Guest Post: #1170: Battling Furlough Depression (Advice for keeping it together when you unwillingly have too much free time on your hands)

This letter came in last week, and a lovely blog reader who will now be known as “The Girl Sparky” helpfully volunteered to tackle the “sudden unemployment” part of the question. Her answer is below the letter/the fold.

Here is my (Jennifer, Captain Awkward’s) one additional suggestion to her beautiful post, dear Fed Up Fed:

Consider emailing or calling your coworkers and getting them together for a pot-luck of some kind. 

Back in 2003, when I was in the first year of my graduate program, our financial aid did not come in until Week 13 of a fifteen-week semester. I lived in the same city as the school and already had housing/friends/a romantic partner in Chicago, but a lot of the students relocated here without that and had to live for several months and undertake an expensive art form without knowing when the money would come through and without having anyone local to turn to. In addition to pulling out all the 2-for-1 Subway coupons in the Chicago Reader every week and being Sandwich Buddies between classes, another thing the group did was to gather informally at the apartment of one of us who had a big, centrally-located place (with no furniture in it)(but that’s another story)(good for dance parties!). People would bring “a food” or “a drink” with them. Cheap vodka worked well, we’d mix it with the seemingly unlimited supply of V-8 that this student could “borrow” from his Aunt’s nearby storage room and a little hot sauce (“So we don’t get scurvy!” was the joke-that-was-not-really-a-joke), the cooks among us would turn whatever random groceries were on offer into a few hot dishes – spaghetti, big pots of ramen dressed up with a little green onion, baked mac & cheese with frozen broccoli in – and we’d sit on milk crates and dance and tell stories and Not Starve for one more week.

Some of those people are lifelong friends, and some are not, but if anybody from that cohort knocked on my door right now and needed a hot meal and a couch and a shower and some V-8 (to avoid scurvy!), I would open the door, if only because of what we shared that year, because of how we got each other through it.

If what you’re feeling right now is LONELY, Fed Up Fed? Maybe your coworkers are, too, and maybe there is some warmth and light to be found in a couple of those magical cheap-ass giant pizzas from Aldi in the living room and something silly on TV and a no-obligation jar by the door where if people have a few $ they throw it in and together you take care of each other a little, and you take turns making sure the jar goes to the food pantry or to the coworker who needs a little help to get through the week.

That might not be possible or comfortable for you, so I offer it as a suggestion only, but if you’ve been demurring out of pride or worry about crossing those professional lines, I’d just say: We need each other. It’s okay to need each other.

I’ll let The Letter Writer (The Fed Up Fed) and The Girl Sparky take it from here.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her/hers) am one of the hundreds of thousands of government workers who is currently furloughed. I am very fortunate to be in a place financially where I can survive missing/late paychecks, and I am also very fortunate to know that I will be getting back pay, unlike contractors (which include all custodial and food service staff). I have a supportive partner, and several friends who are also furloughed. In many ways, I’m very well situated right now.

But, this is taking a major toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing. I do not do well with unstructured time, and my ideal level of social interaction is having people around me making some noise, and having short interactions throughout the day (ie: working in an office). I also am happiest when working on discrete, manageable tasks that build to a larger goal that has a purpose I support. The shutdown has destroyed this for me.

I’ve scheduled activities and left the house every day. I’ve taken advantage of the many free things my city has to offer. I’ve signed up for volunteer opportunities that use the skills I use at work (still waiting to be called back about those). But I’m finding myself in tears, feeling utterly miserable, and knowing that ideal solution–going back to work–is entirely out of my hands (I don’t even have a Member of Congress to call!). I love my job, so I’m not ready to give it up yet and look for another one. But I want to stop being miserable. And people telling me how much they’d enjoy time off and a long-term vacation isn’t making it easier.

Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

Thanks,
Fed Up Fed

Dear Fed Up Fed,

First of all, I’m so sorry you are going through this. It’s messed up and it shouldn’t be happening.

I see a few different things going on in your letter and I want to tease them out from one another.

The first, and in some ways the easiest and most straightforward thing to deal with, is that you’ve just had a lot of unstructured time dumped in your lap – far more than you’re used to dealing with. In my industry, construction, it’s fairly common for us to be laid off at the end of a job and perhaps have to wait a few months for another job to come along. So I’ve gone through this experience myself and it can be surprisingly unpleasant and stressful! The more you’re used to having your time regimented and controlled by someone else who is Not You, the harder it is to figure out what the flibberty-gibbet to do with yourself when you suddenly have to make every single decision about how to fill every single minute of every single day.

Have you ever gone to an unfamiliar grocery store that’s a lot bigger than your usual one and been confronted with an aisle of toothpaste that seems to stretch on to eternity, with more brands and varieties of toothpaste than you ever imagined existed? It makes buying toothpaste suddenly fraught! This is true even if you know exactly what toothpaste you want.

But if you’re used to being told what toothpaste to buy, and now you’re not even sure what
toothpaste you, Fed Up Fed, personally want – that makes it ten times harder.

The bottom line is, capitalism trains us so hard and so thoroughly to obey our bosses and to suppress not only our ability but our DESIRE to make our own decisions about what to do with our time, that it can be really hard to deal when suddenly we don’t have a boss anymore. This isn’t our fault! It’s something that a lot of people struggle with.

Additionally, for people who are prone to depression, having a lot of unstructured time makes it a lot easier to slide into a depressive state. Been there, done that!

So the struggle is real. And you are already doing a lot of the right things to muddle through. For the benefit of those reading along, let’s make a quick list:

  • Keep to a consistent sleeping and waking schedule
  • Make sure you eat proper food and maintain your normal grooming/showering/etc habits
  • Get regular exercise
  • Make a list of tasks you’d like to accomplish, and work on at least one thing from the list every day. This list can be far-ranging – anything from a home improvement or repair project you’d like to tackle, to a new skill you’d like to learn. The important thing is that it’s (a) something you want and/or need to do (b) something you probably wouldn’t have as much time to focus on if you were doing your usual job (c) something that will make you feel like you accomplished something.
  • Things that have gone on my list in the past include: learning to draw, sorting through all my piles of clothes to pick which ones need to be thrown away, practicing guitar for 30 minutes per day, replacing a cracked toilet seat, watching a whole series of youtube physics lectures about electromagnetism, and finally finishing Baldur’s Gate. I will leave it to the readers to guess which ones I did and did not do. I definitely did not do all of them. (I got pretty far in Baldur’s Gate though and will definitely finish it one of these days.)
  • Be really gentle and forgiving with yourself if you don’t actually get to everything on your list. The list is meant to help you. The list is not your boss. It is not going to fire you or even judge you. YOU get to decide what you want to do. The list is a tool to help you decide. That’s all. I promise it’s okay.

