I have a friend, "Bob," who just got laid off from his high paying, high prestige job. He's not used to being without work---or without money. He's never had a problem with his sizable monthly nut; which is child support for his young daughter, monthly payments for his new home plus the home his ex-wife got after the divorce, or his newish motorcycle and relatively new SUV.
Bob is in his late 30's. He never thought he'd be out of work. The headline stories about the economy were other people's problems. His life was a financial fantasy; money was something he never needed to think about.
Bob didn't save much of his high salary. He quickly bought a new home after his divorce, purchased expensive electronics and furniture, got a pool table even though he didn't like pool. Money was to spend, there would always be more. Monthly payments? Pfffff---just pay 'em, no problem.
But now, Bob has crashed into the real world. No one is hiring in his field. No money is coming in. He's got enough for this month's expenses, but next month, he may actually have to choose between child support and his house payment. Suddenly, filling an empty gas tank is an issue.
We have been friends for years, and our relationship is based on teasing humor, full of clever putdowns that have always been funny. Until now. We were on the phone, talking about going to a movie, and he wanted to go in my car. I said something sarcastic about him not wanting to pay for gas, and he blew up. "When I was the one spending the money, everyone was my friend! Now that I'm out of a job, all of a sudden I don't have any friends. You don't even want to go to the movies if I don't drive," he shouted, and hung up.
I was stunned. What the hell? I called him back, not even knowing what to say. But as soon as he answered, it came to me. "Bob, I was just teasing about the mileage your car gets. I'm still your friend, I always will be. You're just sensitive because of your job, I bet you're taking everything personally and having fights with a lot of people, aren't you?"
There was silence. Then, probably because we were on the phone and not facing each other, he began opening up about what was going on in his head.
The weeks of fruitlessly trying to find work, of having no job, of realizing he no longer had money to spend---it was all making him feel less of a man. He felt that other people all knew of his situation and were feeling sorry for him or contemptuous. He didn't mean to blow up at me, one of his closest friends. But it finally made him realize how sensitive he had become.
We talked for a long time, the first time he had actually addressed his complicated feelings. There was shame, frustration, fear that bordered on panic, doubts creeping in about himself and his abilities, and a strange conviction that people knew of his situation and were dismissive towards him because of it, though he knew that part wasn't really true. He was nervous, tense and short tempered. He had been having blowups and arguments with friends.
He'd been ignoring these feelings. But now he realized he was still reacting to them. He radiated them, a 'bad vibe' that would have worked like a 'don't hire' sign to any prospective employer. Bob has never been a self-reflective kind person, but now he realized he had to deal with his feelings as well as his situation, or his life truly would spiral out of control.
There are hundreds of thousands of people out there exactly like my friend Bob; people who have lost their work and their income and are ashamed, embarrassed and frightened. Media and government has addressed fixing the tangible effects of the housing and stock markets, but no one seems to be addressing the emotional effects. We are shocked by the number of mass shootings going on, cops and families and students, but no one is addressing the mental strain on a land of people who went from booming opportunity to a limited future. This is something we have to address.
Whether pop psychiatrists start publicly analyzing it, whether scientists start performing studies, we have to begin talking about the mental strain being felt by so many Americans. People have to know they aren't the only ones with these feelings. People have to know what to do when a friend or loved one is acting grumpy or depressed.
Yes, it's the economy, but it's our nation's mental health as well.
Wina Sturgeon, Editor