Newly unemployed out of sync as they adapt to routine change

Ten residents from around the region kept journals for The Washington Post about how their lives have changed since losing their jobs.
By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We woke up at a more normal time today, whatever normal is anymore . . . 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.

Vanessa Ennouini writes this on a Tuesday morning at her home in Sterling. Her hair is longer than she'd like because she no longer has money for a haircut. That's one of the subtle ways life has changed since she lost her job as an executive assistant at a shipping company in August. Shelves at her home, once lined with name-brand products, now reveal Target's house brand -- "which really is not that bad." Last month, for the first time, the 42-year-old stood outside Toys R Us at midnight on Thanksgiving, looking for bargains. "I always laughed at those folks that did that and swore I never would," she writes.

For three days, 10 men and women who recently lost their jobs kept journals for The Washington Post, documenting how their days and nights have changed. This is the first of three stories that will use these entries -- a raw, unfiltered view into what it feels like to face one of the toughest job markets in recent history -- to explore what happens to the mornings, afternoons and evenings of the suddenly jobless.

For many, morning is the time of day when the change of routine is most obvious, when long-standing habits slam into the emptiness of "How will I occupy the next eight hours?"

Getting dressed is a reminder of work clothes no longer worn. Sleeping late generates guilt, Ennouini writes:

If working, I would have been at work nearly two hours now, with all early e-mails taken care of. But now I sleep in late . . . . 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?

Keith Freihofer, 35, who until a few weeks ago worked as a manager for an environmental consultant, finds himself spending his morning coffee time with his 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.

Six years ago, Margarita Damián left Mexico with her 10-month-old son and made her way to Alexandria. She used to work at a day care but now cleans houses. Lately, there haven't been many. She is learning English but wrote her diary in Spanish.

I woke at 7 a.m. to get my son ready for school, which starts at 8. I drop him off, and I come back home. I find myself alone. I have to clean and eat something, even if it's only coffee, but it occurs to me that I can look for the newspaper and go through the employment section. There isn't anything, and what I do find requires a work permit and/or a driver's license and fluent English.

I go through my mail only to find the power bill that I was supposed to have paid the day before. It's $78.21. I don't know why, but right there, my worries begin about how to get the money, since I just paid the rent and I'm broke. I'm not hungry anymore, and I don't feel like having any coffee.

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