That brings us to the second thing I see going on in your letter which is… bigger and more complicated.

Okay, so there’s one thing about USian culture that is frankly kind of screwed up, and that’s how we are encouraged to strongly associate our personal identity as humans with whatever it is we do for a living.

A lot of us know that’s BS. Even those of us who know that’s BS fall into the trap because all the cultural pressure in that arena is so very strong. If you’ll forgive my saying so, this is especially true in one particular area of the country that lacks a Congressional representative. What you “do” matters SO MUCH there. It determines your place in the social pecking order, it determines who will be friends with you, or even who will talk to you, and how seriously they will take you – so it’s natural that you would feel a little unmoored right now, when you’re not actually allowed to DO what you “do.”

Part of the solution involves reorienting yourself a bit, and that’s hard. And maybe it’s not something you feel like doing right now. That would be understandable. So you can take or leave this part of the advice (just like the rest of it, honestly) but you may find it worth thinking about anyway.

You are not your job! Your job is not you! What if you took this opportunity while you are involuntarily separated from your job to think about who YOU are, Fed Up Fed, when you’re not being a fed at all? Who would you be if you never went back to that job? What’s most important to you? You feel a strong need to work toward a larger goal that you believe in – that’s so cool! What do you want to build? If YOU got to be in charge of you for the rest of your life, and if you had a whole team of people to work alongside you to shape the reality you thought we should live in… what would that reality look like?

These are big questions. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. It’s okay to figure out one or two steps you can take toward working out those answers. Maybe this is something you can talk about with your other furloughed friends.

If you do have a sense of what the reality you want to build looks like, the best thing you can do is find other people who are working on that and build relationships with them – and figure out how the skills and experience you have fit in with what they are working on.

Whew, okay, that was a lot. Thing Three is pretty simple again, and that is that people who are telling you how grateful THEY would be for a “vacation” are being jerks. YOU get to decide that you are grateful for an involuntary “vacation” if you want to. But other people who are not you, who haven’t just had their lives upended against their will, who aren’t being used as pawns in a nakedly racist authoritarian political power grab, don’t get to tell you that you should feel good about it.

And I would hazard a guess that some of the people saying this stuff to you are saying it because they support that nakedly racist authoritarian political power grab; and they may be saying it because they have bought in to the right-wing propaganda that says your job is worthless and shouldn’t exist.

They’re saying it because they want to deny that the human suffering caused by that nakedly racist authoritarian power grab is real. That it matters. Well, I am here to tell you what you already know, which is that is IS real and it DOES matter. YOU matter.

You don’t have to let people saying that kind of thing to your face hide behind a veneer of civility. They’re full of steaming donkey manure AND they’re being rude to you.

You also don’t have to argue with them: the Carolyn Hax “Wow” could be deployed to good effect here.

Or you could be more direct: “That’s a really disrespectful thing to say.”

Or you could be EVEN MORE direct: “If you want time off that bad, nobody’s stopping you from quitting your job and getting yourself killed trying to sail your sailboat around the world, Chad.”

But you don’t have to be that direct. “Wow” is fine. Or you can say nothing at all and just file them away as jerks in your head. It sucks that they don’t respect you, but better they let you know that so you can use the information for good decision making in future.

All the best to you, Fed Up Fed. I have every confidence that you’ll figure out how to wrest control of your life back into your hands – and the good news is that when you do, you’ll find people can’t take it away from you again easily.

-The Girl Sparky

The Girl Sparky (she/her/hers) is an electrician and a union member. When not working for money to eat food and sleep inside, she reads lots of books, plays lots of video games, and works together with her fellow union members and with fellow members of her local DSA chapter to build a better world.

 

64 comments
  1. isabeausuro said:

    > And people telling me how much they’d enjoy time off and a long-term vacation isn’t making it easier.

    From my perspective as a Disabled Person, I get similar things. It must be nice to watch Netflix / stay in bed / etc. all day!

    Here’s the thing: CHOOSING to do something fun, is fun. HAVING to do it, having no other option, can be freaking miserable. It’s the difference between intentionally snuggling up in bed on a lazy weekend morning, and being stuck in bed because you have the flu. Between treating yourself to an occasional smoothie, and having to drink all your meals while your mouth heals from dental surgery. Between a planned, requested vacation with the certainty of a job when the time’s up, and forced time off for who knows how long when there are bills to pay and brainweasels to smother.

    Anyway, Jedi hugs, dear LW. And Sparky is right: they don’t want it except in theory, otherwise they’d just quit.

    (I also have Opinions on society defining people only by job and profit, but that’s babble for another time.)

    • Epazote said:

      Yes!!! There were months when I would spend every day playing video games because it was the only thing that kept my brain from trying to kill me. Do you know what is fun? Playing video games. Do you know what is substantially less fun? Playing video games all day, every day, because if you do otherwise, your brain will try to kill you! Sigh.

      • Private Jane said:

        So many thanks for putting that into words. My favourite “keeps me alive by giving my brain something else to work on than my untimely demise” activity is needlework, and if I had a dollar for every time someone has given me grief about having spent yet another day on yet another crocheted blanket or knitted shawl or whatever, I would never again run out of yarn money. They never seem to understand that the choice I am facing is not “crochet or do the dishes” but “crochet and live, or try to do the dishes and die”. That thread I’m working with? That’s the thread my life hangs from!

        • Epazote said:

          Yes! Stuff with my hands helps me, too! It’s like…if it’s not kept properly occupied, my brain goes into a screensaver, a screensaver of trying to kill me. I need to be kept supplied with activities that will override that screensaver.

      • Thanks for verbalizing this – some days, I work until 2am, or I play WoW all day, and I can’t even say I really -enjoy- it, but the alternative is doing something regrettable, and I’ve never been able to explain that to anyone- it’s not that I want to work all day and night, or I want to play video games, but I want to do something stupid even less.

        • StarGazer said:

          I can definitively say MMO’s saved my life. By the time I discovered them I’d been homebound going on 6 years. The companionship that came from actually being able to connect to other people kept me from breaking. Sadly, I’m now sick enough that even THAT takes more energy than I have to spend.

      • StarGazer said:

        This was totally me playing Final Fantasy 7 and 8. They were the only two games I had because we couldn’t afford them. I loved those games but after a year or so I wanted to physically break the discs.

