NPR dubbed it Economic Survivor’s Guilt. It’s that deep sense of guilt someone experiences when he or she still has a job, when friends or colleagues do not.
It’s not the same as surviving a major event, like the Holocaust or 9/11. After all, these people are still alive. They’re with us every day. They still shop at the grocery store, attend church, and eat at restaurants. They are caring for their children, playing with their dogs, planning trips.
Yet when I go to work every day, they have nowhere to go. When I expect a deposit into my bank account every two weeks, they’re hoping to hear from the unemployment office. As I juggle the demands of my boss and co-workers and my own agenda, they are scanning the classifieds and online listings for something that fits. When I complain about the hours or the stress or the unreasonable expectations, they are trying to fill their hours with meaningful things, struggling with their own identity. When I am wishing for a way out of the monotony of an 8 hour day, they are longing for the security of a steady income, instead of suppressing the rising anxiety with each week that passes.
True survivor’s guilt can result in major depression. Economic survivor’s guilt is marked by helplessness. How can I still be employed? I feel disloyal for staying with the company when it lets friends go. I feel unfairly favored for the field that I’m working in. I want to help, I want to bring jobs to our area and connect the unemployed around me into jobs that match their passions and skills, but I feel so powerless.
When I talk to them, I want to avoid discussions of work or money. I never know if it’s okay to ask them out for coffee, or lunch, or anything else that requires funds. I’m never sure if asking them about their situation is showing support, or unnecessarily bringing up painful topics. Now, I wonder if discussing my minor mental illness is significant compared to the challenges they face.
To all my unemployed friends- I love you, have faith, and stay strong. May God truly bless you.
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