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Unemployment Diary: The whole day feels monotonous

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.


Photo courtesy of Keith Freihofer.

Diary of Keith Freihofer, who was working as an environmental consulting project manager up until a few weeks ago.


It’s 10 a.m. and I’m having a cup of coffee at home with the dog and cat. They are not very good conversationalists; it seems rather one-sided. I do miss the daily interaction with co-workers as well as the set schedule. If I were at work right now, I would probably be answering calls and e-mails from clients as well as preparing monitoring reports.

What to do today… I picked out a couple jobs to apply for on Craigslist last night, so I’ll take care of those today. I just checked the weather, and what was supposed to be a warm rainy day is now going to be a warm sunny day. Warm is relative, but can’t complain about 50+ degrees in December. Looks like I can defer some indoor tasks and get some yard work done that I would otherwise be stuck doing on the upcoming cold weekend.

It’s 5 p.m. and I had a very productive day outdoors. The temperature was 52 degrees; I trimmed the hedges, cleaned up the backyard, and waxed my truck. One of those days that sitting in the office, you wish you could be outside, but now I can say I wouldn’t give up the paycheck for it! Spent the time thinking about two tasks I’ve got to do that I’ve never done before: sign up with the unemployment benefit office and get added to my wife’s health insurance policy. The health insurance will cost ~$190 per month, ouch. Off to work on resume…

10 p.m. Cold front coming in. Weather supposed to drop into mid 20’s in next 24 hours. By flashlight, I winterized the outdoor hose spigots and picked the last of our tomato crop (3 dozen cherry tomatoes, in December!) I need to collect seeds from the tomatoes for planting in the Spring. Which made me think about the mortgage: If I don’t find a decent paying job, we may not still be living here… We have a few months of expenses saved up. But what if I’m still unemployed in April, do we sell the house or do I sell my car to make a few more payments? At what point do I settle for a lesser paying job and use the savings to make up the difference? Mid-January sounds about right…


10 a.m. Made myself eggs for breakfast. Can’t remember the last time I did that on a weekday. Typical workday breakfast was a quick bowl of cereal. The dog doesn’t seem to mind my being home, she is sleeping the day away as she would if I were at work. Time to get to “work” on my current job, looking at job postings on the internet.

5 p.m. Getting cabin fever! Need a change of scenery. Maybe tomorrow I will spend some time in the local coffee shop or head back to the computer lab at the Alexandria Joblink office. I definitely miss the personal interaction with coworkers.

10 p.m. Had time to make soup from scratch for dinner. Found another position on Craigslist to apply for. Surprisingly, I find myself a bit more relaxed in the evenings than when I was employed. I was often guilty of “taking work home” in that it was always on my mind and I found it difficult to unwind in the evenings.


10 a.m. Today is workday 12 without a job. Feels strange as I used to have 16 vacation days a year, yet I don’t feel like I’ve been on vacation for the past couple weeks. I need to buckle down today and flood some companies with my resume so I can clear my mind for the weekend. No response yet from any of the positions I’ve applied to, however I have received three unsolicited interview requests for commission-only sales positions!? Maybe I’ll pick up an early edition Sunday paper today to check the employment section so I don’t have to do that Sunday.

5 p.m. I need to start scheduling my days. Whereas my weekdays used to consist of morning, work, and the evenings, they are now just one long block of time. Without specific schedule boundaries, the whole day feels monotonous. I am finding myself starved for human interaction and need a change of scenery. I need to schedule some time each day to be out of the house and spend at least two hours in a coffee shop, library, or at the Alexandria Joblink office.

10 p.m. My wife and I scheduled tomorrow afternoon to discuss the financial impacts of only having her income. This will be a tough conversation. After looking on the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) website today, I estimate the take home payment for my unemployment benefit will be approximately 1/3 of my previous take home income. Deduct another ~$190 for health benefits through my wife’s job (I haven’t heard yet what my Cobra option will cost) and things don’t look good at all. We’ll be paying a big portion of the mortgage every month from our savings, which we can’t do for very long. If I don’t find a job in the next 6 weeks, I will have to actively pursue a career change beginning mid-January and simply look for something that pays more than the unemployment benefits.

By Theresa Vargas  | December 23, 2009; 12:27 PM ET
Categories:  Diaries, More on the story  
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Next: Unemployment Diary: My days are no easier

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