    • StarGazer said:

      This. So much this. So many people seem to think being disabled, have a chronic health problem and are homebound is a breeze, but it’s more like being in prison. You don’t feel well (physically or mentally), repetitive stuff gets boring REALLY fast, you’re lonely as hell and society makes you feel like a leech for not “contributing” to society (despite the fact not all contributions are not monetary). While the internet has helped somewhat with the loneliness factor, it doesn’t replace in person, physical relationships, be they romantic or platonic. On top of being sick, I also have chronic pain and hurt 24/7/365* and it’s so incredibly hurtful when people act or outright say I’m lucky. I would give anything to be able to trade places with a healthy, able-bodied person with an absolutely boring office job. Anything.

      *I wrote a huge paragraph on how pain patients are being negatively impacted- punished, really- because of the war on opioids, but I think that would derail this too much.

  2. Kristin said:

    Oh, LW, you have my sympathies. I’m a federal contractor, and while I can still work (with pay) for at least a few more weeks, your situation is staring me in the face. Based on my own experiences around here, I’m going to be a bit more charitable to the “I wish I had a vacation like that!” folks than Girl Sparky was. I think a lot of people just Don’t Get It until they’re in this position. To them, it’s just time off of work, and don’t we all want more of that? They’re not thinking about the stress of it. A lot of them aren’t thinking of the politics. They might even think they’re being *helpful* by putting a positive spin on it. Basically, a lot of them don’t realize they’re being insensitive. Some possible responses to someone like that: “I’d rather be getting paid.” “I don’t like being a pawn in political BS.” “My job is important to me.” “I’d rather life just go back to normal.” Make them realize this isn’t fun and games. I figure a lot of people will back off at that point.

    Best of luck, LW. We’ll all get through this together.

    • Yeah, or they’re doing that thing where you try to be encouraging and just want to cheer someone up, so you wind up saying something that’s really kind of dismissive of the fact that their current situation sucks. Like the stupid awkward platitudes people say to the bereaved after someone dies to try to cheer them up instead of just acknowledging their sadness. And if you get the impression that someone is saying these stupid things out of that kind of encouragement motivation, I think it’s still one hundred percent fine to call them out with those same kinds of responses.

      • lgmerriman said:

        YES. Generally, I think there are a lot of cues to know whether you’re talking to a Pollyanna or a Trump supporter, but while the former isn’t as dangerous, they’re still really friggin’ annoying. I know people like that, and I’ve realized I have to just not say any negative things in front of them. Like, any comeback, whether it’s direct or sassy, seems to bounce right off ’em, so there’s just no point. Although, that said, maybe some Pollyanna types are better listeners, and will actually knock it off if you confront them. It hasn’t necessarily been my experience, but I also didn’t try very long.

        • I think a lot of the Pollyanna thing is about *them* not wanting to feel bad, and if that can be accomplished by you hiding your pain that’s fine. But yeah, I think most of them don’t *think* about it that way and would be kind of horrified to have that pointed out.

    • Amy said:

      I agree that this is probably what a lot of people who say this stuff are thinking. Either that, or that they’re helping by refocusing the conversation on the positives of the situation. People are unfortunately pretty good at being insensitive to others’ situations (and I mean that collectively, myself included; all of us manage to put our foot in our mouths sometimes by speaking without considering others’ perspectives).

      I’ve found a lot of success in calling people on it when they pull this kind of thing. “I know extra free time sounds like a treat when you’re busy, but I’m going without pay and I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to work, so it doesn’t really feel like vacation” is an option. So is “It’s not really helpful to dismiss how stressful this situation is” or “My bills don’t stop just because work is closed” or “I don’t think you meant that to sound how it came off, do you want to try again?”

  3. sherrybell99 said:

    Hi Fed up Fed, just want to say as a fellow fed (though one whose agency is still funded) I’m so sorry. I too feel bad for the contractors and the feds who don’t have savings to get them through this time. I don’t really have any advise, but please know that your fellow feds who are funded feel your pain, you are not alone!

  4. Lizards80 said:

    Another big problem with a furlough is that it could end at any moment, which precludes taking on a new job or a longer term project. Which makes me even grumpier at Chad and his sailboat-sailing-round-the-world ideas.

    • Emma9 said:

      This is a very good point. The unpredictability of it sucks, and surely makes those affected feel even more powerless. Not only is it harder to make decisions about their time, it’s harder to make decisions about money, especially for people who are precarious or downright desperate – the game of ‘which bills can I wait to pay’ and similar can have fucking monumental stakes.

  5. Hepcat said:

    This is highly relevant to my interests, considering I was let go from my job. I decided to think of it as semi-retirement (though I don’t yet have any part-time work yet, so not so much with the semi), but I am struggling with how I use my time. Though I’ve strategized all kinds of places to be when I don’t have a place I need to be, I find myself hanging out in my pajamas all day, watching democracy crumble in real time via Twitter. I have a couple of big projects, and small things, but the lure of hanging out under one cat or another is really perilous. A chunk is depression and/or anxiety, but I need to find a way out of those and get my home unfucked, among other things.

    Good luck, LW. I hope you’re back to work soon.

    • Jennifer said:

      A few ideas to consider – It’s not easy, but if possible, get up and get dressed in the morning and go somewhere out of the house. A walk around the block, to the library, a coffee shop, somewhere. Can you volunteer at the library, a food bank, local school? When I was fired from a job and unemployed for a while, it wa so tempting to stay in my pjs all day and be depressed, and I did that for a while. But it didn’t help me deal with the situation. As for catching up on Twitter, would allowing one hour – setting an alarm and then that’s it for the day – be an option?

      You mentioned unfucking your home, have you seen the website unfuckyourhabitat.com? Rachel Hoffman talks about cleaning when depressed and she helped put things in perspective for me. My best cleaning ever was doing a 45 minute cleaning session followed by one episode of The Good Place on Netflix while knitting. I watched two seasons in a weekend in between cleaning. I got so much cleaning done and made some excellent progress on the blanket. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyday, but we were having people over the next weekend and it needed to get done.

      Good luck and sending you happy thoughts. It’s not easy, but you can do it!

      • Hepcat said:

        Jennifer, these are great ideas. A few of them I said I was gonna do (I have a notebook where I put opening days/times of local cafes and libraries, but never really went there), but your cleaning/treat schedule is a great one. I do know Unfuck Your Habitat, and love it, but again haven’t implemented it much.

        For reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, I endured 2 years of belittling and negging at my job, culminating in 4 months of probation, which was like the previous 2 years on hyperdrive (and which was never really intended for me to succeed at). It’s taken 3 months to get the confidence to feel I could kick ass at an interview (which I recently did, yay). Just making my way through that shitstorm and its followup has been exhausting. I appreciate your encouragement so much!

