of that for granted again.

If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.