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Unemployment Diary: Sometimes I feel very isolated

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?

Give us 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.


Vanessa Ennouini says the one good thing that has come from being unemployed is the time she's been able to spend with her daughter, Victoria. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

Diary of Vanessa Ennouini, who worked as an executive assistant at a shipping association.

December 7

I have always worked in the administrative field, working my way up the ladder. My last position was Executive Assistant to a Managing Director of a non-profit shipping association, Wine and Spirits Shippers Association, located in Reston. In late June 2009, they announced that the operations part of the association had been sold to the sister company, located in Queens, N.Y. Following the transitional period, all operational personnel, plus a few others, including me, were to be terminated. The last day on the job was August 31st. I began my job search immediately after the announcement was made and have been looking ever since. I have yet to find a job.

The following is my story of what it is like to be unemployed and how my daily life has changed.

10.00 a.m.

Good morning, World!! I can’t believe its 10.00 a.m. and I have only just woke up. I should really be up by now with the day well underway. If working, I would have been at work nearly 2 hours now, with all early emails taken care of and working on the first project of the day. But now I sleep in late, at least this morning I do.

I have a mixture of guilt and non-guilt feelings. Guilty because I should be up and about by now, but then not guilty because, well, what really do I have to get up early for? Why not take the opportunity to rest? Once back at work, I will not be able to do this too often!!! Anyhow, I make a nice breakfast for the baby and myself. It is nice to be able to have breakfast with her. If working, she would eat breakfast at the daycare. The best thing about being home is that I get to do these nice things with my baby. We get to hang out, play, nap, and eat together. Being focused on work renders those important things to a somewhat secondary status and, at the end of the day, that is not a good quality of life factor.

12.00 noon

I need to go to Target for a few things. Thankfully, it is just a few minutes drive away, so I will not use up too much gas. I try to max out the gas these days. There is no more recreational driving like before. I do not drive to places that I do not need to go to like before. Now I have to be mindful of the gas tank. A fill up is about $25 and I need to max it out as much as possible. I make my purchase at Target. I cut coupons, like I always do, and today I saved $5.50 on 5 coupons. I buy the Target brand, which really is not that bad, but before, I would usually buy the national brand. I only buy what I really need, which is usually the basics, no impulse or extra buying for me!!!

I’m very worried about my health care and what will happen if I lose it. There is much debate these days about health care reform. I was able to continue my health care from my last employer, WSSA, thanks to the government stimulus subsidy benefit. Without that, I would not have been able to afford the full cost of the plan. As it is now, we had to drop the coverage for my husband, who now has no insurance (and he is the only one working). We could only afford to pay for the baby and myself. By gosh, I hope I find a job soon.

It may seem trivial, but I really need a haircut!!! I need to stay ‘interview ready,” meaning polished, professional and well dressed. I don’t have the money to spare for a haircut this week and have already put it off for a few weeks. Guess I’ll have to wait a little while longer.

5.00 p.m.

I’ve just finished my daily ritual of job hunting. There is not much posted today and I did not apply for any, but yesterday I was able to apply for 4 jobs, all good jobs, and close to home. Problem is, probably 100’s of others also applied. I have been looking for a job since late June, and laid off since August 31st. So far I have applied for hundreds of jobs, probably over 500. I have only had 3 interviews, which produced nothing. I believe employers are looking to pay rock bottom salaries and want “the whole package” for next to nothing. I have observed a 20-25% drop in salaries during this job hunt.

I have accepted that I will have to work for less if I want to work. I feel very cheated by the system. After all, I did everything I was supposed to do. I worked hard, stayed late, started early, paid my “dues," started at the bottom and worked my way up, took on more responsibility than what I was paid to do, went above and beyond and so on. Where did it get me? Unemployment. Thankfully, I still have my dignity in check and will not let this situation change me. Once employed, I will still do all of the things I used to do, simply because I know nothing else. I’m a worker, not a slacker. I need to stay positive, upbeat and put out positive energy. But sometimes it is really hard………

10.00 p.m.

This evening, I was able to spend some time online and checked out the USAJOBS website, one of my favorite job sites. I found a nice government job in Reston which closes today and managed to get the application in on time. I’m not really sure why I did not see it before, I am online checking nearly every day. Maybe this will be the job for me?

Mahfoud and I had a conversation about our apartment. Our lease is up at the end of January and we would really like to move to a cheaper apartment. We pay $1400 a month here, which is a lot for us right now. The apartments are old and really in need of major updating. There are many good deals out there and we would like to take advantage of them. The management here is not really interested in us staying. They offered us a small reduction in rent but nothing to get excited about. They would rather have overcrowded apartments filled with illegals that all pay a few hundred dollars each. That way they get their high rent for a sub-standard dwelling. Real folks would never pay the rent here for what is on offer. Hopefully we will get approved somewhere and can move on. But I do need a job……

December 8
8.00 a.m.

We woke up at a more normal time today, whatever normal is anymore. Had another nice breakfast with the baby. I really enjoy these moments. Mahfoud is taking a test this morning. He is trying to get the taxi cab license and needs to pass the exam first. Hopefully, this time he will pass and will finally get the license. His own job, at Dulles Airport, may be in jeopardy. New management are scheduled to take over in February and layoffs are a sure bet. He needs to get out of there and find something else before all hell breaks loose. Not sure what I am doing today. Will spend more time on the job search but do need to get the baby out today. It’s hard to go places when you have no money. I have to do things that are free. We walk at the mall a lot. When the weather was warmer, we could go out to walk and go to the park, but now it is colder and it’s not a good idea to have her outside for too long. It’s hard to visit friends, mainly because they are all working. Sometimes I feel very isolated.