        • Temporary Null said:

          Being trapped in the poor performance review cycle sucks. I’ve gone through it as have many of my friends, and many months of post-job funk are common.

          I’m glad you’re starting to build up your confidence again. It’s hard to recover and you deserve all the hugs and praise for the hard work you’ve done.

          • Hepcat said:

            Thanks so much! Any bits of praise are highly treasured right now.

        • CAnemone said:

          I second Temporary Null! At the beginning of my career, I had a terrible supervisor who was much more intent on shaming me for mistakes than helping me to improve (at one-on-ones where she would go over detailed, multi-page-long lists of everything I had done wrong, and then question my intelligence/suitability for the profession when I asked for clarification about anything), and whose goalposts for earning her approval were ever-changing. Of course, the longer this went on, the worse job I did because I came to believe that I was terrible at the job and that this was in inherent character flaw that was shameful, but not fixable.

          It took a long time out of that situation to believe literally every other boss and colleague who told me I was good at my job, and to stop dreading receiving feedback (to the level of having panic attacks).

          All that to say, you DO deserve all the hugs and praise (and smarties -I’m a big fan of mental health smarties), and congratulations on getting out!!

          • Hepcat said:

            Ouch! I can’t imagine starting out with such a steady stream of toxic messages. It’s one thing to plan not to take them to heart but entirely another to keep them from worming their way in and feeding brain weasels. I once had a boss I was friends with, with whom I did have a great conversation about how she worded feedback, and it helped. But latest boss was touchy and would instantly snap back, so I never tried with her.

            I’m glad you finally drowned out those hateful messages and learned to thrive!

            Thanks so much for the kind words—they mean a lot.

    • DangerMouse said:

      Hello! I had a contract end at my job and am now consulting Very Part Time because I knew we’d be picking up and moving within a year or so. It took a month to figure out what to do with myself, and I’m not sure I’m great at it, but I am pretty good at not having bad feelings about it. I end up doing a blend of things, including: 1) I exercise quite a bit. I walk at least an hour per day, I try to do yoga videos a few times per week, and I go to the gym a few times per week. 2) I read–both online (e.g., Ask A Manager) and offline (e-books from the library! yay!). This can be combined with #1 to walk to a park and read if the weather is nice. 3) I never worry about the most efficient way to do anything. I can go to three grocery stores in a week to get different things–who cares? (Assumes negligible cost to get there, see also: walking.) 4) I cook a lot of things from scratch. I am on a special diet for a medical condition and I have never felt this good because I can actually do it correctly. 5) I got my habitat relatively unfucked. 6) I make a calendar with daily goals to check off to stay organized and on track (e.g., “apply for two jobs, wash sheets and towels, do 20 minutes of yoga”).

      I’d like to be motivated enough to get better at the foreign language that I don’t recall well or learn to code or something, but I haven’t gotten to those things yet. I’d also like to volunteer, but other factors have complicated that for now.

      Mostly, having a little bit of work to do–if you can consult or freelance–helps quiet the part of the brain that makes you think You Must Be Productive and helps your CV if you need it. If you have any art, do it. The hardest part is what was mentioned above–realizing that You Are Not What You Do. Best of luck getting back on track!

  6. Jerseys mom said:

    If you watch tv, it may help to limit your intake of broadcast news. It can be conflicting and upsetting. If you need to watch the news, limit it to a specific time/station.

    Best of luck and I hope you’re feeling better soon.

  7. Zoey said:

    LW, I don’t have any advice but just want to offer up some solidarity. What you’re dealing with? It really sucks. I’m also a federal employee, and I’m currently working but, like you, I’m not getting paid. My situation? It ALSO sucks. And I (and many of my coworkers) have also dealt with MANY people saying some variation of, “what’s the big deal, you’ll get paid eventually,” or, “Well, but you’ll be fine, *I* am only concerned about x, y, and z person.” And that is a great sentiment to tweet or tell your mom over dinner and maybe not so great to tell the person who is about to miss their second pay check in a row. Just know that you aren’t wrong or dumb, that this situation is stressful not least of all because it’s been triggered due to a man-baby’s arbitrary racist tantrum, and that the people who won’t let you just feel for feelings are wrong.

    • Hepcat said:

      Hard to believe how ridiculous people can be. When I went through the TSA checkpoint just after it started, I said, “I know this is kind of a rough time right now. Thanks for what you do.” And when I had a really helpful person on the phone when I signed up for the ACA, I told her “You’ve been fantastic, and I hope you’re getting paid.” Acknowledge and offer good wishes, that’s my philosophy.

  8. Sins & Needles said:

    LW:

    When I was laid off from my last job, I grieved. I grieved for how I had thought of myself, the idea of myself. It took me a while to figure out who I was outside the definitions of my job. And it was tough to figure out how to fill my day. I never did rejoin the workforce (for a number of reasons which aren’t relevant), so here’s what I do:

    -I get up at a set time most mornings. I also have a couple of mornings where I sleep in.
    -I stop working at 7 pm. There is always more to do, around the house, for other people. I have to set a time to stop.
    -I make a list. Sometimes, my list has one item on it, and then everything else is a bonus round, and I write down all of the things I do during the day, so I can look back on it, because otherwise I think, “I didn’t do anything!”
    -I set my timer for 15 minutes, if there’s something I need to tackle but I don’t wanna, and then I do my 15 minutes and I’m done.
    -Sometimes, I set the timer for a break from work.
    -I remind myself that I’m not playing misery poker, so… my struggle is real, even if other people have worse or different struggles.
    -I exercise
    -I eat regular, nutritious meals
    -I take medicine to manage my medical conditions
    -I read the newspaper in the morning, and that’s it for when I take in the news, otherwise I stress all day.

    Here are some specific tasks I find/have found helpful:

    -Check out cookbooks from the library or search online for a new recipe to try. Make the recipe. Make notes on the recipe. Rate the recipe on a scale of 1 – 10. Copy the recipes I want to keep onto index cards. File the cards. Consider laminating the cards, so spills slide off. Actually laminate the cards.
    -Fold all of my socks. Have a farewell service for the single socks. (Humour helps)
    -Shred papers. Deeply satisfying.
    -Hang up a picture. I can see what I’ve done, and it pleases me.
    -I make quilts. Complicated projects, which I break down into small tasks, and do the tasks until I have a quilt.

    And for people saying they wish they had time off? I really love the “Wow.” and letting the silence just sit there.

    Good luck!

  9. rrhood said:

    I work in an industry that is contract based and mainly freelancing so there is an unavoidable ebb and flow to the work. I can go weeks or months between jobs and to an extent you get used to it.

