The shame of being unemployed. Part 1

The follwoing piece is one I originally wrote intended for a website ained at blind people from the time before I decided that freelance writing was the way to go for me. However, I don’t think it ever got published and because it does contain some sound advice, I’ll put it up here. And although it’s written with a blind audience in mind, any sighted person can also find some advice here.

There’s hardly anything in life that’s more humiliating than becoming unemployed. And for a young professional woman like me, who is born blind, losing my job to a great extent also meant losing my pride, since it meant joining UK’s 80% of working aged blind people who don’t have a job for one reason or another.

Sadly, the average sighted John and Jane Doe’s perspective of a blind person is of somebody with a guide dog who has the supernatural ability to do everything a human can do including helping the poor blind person to get dressed in the morning. And we of course have carers cook, clean and feed our dogs. Or do the dogs to that too? Blind people are not able to hold down a job and now basket weaving and piano tuning and working on switchboards are out of fashion, what is there to do for them?

I could write a book about the questions I get both with regards to why I don’t have a dog, and who does my hair every morning, (I do that myself by the way, sssssshhhhhh) and about my employment. I won’t bore you with all of them, but I will include one story I found utterly hilarious. Old woman: “So do you stay at home with your parents then?” Me: “no madam, (I hate the word madam and reserve it for women I can’t stand) I am a journalist. “Old woman/madam: Oh, so you sit in the office and type and then somebody comes in to tell you a story?” It may be rude, but I burst out laughing because I got this video in my head of people queuing up at my desk to feed me readily researched stories for me to write down.

The point of this little anecdote was to illustrate just how embarrassing it would have been to say “No madam, I don’t live with my folks, but I am unemployed.” It would fit her expectations too well. She would have said something sympathetic and started talking about her friend’s sister’s husband’s cousin who died in 1864 who was blind too. And I would have nodded and smiled while doing my best to block her out and wondering if I had to stand her on the bus as well.

So how then, do you re-establish your sense of pride and belonging to something in the time you have to wait for a new job?

Live your dream: I know. Applying for work is BORING! So in between the countless cover letters and application forms, do something you’ve always wanted to do. The fact that you have chosen one career field, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you’ve wanted to do? Maybe you are an accountant, but always wanted to work with children. Or maybe you are a television producer with a secret passion for counselling.

Stop dreaming and start working voluntarily with children by for example becoming a scout or girl guide, write for a magazine. It doesn’t matter if it’s your local church magazine or your friend Joe’s blog. What matters are exposure and that you enjoy doing it. Become a counsellor with the Samaritans, a volunteer who visits disadvantaged people with the Red Cross, only your own imagination can stop you.

If you’d asked me to do any volunteering as a fresh graduate I would dismiss it immediately. I don’t get paid, so what’s the point? Plus, it’s probably boring. But volunteering can be quite fun, I have learned from experience. If you work for the right organizations, you can be involved in exciting travel, working abroad, making a change in someone’s life and last but not least, when that curious old madam prods into your life, you can honestly say “I’m working with children, elderly people, I’m a counsellor” etc. Only you know that your (salary is paid by the welfare system.

What are you waiting for? Start finding out how you can contribute to something you enjoy today and get that pride and sense of having a job that matters back.

In the next article I will give you tips on how to structure your day to give you some sense of purpose.

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