This won’t affect me. I’m fine.
I guess this is happening. Sure. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. Who cares?
Okay, so I’m losing job. I’ll be fine. I have a master’s degree, a teaching certificate, and years of experience. I’ll find a job in no time. It’s not a big deal. Everybody loses a job someday. I guess my number’s up. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.
Wait, I’m actually losing my job. In a fucking pandemic. I’ve applied several places already, and they told me it might be months before they even look at my application. Hundreds of thousands are out of work. Tens of thousands are in the same boat as me, our contracts effectively terminated by China’s Communist Party. So the competition’s stiff. And as a contractor, I can’t get unemployment. And as someone who can work at all, I can’t get disability. And we only have a couple months of savings left. Then I’ll have to sell my scooter. Then I’ll have to raid our retirement accounts. And then, OMFG, we’ll be living in our car.
No, no, no. See? Lots of rich, successful people have said that losing a job was the best thing that ever happened to them. It’s a good thing! This will be my big break! It’ll be great! You’ll see. My whole life will be better after this!
But I loved my students. After chronic migraines forced me out of jobs I’d held for years, I found this job. Those children gave me a reason to keep going when I became so sick I could barely walk to the bathroom. For five years, they filled my life with meaning and joy, and I tried to do the same for them, and now I’ll never see them again. My life is so quiet without them, so empty, so lonesome. Post-chronic illness, I’ve never had to feel this loneliness. Who am I if I’m not supporting students’ progress? What connects me to the world anymore? It’s like I don’t exist.
Hey, it sucks now. But I’ll get through it. I’ve been through worse.
8. Rage Against a Broken System
Really? Like, when? When exactly have you weathered all at once a pandemic, a chronic illness, a job loss, a partner’s life-threatening health condition, ongoing medical expenses that are depleting our savings, a sinking economy, catastrophic climate change, and grief over a pet who died a few months ago? Because I sure can’t recall a time. Can you?
You have tried to do everything right in this fucked-up capitalist chaos machine. Five years ago, you got so sick your medical care providers told you to stop working. But you had bills to pay, so you got a job. Everyone patted you on the back for that. Capitalists like that. You earned your keep. But because you have chronic migraines, and that had already cost you two jobs with set hours, it had to be contract work where you could set your own hours. But because you do contract work, you can’t get unemployment. And because you can still work at all (even though less than full-time), you can’t get disability. You live in a country where if you get sick, you’re screwed. And if you’re an independent contractor who loses all your contract work, you’re also screwed. And you drew both lucky numbers, so.
And because my husband’s knee injury was misdiagnosed and mistreated for three months, we’ve had to pour thousands into fixing a problem caused by bad (for-profit) medical care. And because of our depleted finances and the ongoing pandemic (big thanks to all the people insisting that their choice to not get a vaccine trumps other people’s right to live or access pretty much anything if they’re immunocompromised), I’m the only one who can care for my immobilized husband and our home—while working—which has made my migraines worse, which further limits the jobs I can do.
Are the happiest days of my professional life behind me? What if they are? What if I never work again? What if I can’t ever work again? What if it’s all downhill from here? I’ll never find that kind of meaning and purpose again. My life will just get bleaker and emptier, and then I will die. Soon. I think I’m dying already. Did you feel that? It didn’t feel like a migraine. My brain is bleeding! I’m dying!
10. Reality Check
Jesus Christ, that’s grim. I mean, sure, yeah, it could go that way. You can’t control everything. But it’s unlikely that one job loss leads directly to imminent death.
I mean, even your relatives who took poor care of themselves lived well into their 60s. So, you know, that’s a good 25 years you have left. And you eat your fruits and veggies, guzzle water, sleep well, exercise 150 minutes a week. So probably more. Possibly 40 more years. That’s a long time to mope around. Too long.
And absolutely, I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how this turns out. But I’m kind of curious. Aren’t you?
I mean, you knew that teaching job wasn’t sustainable. Even before all the ridiculousness (your student’s words) from Beijing, you knew you couldn’t go on like this for five more years. You weren’t even sure one more year was doable. And it’s always kind of nice when life forces your hand before burnout does. You still love your students. You still love language learning and teaching, so call that a win. You get to walk away with that intact.
Also, you get to walk away. Your students and their parents don’t. They are going to be navigating the fallout from those policy changes for years. They are stuck in that system. Extracurricular academic support has just been pushed out of reach for all your students in the lower-middle class. This will impact some of their scores on the gao kao, which will impact not where but if they go to college. Which will impact their earnings, quality of life, access to all kinds of things, even for their own children.
But you? Maybe this job loss impacts you for months, maybe a year or three, worst case. That’s another example of privilege.
Plus, you have options because of your degrees and experience. Some of your colleagues are going to have it tougher than you because they don’t have those things. Even with a chronic illness, you have more options than some. Spare a thought for them, man. This shit is tough on everybody.
And the snail’s pace you’re having to tackle this at, because of the migraines, it’s going to suck financially. No question. So maybe you have to draw down your retirement. Not great. Not ideal. But you’re a long way from homeless, and that’s privilege, too.
But seriously. You’re not lazy for being slow at this transition. You’re slow because you’re having migraines every day and you’re grieving. That slowness? It gives you a little time to think, on the days you can, about what’s next. What’s sustainable with chronic migraines? Because now you know that daily teaching just isn’t. Period. So figure out what else you can do. Then figure out what you might need in order to start doing that. Then do that.
But right now? Truly?
Go take a fucking nap.