    In the sarlacc pit that was 2008 however, between being an assistant thing-I-do and senior thing-I-do I entered the terrible space of being considered “too experienced” to assist and “not experienced enough” to be offered senior jobs. I barely worked. I was someone who got a lot of happiness and my sense of self and self esteem from my work. The sense of powerlessness to change what was going on was really hard to deal with so I feel for you LW.

    At a practical level some useful stuff eventually came out of that time.

    I learnt that how I started my non-working days really mattered for me. Getting up early to water and tend to my garden then go for a walk up the nearby mountain meant feeling productive and helped my energy levels. I could see the garden change and grow which helped break through the sense of every day being the same. I could see that what I was doing made a difference, that I had an impact.

    I got into the habit of going to the public library and reading for hours each day. It’s one of the few spaces where there are enough people around but they’re not going to bug you. It’s also generally a warm, comfortable space. The reading was demanding enough to keep me stimulated where watching tv/ internet was /is too mind numbing and isolated. The internet for me can also come with a sense of avoidance and timeless-ness that contribute to feeling depressed and exhausted-without-doing-anything.

    I’m also wondering if you’re coming face to face with your anxieties without the buffers of the ways you normally manage it. Maybe ask yourself ‘what am I afraid of? – and see what comes up for you? For me naming the specific fear can help shift me modes.

    I’m also a big big fan of the CA guest post ‘Breaking the Low Mood Cycle’ post and recommend it for more practical advice.

    • storyranger said:

      Seconding going to a library! I’m the type of person who needs to leave the house at least once a day and can’t do anything productive at home, and libraries are a godsend because they don’t charge you for lingering. I’ve also found that using sites like mynoise.com to fake the background white noise provided by other people’s conversations can be great in a pinch if the four walls of your apartment are beginning to drive you mad. I’ve found doing colouring books really helpful when I’ve had forced downtime, because it requires a lot of concentration but not a lot of mental effort so I can listen to music or whatever when I do it but I don’t have enough bandwidth to worry.

    • I like your answer a lot. I think my main problem in the summers is that I stay in my house too long. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get myself up early when I’m not working, but I absolutely CAN get myself out for a walk everyday. I live right next to a nature preserve, for heavens sake! And, I can also get myself to a library every day for a few hours of reading. In fact, it was something I had been thinking about recently, that I’d like to do more reading. I just finished an extremely challenging book and feel very satisfied having finished it. What better time than the summer when there’s nothing to do?

      Except…….summer is both having Nothing and having Everything to do. Along with staying in my house too long, I also feel extremely restless because there is SO MANY THINGS I COULD/SHOULD BE DOING RIGHT NOW! But, as many writers have suggested, if I schedule out and time some of those “shoulds” every day, perhaps I can let go and relax for the rest of each day.

      I’m loving this post! Thanks for the question LW (although terribly sorry for the reason for the question) And thanks all for creative answers!

  10. M Dubz said:

    Hey OP. My boyfriend is in the same position as you! Two weeks after starting a Shiny New Job! I have no advice to offer, as I’ve been limited to making comforting noises while watching my boyfriend struggle with these same things, I just wanted to say that I see you, and how hard it is, and want to acknowledge how deeply it sucks.

  11. Kitty said:

    LW I feel your pain, my brainweasels don’t do well with unstructured time off either. I hope you can find something that helps you feel connected and meaningful. And I hope that this ludicrous furlough ends soon! (And that the Orange fuck-knuckle goes away forever)

  12. Hi, LW. I’m so angry for you. I have a lot to say about racist authoritarian power grabs, but I also have some to say about unstructured time, so I’ll stick with what might be helpful for you.

    I’m 100% with Girl Sparky about structuring your own time. Her list is awesome and I bet you could add all sorts of things to it that you’ve “been wanting to do, someday.” But I also wanted to combine it a little with the Captain’s addition. Do you have any also-furloughed coworkers that you would be happy to, say, start a book club or go on a regular morning run with? The hard part of structuring your own time, in my experience, is the accountability issue. Yes, be gentle with yourself and no, your guitar isn’t going to fire you if you skip your 30-minute practice one day, but also? If you’re like me you can have all the good intentions in the world and still spend months procrastinating on everything but racking up hours in Skyrim if you don’t at least have a Time-Structuring Buddy. For reference, I’m a grad student, and for a while me and a friend did this thing where we met usually once a week at a preappointed time and place to study/grade/class prep/etc. It was just a few hours a week, but it was also some of the most productive time either of us had, because instead of just “study Wednesday morning,” it was “Juliana and friend study together Wednesday morning,” and we both knew that if we blew it off we’d have to tell the other that we were blowing it off. And nothing bad happened if we did, but we were still more likely to not spend that extra hour in bed in the morning if we thought we’d have to explain it to another human being. Shame is a powerful thing: you can harness it and use it for good. 🙂 (And I still racked up hours in Skyrim so win-win).

  13. enigmaticblut said:

    I had an employment gap a few years ago. As others have said, I tried to structure my time. I’d always wanted to write a novel, so I set a word goal for myself, and tried to meet that every day. (Wrote the novel, realized I didn’t want to do the work of SELLING the novel, so that was a handy lesson!) Thankfully, it was summer-ish, so I had gardening and canning to do.

    I would say, if there’s a big (inexpensive maybe?) project you wanted to do, now is the time. Want to read classic literature? Learn a new language? Learn a craft or a cooking technique? There are a lot of things that seem too big to tackle when you have a 9-5, and that you can do for free. (If it’s a language, Duolingo is free and pretty great!) If you’re a reader, maybe set yourself a book goal and knock out a ton of them. Join a book club. Gather your fellow furloughed people and feed each other on the cheap. Visit Budget Bytes. Learn how to bake bread from scratch. Train for a couch to 5k. Whatever it is, just structure it into your day so you have a reliable routine and contact with other people.

  14. Sophie Hatter said:

    LW, I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. I relate to you very much in that I need structure to function, and you described that feeling so well. When I was unemployed I felt like this was a sort of moral failure that I couldn’t crank out job applications by the dozens because it was just me at my desk with no boss and no “discrete, manageable tasks” as you so well described. I just wanted to say that you’re not alone. Bookmarking this post for the next time I need something like this.

  15. octopodey said:

    I have a recent and weird perspective on this! I am very career focused and had just finished my doctoral degree and was still working in my previous career while interviewing for jobs that used my doctorate. I am someone who 100% needs to be busy all the time and needs to have a purpose. In October I sustained a serious injury that meant I couldn’t work for nearly 3 months. I also couldn’t drive or even really leave the house much, and for a while I was in so much pain I couldn’t have done anything anyway. But after a while I would have been well enough to have returned to an office job – but I work in healthcare, and there was no way I was well enough to return to my very physically active job. So I was going to occupation therapy and otherwise getting very bored and worried about the future of my career and becoming fairly depressed.

