So you've lost your job. Or your spouse/friend/parent/sibling has. Ugh. How do you keep from losing your mind? First things first, says mental-health counselor Gail McCormick: Don't deny your feelings. It's normal to be angry, upset, anxious, and even to feel guilty. Listen to yourself, and think about the future only in the chunks you can handle: If a year seems overwhelming, think about a month, a week, a day. Establish routines so you're not floating. Take care of yourself. Don't isolate. Network. "Remind yourself that you're in good company," McCormick says. "You can't take this personally. It's not something that you created or you did wrong." The only thing you can control is your response.
Imagine a conversation with your descendants years from now. "Do you want to say 'I coped' or 'I gave up and lost hope'? Those are sort of our choices," McCormick says. They're not necessarily good or fair choices, she emphasizes: "It's not about positive thinking and just keeping your chin up, because real losses are happening and are going to continue to happen. It's about making the conscious decision that you will get through this, and you will come out somehow better no matter what happens." For low-fee therapy, contact Samaritan Center (www.pcscounseling.org), King County Family Services (www.family-services.org), or Low-Cost Therapy Associates (www.lowcosttherapy.org). The King County crisis hotline is 461-3222.
Do you have a couch? Okay, good. Walk over to the couch. What you're going to want to do first is bend at the waist—wait, wait, do you have a blanket? Do you have some snacks? Get some snacks. Doritos, maybe? Carrots? Smoothie? Lit'l Smokies? Okay, good. So bend about 45 degrees at the waist, then bend your knees and allow gravity to carry you backward. You will find yourself in a sitting position on the couch. Congratulations! You're now part of that coveted demographic: the reclining unemployed. What are you going to do now? A nap, perhaps? That'll eat up a couple of hours.
Okay, now that you're refreshed, you need to choose an activity. Television is best. If you choose the right television program, you can be immersed for months at a time. You could go to the video store, or if you have Netflix, there's tons of television already waiting for you in its "Watch Instantly" section. Quantum Leap? Check. The Office, both USA and UK versions? Check, check. Law and Order: SVU? Yup. Magnum P.I.? Columbo? That weird live-action version of The Tick? Uh-huh.
But what if your power has been cut off? Maybe it's time to light a candle and read the fuck out of a book! Sure, books are heavier than remote controls, but once you use up that initial investment of energy to carry the thing to your couch, you can sit in one place for hours—days!—at a time. And many books are nearly 50 percent less heavy than they used to be: A lot of great books from last year are available in paperback now, including Joseph O'Neill's Pen/Faulkner Award–winning novel about being foreign in America, Netherland; n+1 editor Keith Gessen's earnest, heartfelt debut novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men; or George Johnson's gorgeous The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, an addictive book with a rock-hard boner for science. Can't even afford a paperback? Get a goddamned library card, already!
Infectious mononucleosis, though technically a debilitating virus that can shut down your life for months, can actually be fairly convenient for the couch-owning unemployed person. First of all, it's the "kissing disease." You get it from making out with people. Score. Second of all, there's no treatment, which means you don't have to spend a bunch of money on medication. Double score. Thirdly, the number-one symptom of mono is sleepiness. The only thing you can do is go to sleep and forget about all your troubles for a month. You know how people are always yelling at you to "get a job," but maybe you just want to take a nap instead? With mono, if you don't take a nap, and if people discover that you're spending too much time awake, they will yell at you until you go to sleep! Unbelievable! It gets better. Mono also knocks out your appetite, so you don't have to spend money on food. And the only other rule is "do not drink alcohol." No booze? That saves you money and the hassle of melting into an unemployed alcoholic puddle. Oh, also, apparently sometimes mono inflames your liver and spleen and you turn yellow and you can't stop vomiting. But there's a downside to anything.
Get off the couch, you stoned fuck. When you got laid off, you promised yourself days of self-improvement and saving the world. Well, if you're financially stable enough that you don't have to stand in the breadline, you should at least hand out some fucking bread. Food Lifeline, a nonprofit based in Shoreline, delivers 18 million pounds of food and other stuff to food banks around Seattle. Demand for chow has gone up from 15 to 60 percent in the last year, says volunteer manager Karen Cat. For Christ's sake, help her: Call 545-6600. Then, when you go home to sleep, think of the saps who have no home to sleep in. At Rising Out of the Shadows (ROOTS), a shelter for young adults in the University District, they need volunteers in the evening and overnight. "An 18-year-old who loses a job and doesn't have safety nets—what do they do? They end up with us. We're a place to help them get back on their feet," says Candice Russell, volunteer coordinator, who wishes you would pick up your expensive cell phone to call her at 632-1635. And while you're calling, be grateful you're not in a hospital dying, like the stacks of people at Harborview. They need about 400 volunteers a year. "Volunteers don't come in contact with bodily fluids at all," promises resident volunteer supervisor Whitney Gould. Talk to him at 744-3547. There's a ton of other stuff you can do: Volunteer for the state Democrats, the city attorney's office, the writing center for kids 826 Seattle, Planned Parenthood, or any of the other lovely organizations staffed by lovely volunteers who are in your shoes. If you're single, chances are good you'll meet someone.
Anxious about keeping your job? Or have you already lost your job? At least you still have your legs. Forced to move to a smaller place? Half the population of Haiti lives in a tent. If you have not watched your starving family members being raped and murdered today, it is a good day! If you are not homeless with terminal cancer, party for you! Think Rwanda, Afghanistan, Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Try to breathe.