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Unemployment Diary: Finally, quiet time for myself

This week, The Post's Theresa Vargas presents a series of stories about what unemployed people do now that they've lost the structure that a job lends daily life. Theresa asked about a dozen people who had recently lost their jobs to keep diaries detailing how they fill the suddenly empty hours in their days.

We'd like to continue building this portrait of how unemployment changes life by asking those of you who have lost work to give us a sense of the changing flow and tempo of your days and evenings. What do you do now that you haven't done in the past? What can you no longer do? How have your contacts with friends, family, colleagues changed? What's better, what's worse?

You can give us the details on the comment boards below, or make an Unemployment Diary video of your own and post it to us via YouTube.

Meanwhile, we're posting here all week the full diaries of those people who helped us out with the reporting of Theresa's stories.


Sheila Gill, who worked for DC schools, stands outside the office of District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, protesting layoffs. Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post

Sheila Gill worked for D.C. public schools for 32 years. Most recently, she was a counselor at McKinley Technology High School.

December 8

Dear Journal,

It’s 9 a.m. I’m reading the Washington Post newspaper and the Washington Examiner online. After reading the news articles, I responded to e-mails and telephone messages, as well. I had a cup of coffee and ate a bowl of cereal.

It’s noon…. I worked out on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walked 2 miles. I had a light lunch and balanced my checkbook. In addition, I spoke on the telephone with another Washington Teachers Union Executive Board member for 20 minutes. As an Executive Board member, I reread and reviewed the bylaws of the WTU to have a complete understanding of the duties/responsibilities. I ate lunch by 2:00 p.m.

It’s 5 p.m. ….. I have been at my son’s home since 4:00. Noah is 7 weeks old and I was asked to watch him. My daughter-in-law was at a workshop and my son worked late. Noah and I bonded very well together and I enjoyed the quality time of caring for my only grandson.

I arrived home by 10 p.m. and had a late dinner.
It’s bedtime…..I checked my emails and watched the news before going to bed.

December 9

Dear Journal,

It’s 9 a.m….. I’m reading the Washington Post newspaper and the Washington Examiner online. After reading the news articles, I responded to e-mails and telephone messages. I also cut out coupons to take with me to the shopping mall. Of course, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and ate a bowl of cereal.

It’s noon….. I worked out on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walked 2 miles. I had a light lunch. After lunch, I washed and organized my clothes. A riffed colleague called and we spoke on the telephone for about 30 minutes. I read my mail, too.

It’s 5 p.m…..I have been shopping for a Christmas tree since 4 p.m. at Target, Lowe’s and Macy’s. Macy’s had a fantastic sale with Christmas items on sale for 50%. I purchased an artificial Christmas tree and picked up a few Christmas gifts, too. I arrived home by 7:30.

It’s dinnertime….I enjoyed dinner with my husband and watched TV with him. I’m very excited about my new Christmas tree and assembled it in the basement.

It’s bedtime….I read my emails, watched the news and retired for the evening.

December 10

Dear Journal,

It’s 9 a.m….. I’m reading the Washington Post newspaper and the Washington Examiner online. After reading the news articles, I responded to e-mails and telephone messages. I had my usual cup of coffee and ate a bowl of cereal. I worked out on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walked 2 miles at 10:30.

It’s noon…I had a hair appointment at the hair salon. While I was under the dryer, I had the opportunity to read some of my novel. It is always a special treat to fellowship with my hair stylist. She is a great person who enjoys communicating with her clients very well.

I had a meeting with my RIF’d colleagues at 3:30 at a colleague's home in Silver Spring. We, the Wrongfully Terminated DCPS Employees, are committed to fight for our rights and are pursuing legal assistance based on unfair labor practices. The meeting was very informative as well as successful.

It’s 5 p.m. …..I’m working diligently with RIF’d colleagues through collaboration, sharing and planning. The meeting was over by 9:00 p.m.

It’s dinnertime….I had a very late dinner around 9:45 p.m. Also, I started decorating the Christmas tree until 11:30 p.m. The tree looks wonderful with the beautiful decorative ornaments and I am in the Christmas spirit.

It’s bedtime….and I had a full day. I’ll read my mail on tomorrow.

What new things am I doing at this time that I never did before? Fortunately, I’m able to have quiet time to advocate for myself. As a professional school counselor/educator for 32 years in DCPS, I have always advocated for my students, parents and others. Now is the time for me to stand up for my civil rights.

What would I be doing during these hours if I were still at work? As a school counselor, I had an open door policy. First thing in the morning, I normally would speak with colleagues, parents, students and collaborate with other school counselors. In addition, I always helped and provided counseling services with students to deal with problems before they worsen. Normally, I would have scheduled appointments/conferences with teachers, parents and other resource community individuals, if needed. The school counselor is a vital member of the education team. However, I would assist students with writing recommendations, evaluating their strengths, skills and abilities. In various cases, the students need guidance in making concrete and compounded decisions.

Where do I go and who do I meet, talk to, or avoid because of my employment status? I have attained an attorney and I am constantly doing research to support my case. Fortunately, I am working diligently with other Rif’d employees and I am soliciting support from other organizations in the District such as churches, non-profit organizations, and other D.C. government agencies. Due to my unemployment status, I do not avoid any contacts with individuals. I’m confident that justice will prevail after the devastation and humiliation of the RIF process.

How has my financial life changed because of budget constraints? I have always practiced to be a smart shopper. Therefore, my financial life has changed and I am more disciplined in following my budget completely.

How has my social life changed? Fortunately, I have a very supportive family, friends and community network. Numerous family, friends and church members have expressed words of encouragement through small gifts, letters, emails and special invites. For example, one of my college classmates treated me to a fashion show. Another close friend mailed me a gift card from Ruby Tuesdays and invited me to have lunch on her. Also, I received a beautiful letter of encouragement and appreciation from a former student who stated, “But as long as you know you helped millions of kids, you’ll always be blessed. I’m very sorry 2 hear about what happened, I must say you were the sweetest, most caring counselor I have ever had.”

What’s the hardest part of the day for me? I would probably say after lunch until 3:00 p.m.

Are there any activities/hobbies/passions that I am now pursuing because I have time that I didn’t before? Slowly but surely, I am pursuing to document and to write how to advocate for self and others during difficult times. It is my intent to increase my hobby of leisure reading of novels and visiting the public library more often. My passion is and will always be committing in helping students and parents who are in need. At the end of the day, the students are the victims who suffered after the RIF on October 2, 2009.

By Theresa Vargas  | December 23, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Diaries, More on the story  
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Next: Pick of the Day: The cause of happiness

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