    So I made a daily “to-do list” on my phone, which I didn’t actually feel compelled to complete every day but which helped me remember what I wanted to work on. I knit a little every day, caught up on the pile of comics that had built up during grad school, practiced my Spanish, got an anti-SAD light and made sure to use it every day (I… do not remember the actual name of those things), did some career advancement things, moved my body a little, and made sure I drank enough water. I tried to make myself a schedule (I do this in the morning every day, this in the afternoon…) so there was still a rhythm to my day and I didn’t feel quite as at loose ends.

    I also reached out to my best friend and requested he check in with me every day or every day via text, so I’d get a hello or a picture of his baby or a meme, which helped me feel less isolated and alone. (It really helped to have someone else initiating it instead of me having to send messages each time.) If you’re having a hard time and feeling socially isolated maybe something like this could help?

    And I did mostly catch up on My Little Pony, because I’d gotten years behind and why not, right? It WASN’T a vacation, and it was terrible, but I thought I might as well do something nice for myself while I could.

    I hope you and everyone else who is being jerked around finds things that work for you, and that it ends soon. This shutdown stinks. I’m sorry.

  16. twistycsc said:

    Hi neighbor! I am in the same boat as you, for sure. I actually don’t find The Girl Sparky’s advice about reconsidering your entire purpose in life to be very helpful in this scenario. For me, at least, that’s way too big of a question to tackle while I’m just trying to avoid dying of boredom. We live in a town where many MANY people are defined by their jobs, and I think TGS’s suggestion is better suited to another time. I think that part of her response is would be better framed as finding something that can give you the same concrete things your job does. You like intermittent interaction and discrete tasks working towards a larger goal. Let’s think of a way to get that while being unemployed.

    I am going to the free knitting classes at fibre space a few days a week. Yes, it’s a 45-minute drive, but it’s something to do for several hours. I interact with people, but not too much, everyone is in my same boat as me or is very supportive, and I’m working on discrete things that support a larger goal. There’s a four-session class on fair isle knitting that starts tomorrow. I’m going! You should come too and have something new to do. It’s seriously been a huge help.

    Other things that I’ve done that have helped: going to the gym so I have people to interact with (and so I leave my condo). I drive my wife to work most mornings as a way to get my day started and so I can spend more time with her. I’ve tidied and cleaned our condo pretty thoroughly. I’ve been knitting as I binge Netflix. It’s kind of fun to sit down and say “okay, I’m going to watch all of Friends from College this morning” and actually do it. (I also binged Grace and Frankie and I’m planning on binging Killing Eve and You, plus I’m always watching Supernatural. Oh and Tidying Up is a huge inspiration to tidy. If you haven’t done your lifetime tidy I highly suggest that! I’d already started mine but I’ve gone through almost all my possessions again during this furlough.)

    I’m also considering adopting a kitten. As my wife pointed out, we’re never going to have more time to actually give the kitten proper attention.

    Oh, and I’ve been going to all my doctor’s appointments. And I’m getting a haircut.

    I also took a long weekend trip a few weeks ago. Just me, visiting friends. It was great to break up the time. I’m also considering a few one-day road trips like to New River Gorge Bridge and maybe even to Cincinnati to visit my favorite bar. (I like ambitious road trips.) You could drive to the beach one day!

    You might also try a puzzle. If I had sufficient table space——WAIT I just realized I can use my home desk! Jackpot. I’m totally going to do a puzzle this week.

    I hope this helps. I’m looking forward to seeing others’ suggestions too.

  17. hysteriasidesaddle said:

    As a freelancer who often goes from weeks of frantic work to swaths of unstructured time that my brain weasels like to romp in like an open meadow, co-working/project-ing helps me. If i decide I want to send some emails/write a thing/research a thing, it is infinitely easier to actually do that when another person is also working on something in the same room, and they can help with accountability. Perhaps there are project partners among your fellow furloughees?

    So sorry this is happening. ❤

  18. commanderlogic said:

    I’m so sorry, LW, that is simply the WORST. I co-sign Jen and Girl Sparky’s suggestions here as super excelletn.

    I just got off the funemployment train, and two things helped me keep structure in my days:
    1 – Lots and lots of things are “Work”
    2 – The Johnny Karate Five Karate Moves To Success

    Things that count as Work – Laundry, volunteering for a local cause, listening to my 5 year old’s 38,029th joke about farts, cleaning out a cabinet, shredding old paperwork, grocery shopping, finally taking some free online courses to re-up my certifications, working out, showering after working out, making a run to my donation site of choice

    If I can complete one “Work” shaped thing a day, I’m doing pretty good.

    As for #2, it’s stolen from Parks and Recreation, and for me it’s a way to identify things that can count as work, and also to make sure I’m not boring myself. The best days are days where I’ve done something from each category, but honestly, one thing is plenty.

    THE JOHNNY KARATE FIVE KARATE MOVES TO SUCCESS

    MAKE SOMETHING – pretty self explanatory. make a thing. dinner is a thing! a tidy closet is a thing! a macguyvered cat toy is a thing!

    LEARN SOMETHING – I mean. yeah. read a new book. watch a video about a thing.

    KARATE CHOP SOMETHING – I interpret this as “move around” or “be active” so a walk, a stretch, shovel snow (currently pretty damn relevant) – alternate interpretations are welcome!

    TRY SOMETHING NEW – This is different from learn something because you need to DO a thing. Go to a new place. Go to an old place and actively search for something new. Talk to a new person at an event you go to. Play a new game. Practice a new dance move.

    BE NICE TO SOMEONE – “someone” can also be YOU. But write a thank you note. Take a nap. Donate a favorite book to a little library.

    Good luck, and hope this ends soon!

    • Solo said:

      I LOVE THIS

  19. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. This is a terrible situation that I’ve seen my mom go through many times before. One thing that helped her keep her sanctity was prayer. “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7) It may seem old school, but it really helped her to keep it together being the only bread winner while raising two kids. We all have to come together and support one another during this difficult time.

  20. Slanted & Enchanted said:

    I think the one piece of this that doesn’t ring entirely true for me is the bit about — “we are encouraged to strongly associate our personal identity as humans with whatever it is we do for a living.”