10.30 a.m.

I’m about to start some more work on the job search. The baby is taking a nap and now is a good time. I have to do my job search work whilst Mahfoud is home, which is in the mornings or whilst she is sleeping. It’s hard to juggle constantly. But I have to do it or else I will never find a job. Hopefully, there are some new postings this morning.

1 p.m.

I’ve just finished a few hours job search work. I found a few good jobs and applied for them. I’ve been trying to get into the INOVA Health Care System for some time now and they had a suitable opening. The benefits are good, especially the medical, which is a big worry for me. I would rather take a cut in pay, just as long as the medical is good. I hope I am at least considered for it and not discarded into a pile of other applications. Sometimes I feel as though all this applying is simply a waste of time. It’s an accomplishment to just get a phone call. But I have to keep plugging away at this, just keep on plugging away.

Good news, Mahfoud passed the exam!!! This is his 4th attempt. They only give you 4 attempts and then you have to wait a year to try again. Now that he finally has his cab driver's license, it takes a big weight off the entire situation. Maybe he can take over some of my worry now?

I’ve emailed a realtor about finding another place to live. If we can reduce our rent, even by just a few hundred dollars a month, that would be a tremendous help. Time for lunch. I’m so grateful to be able to have lunch with my daughter!

6.00 p.m.

This afternoon, I went to check out a possible new apartment complex that we may wish to move to in January. They are very similar to what we have now and the pricing about the same. If you sign a lease really close to move-in date, you can get a better deal, which is what we are looking for. We need to spend less money on housing. I know it can be achieved if we look hard enough.

I also picked up a few things at the supermarket. Again, it was only staples, no luxuries. I only buy what I really need and do watch the prices. I will make necessary cutbacks if we are having a really bad week. One thing I will not cut back on is the baby’s food. I will rather go without myself to make sure she has everything she needs. I will do all in my power to make sure she has everything she needs to continue growing and be strong and healthy.

I do worry about the Holidays this year. Thankfully, my parents have sent money so that I can have presents under the tree for the baby. I also did something that I have never done before to save money. I actually lined up outside of Toys R Us, at midnight, on Thanksgiving evening, along with hundreds of other people, all looking for bargains. I always laughed at those folks that did that and swore I never would. But this year I did, and I did so to be able to buy the baby some nice things for Christmas.

Being able to spend more time with the baby is the only positive thing to come out of my being unemployed. Going to work every day, we get wrapped up in our goals and duties at work and all too often do not place the same emphasis on our home lives. Being home has made a huge impression on me. I would say that I actually work more being home than I do going out to work. It’s just different work. I am thankful for the opportunity to be home when the baby took her first steps and was able to walk confidently on her own. If I was working, I would have missed this all important milestone. I know, years from now, I will look back at this period of my life and be glad I was home when I was.

9.00 p.m.

Just finished getting the baby ready for bed. It’s strange, but when I am working, I arrive home from work too exhausted to enjoy things like bathing and getting her ready for bed. It was just another chore that needed to be done. Now it is more fun and we get to play and have fun. She really loves it and I know she is doing better because mommy is home.

December 10

10.00 a.m.

Up early again this morning. I enjoyed another lovely breakfast with the baby. Now I’m checking online for jobs before Mahfoud leaves for work. Not much posted so far, but I will check in again numerous times through the day.

I received some apartment listings back from our realtor friend. Yes, there are some really good deals out there, which are a good thing because we are struggling to pay our current rent of $1400. We are hoping for something in the $1100-1200 range. Hopefully we will find something we like but I really do need a job for this exercise to be a successful one.

Sometimes I wonder what more I can do to make the job search easier. I have tweaked my resume so many times, to beef it up, add more keywords, customize it more and so on. I am trying to get noticed and do not know what more I can do to make it happen. I really thought I would have something by now……I could always find work, but not this time. This time, it is really different.

1 p.m.

Logged on to check emails again and job postings again and I have some good news. I have applied for a Government job and have been notified that I have been found eligible and referred to the hiring agency. This is the first step, but at least I have some good news, which has energized me a little more. I need to be motivated more. Sometimes, I get so down when I have no positive feedback.

We have bills that are due soon and no money to pay them!!! It is a constant juggle to find the money to pay for everything. We have made a list of priorities and things like rent, food, electricity come first. Then everything else descends in the list as prioritized. I don’t like not being able to pay bills. It’s not like we are living large or above our means, but when you have to struggle to pay the electricity bill, you know something is wrong.

I need to find a job.

4.30 p.m.

The baby is taking a nap and I have logged on once again. Not much listed today. But I will keep on looking. I have no choice.

This experience has really changed me. I now know what it is like to not be able to provide for our basic needs. I feel very vulnerable and lonely. I know I have so much to offer an employer, but the constant rejection takes a toll on your self confidence. I am a positive, upbeat and energetic person. I take the lead on projects. I am proactive. I am a solid rock that an employer can count on to get the job done, on time and under budget. Yet, nobody wants me. I constantly remind myself, stay positive, stay positive, and above all, stay positive.

8.00 p.m.

I’m wondering what it must feel like to be able to go out to eat once in a while. We used to do this often but not any more. I can’t remember the last time we went out to dinner, it’s been that long. I don’t socialize anymore. I have no money to do anything and it is only embarrassing to be around others that can afford to do things. I cannot join in, so I avoid the situation by not socializing. It would make me feel more human to get back into the real world again.

I really do need to find a job.

By Theresa Vargas  | December 22, 2009; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Diaries, More on the story  
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Next: Unemployment Diary: Finally, quiet time for myself

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