    There’s no question this is true for most Americans. But, as a former Fed and a DC person with a lot of Fed friends, they chose to be Feds because they believe in the mission of the organization they’re working for. Their personality identities drove their desires to work in public service. They thought they could make a difference in the arts, or education, or diplomacy, or science, and they wanted the nationwide perspective that you get by working for the federal government. So they turned down more lucrative private sector jobs to be a Fed. It was a deliberate choice.

    “If you do have a sense of what the reality you want to build looks like, the best thing you can do is find other people who are working on that and build relationships with them – and figure out how the skills and experience you have fit in with what they are working on.”

    The government shutdown is such a betrayal because the Feds I know thought they’d already done that work, and this seemingly endless time away from work keeps them from their mission-driven jobs. Trust me, they are Feds because they want to make a difference. It’s not for the pay or for the benefits or the career track. It doesn’t just hurt financially, it hurts because they want to make a difference.

    • Jerseys mom said:

      YES!

      I work with FWS folks all the time. They could make significantly more in the private sector. They chose those jobs to make a difference.

      I agree with CA. Feds, have a coffee hour, or an afternoon get together with your coworkers. Maybe, even, if you feel comfortable with the idea, invite non-feds to these get togethers.

      I’m nearly 30 years into my career and know plenty of feds. I’ve sent a few cautious (private) calls to get together, to shoot the s!!t and let me buy them a drink, appetizers, etc.

      It can be a fine line, and I get it. But at least they have the power to make the decision as to what they want to do.

  21. This is such good advice, A Girl Sparky! Also, I am fortunate to have steady work right now but I felt SEEN when you described the Endless Toothpaste Aisle of Too Many Choices.

  22. Emma9 said:

    A couple of customers touched on the possibility of taking online classes, and I think that’s a great idea. Having something like that to do gives you structure and accountability, plus you can combine it with ‘go to a library/coffeeshop/etc to do your coursework where there are Background People’.

    Aside from that, I can’t think of anything practical that hasn’t already been said, but I’m sorry you’re going through this and hope things get better.

  23. Inca said:

    Jedi Hugs first. On the actual doing something to fill the time I recommend jigsaw puzzles. I’ve resisted for years, but it does give you a certain purpose, the task is clear, and you have noticeable progression. I enjoy it, much more than expected. Amend with a podcast or audiobook to your liking.

  24. Just one more note on the ‘vacation’ front — some of the people affected have the opportunity to use their vacation/PTO to help cover the gap. That means? They can’t schedule anything now because of money flow issues and uncertainty on re-start, and they’ve burned through all their vacation time for the year — and maybe even all their sick leave.

    So, they’re stressed out and stuck at home now. And if all goes well, they’ll be back at their job soon. With no vacation time for the year and possibly no sick leave. So, they’ll be stressed out and stuck at work, possibly sick for the next year. Waiting for Next year’s shut-down.

    Shutting down the government is a waste of government money, destroys local businesses (restaurants, dry cleaners, lawn/house people, uber, party planners, etc), and is a big old publicity stunt that impacts hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods. Many people went into the public sector, knowing it pays less than private sector, because it was SUPPOSED to be more stable. The last 5+ years? Not so much.

    Having House and President in opposite parties has led to some horrid tug of war with peoples lives.

  25. Temporary Null said:

    Here’s a trick I came up with for doing things during depressive episodes when nothing makes you feel better and existing is boring agony.

    My default behaviors were crying under a blanket or sleeping. If sleep wasn’t an option, I’d pick a thing to do and imagine how I’d feel if I did said thing and how I’d feel if I stayed under my blanket.

    The latter scenario was easy to imagine. I felt like crap, and crying under a blanket almost always leaves me feeling like crap. Some other activity might have some chance at improving my mood (like 30%) for an hour, so my choice was definitely be miserable, or probably be miserable. But if I went out and was still miserable, I could give myself permission to be miserable. I did the thing I’m supposed to do and my brain still sucked! I don’t like crying under a blanket but I tried exercising and that was no better.

  26. Lizzie said:

    “people telling me how much they’d enjoy time off and a long-term vacation isn’t making it easier.”

    I’m kind of an asshole so I don’t know if anyone should follow my example. But if they’re implying you’re ungrateful, I think it’s fair to snap back and imply that they’re lazy. Something like, “wow, we’re so different that way, because I actually *like* working!”

  27. Court librarian said:

    Another fed here, we will be paid Friday and then if there is still a shutdown we will start “rolling furloughs”. No details yet on what this means, and it is so hard to plan and budget with everything up in the air.

    Some work friends and I have made tentative plans to help each other paint one person’s living room, and to help clean out someone else’s garage. There are also plans for a road trip.

    I want to get things done around the house if I have unpaid time off, but so far the tension of the shut down has not helped me to be more productive evenings or weekends, so all of those closets may not get cleaned out. I do love jigsaw puzzles, though.

    A lot of places are giving free food to feds and some museums and such are currently free to federal employees affected by the shutdown, so maybe use these as destinations to get out of the house.

  28. Hepcat said:

    Oh, this is FANTASTIC. I’m going to put this list up somewhere!

    • Hepcat said:

      That was meant as a response to the Johnny Karate post, but it didn’t nest for some reason.

  29. H. said:

    Seconding, the idea that a combination of “make something” and “learn something” is excellent. I find both those things immensely positive and useful when not in a great place.

    I’m not furloughed, but I have been unemployed, and for me part of the problem with that time was that it felt almost like a betrayal of my job seeking efforts to start a large project. Starting a large time-consuming project seemed like admitting that I’d still not have a job next week or next month & that in itself was a depressing idea. (I’m not saying that this particularly made sense, I’m just saying what it felt like to me). So is part of the problem not wanting to start a project that could use lots of time fruitfully? If so, then acknowledging the idea and deciding deliberately what you want to do with that feeling (believe it & go with it, or just start the project regardless & plan to finish it on weekends) might be helpful.

    I can say that the idea mentioned way up-thread of learning to draw, seems like an excellent one to me (if it’s a skill you’ve ever wanted & have not acquired to your desired level of proficiency). It combines the positivity of making & learning. The materials to do it are relatively cheap to acquire. There are lots of how to learn this books (I found “drawing on the right side of the brain” useful, but each to their own library) . It doesn’t invoke the large-project brain-weasel because any level of improvement is good. But writing short stories, knitting, crocheting…. lots of positivity to learn…

  30. megpie71 said:

    As someone who has been unemployed for pretty much the entirety of the past ten years, let me just acknowledge one core truth: unemployment is, at the base of things, deeply, astoundingly, thoroughly boring.

    Yes, you have heaps of time on your hands. So, what can you do with that time? Well you can… oh hang on, that takes money. Or you could… nope, can’t afford the petrol. Or maybe… uh-uh, that needs resources I can’t afford at present.

    Having time on your hands is wonderful. Having time on your hands and no money… is a lot less wonderful.

    (I’m largely coping with my long-term unemployment by going back to university, but I’m in Australia, where it’s possible to put the payment on the never-never. I acknowledge this is not possible for everyone in every country).

    As a lot of other commenters are saying: routines and schedules help a lot. Limiting the amount of stuff you “have to do” each day helps a lot. Having a long-term slow-paced project you can pick up and do a little bit of every day helps a lot. Making sure every day contains a bit of something you know you enjoy most of the time (even if you’re not really enjoying it now) helps a lot.

    One other thing which helps a lot is this: acknowledge you have a right to be angry, and a right to feel negative about your situation. You are not 100% responsible for your situation (and this counts for people who are unemployed as well – there are at least two people in every employment transaction, and one of them, the employer, has a lot more power than the other) and you are allowed to feel angry about being forcibly disempowered in this way.

  31. DameB said:

    Fistbump of sympathy.

    So, my husband is a federal contractor — no back pay for him — though he’s of the higher-paid variety. And he’s got the same problems. We’re OK so far — I started looking for a job on Nov. 10, 2016 and gave up being a SAHM shortly after because we were planning for this exact moment. But I WAS a SAHM for 12 years, which is a job but it’s often a lonely job that relies entirely on my own structure, so this is the same advice I gave him.

    Morning: breakfast, get the fam out the house, shower. Check emails and set a 45-minute time for futzing around on the internet. Then sit down and decide what my to-do list for the day was.

    It always began at a coffeeshop. The baristas know me (some social interaction), I get a cup of tea and a small snack. I read a book for a bit. There are people around me making noise. I got to know the regulars there, too. More social interactions.

    Then I ran errands — I’m in the city, so that was on foot. But I got to know the folks at the stores I frequented — more social interactions. If I didn’t have errands, i’d take the child to An Event around the city: free lectures, story time, etc.

    Then home and lunch. I made lunch A Thing, even if I didn’t have the Child with me. We set the table, played nice music, ate a real meal on a plate and used our manners.

    Clean up lunch, clean up the kitchen from breakfast/lunch.

    After lunch, I’d have a small project that I could complete in 1-4 hours (aka nap time). Clean the pantry top shelf. Research the Child’s Topic du Jour. Clear out the backlog of email. Balance the check book. Learn how to knit cable stitch on a YouTube tutorial.

    Once that was done and I got my dopamine hit from crossing it off my list, I’d often have a socialization time with other friends.

    Then cook dinner.

    Clearly your mileage will vary. But the key for me was to have a schedule with some immovable things (meal and nap times), but was flexible. I leaned heavily on the free things that happen around the city — I live in a big city, so there was a lot, but my suburban friends seem to have plenty there, too. Your local library is a good place to start.

    I don’t know if this is helpful to you. It wasn’t to him — he prefers a different structure — but it worked well for me til I had to go back to work.

  32. kwallio said:

    I have had several periods of unemployment and I agree that it sucks. Most of the things you would want to do but can’t while you are working cost money, which you can’t really justify spending while you are unemployed. Also, I discovered that volunteering is not as easy as you might think, many places want a year committment and drop in or short term volunteering doesn’t seem to be a thing (at least as far as I was able to discover, anyway). Things that I found helpful – find free stuff to do out side of the house – museums on free day (ones that aren’t shut down, anyway), hiking in parks. You say you don’t have a congressperson which makes me think you are in DC, which sucks because all the smithsonian museums are shut down also. You could take up a new hobby, learn a language on duolingo, learn a new skill via the khanacademy. Ideas for hobbies – origami – only need paper, lots of free tutorials/patterns online, crochet (my new obsession), yarn and crochet hooks are cheap, lots of crafty type activities have a low barrier to entry, both in price and skill level. Learn to cook or prepare something you’ve never tried before, like bread or making pickles. I think anything to keep your mind off your unrequested idle time is good. A friend of mine used to host craft gatherings where we could all come and do whatever crafty type activities we had going on and those were a lot of fun. Maybe you could try something like that? Join a book club?

    • Seconding the crafting/creating hobby idea. Personally, I’ve been not-good at self-care during periods of unemployment in the past, but a college pal of mine is furloughed (and unfortunately, in a remote area of the country) and they’ve had similar issues. They’ve been keeping occupied by doing fiber arts stuff, and it’s been a help–definitely not a fix for the wider problem or a complete answer to the ennui, but it keeps them focused and doing a thing in their day.

      I think part of the appeal is that at the end of the day, you get something tangible out of it, that can be used or eaten or displayed. Even if it’s not perfect or beautiful, it is a thing you produced.

      Best wishes, LW, seriously.

  33. Hobbert said:

    I’m in the DC area and our food banks have really been overwhelmed with need right now. Maybe you could contact your local food bank and see if they need short term volunteers? Ours are doing pop ups at churches and community spaces and I’m sure it’s taking more than their usual staff to put these on. I wish you all the best!! We all support y’all on furlough!

    • Otter said:

      Jedi hugs and solidarity from a fed in one of the still-funded agencies. I’d second Hobbert’s comment about food banks. Rep. Don Beyer’s website (he represents a TON of feds in Virginia) has some financially-oriented resources, but the food banks he points to also have volunteer slots. I’ve also volunteered at DC Central Kitchen and they’re good at bringing new people on quickly and getting you to work.

  34. LindaJeanneM said:

    My disability was just granted/renewed, taking a HUGE weight off my shoulders (sigh of relief). It bugs me to no end that the person who granted it hasn’t been paid in over a month. They’re working without pay to allow me to get paid without work. That’s not how things are supposed to go :/

  35. TC said:

    here for you in solidarity LW — I was off work for a period of time last year when the US government didn’t renew my work permit in time (I submitted it early and they still processed it late, for all the reasons you can guess). It was no holiday — my life stopped, and my husband and I had to seriously reconsider if we could stay (I had already spent over a year unemployed, the idea of starting again was daunting). I hope this is resolved for you soon. I believe in you.

  36. LW, I get you completely. I work for a public school system, so I have summers off. Everyone’s dream job, right?! Not so much if you live alone. I find it stressful and depressing to have sole responsibility for scheduling myself every second of every day.

    I haven’t mastered this either. Travel helps me a lot. And so does the odd volunteer job I can get working on a farm. But without these things, I end up depressed and lonely.

    I’m anxious to read others replies.

    The shut down is over, for now. I hopes it’s the last one, for your sake and every one else’s

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