May 23, 2018

The Reality of What Being Laid Off Feels Like: My Friend’s Brutally Honest Account

Jennifer Halper (a.k.a. “Halps”) was one of the first people I met at Us Weekly when I started there a million years ago. I was a polite, proper, relatively shy intern. She was a foul-mouthed, didn’t give an F, funny photo director and I loved her. The thing is, in real life, we’re much more alike, it’s just that she was being herself and I was being who I thought I should be. Despite our differences, we immediately clicked and a, seemingly unlikely but, lasting friendship was born. Years later, after I’d moved up the masthead, I was laid off and she was one of two people (out of dozens) who reached out to me. She didn’t care what the culture dictated, that she wasn’t supposed to speak to me, what it said about her… She wanted to know how her friend was doing. And I wasn’t well, which is why I can relate to every single word and feeling she bravely details below. Five years after I left, she was also laid off. Looking for an outlet, she volunteered when I asked on Stories if there was anyone interested in guest blogging. She’s not a writer but she may have missed her calling. Her honesty, humor and vulnerability make her an amazing storyteller. My only regret is that it took me so long to post this. Halps originally wrote it for me last July, right around the time I’d just moved, had stomach surgery and a newborn baby. The year that transpired was a crazy one, filled with lots of blogging breaks and, so, this post remained unpublished. But the gift that comes with that, is that we now get to hear how full circle she’s come. I couldn’t be prouder of or happier for my friend. She went through it, dealt with it, worked on and shared herself and has come out the other side, stronger, wiser and more compassionate. Isn’t that all we can hope for when enduring hardships in life? Congrats Halps. Now, get back to Soul!

I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. Well, maybe not because I’ve never had to write a eulogy (knock on wood) but I guess this is my eulogy about my old life.

On April 21, 2002, I started working at Us Weekly. On March 23, 2017, I was laid off. On April 25, 2017, I walked out the door of 1290 Avenue of the Americas for the last time. For 15 years I was in the photo department, worked my way up and became the photography director. I had my son while I was there, made some of my closest friends there, laughed so hard that I cried there, had some trying days there and had some of my best days there. I LOVED my job. I’m not saying that I loved it every day but I know how lucky I was to love it as much as I did.

Very long story short, another company bought the mag and many of us were laid off. At first, I felt lucky to be laid off in warm weather: late sunsets, outdoor seating, a walk in the park any time I wanted. I was planning on how many Soul Cycle classes I’d take a week. I was ready to attack my apartment and begin organizing the shit out of it! Thought about what trips I could plan for The Hubs and I this summer and, gasp, maybe even a Christmas vacation! I had so much time to pack my son Dylan’s trunks for camp and extra time to spend with D before camp! All sounds awesome, right?

My first week, I was pumped. I dropped D off at school like always, but instead of going to work, I walked home. How nice! I had my headphones on and just strolled home listening to my jams. I started to organize the apartment. I threw out so much paper (Yes, I recycled.), organized D’s games, books, clothes and closets. I went looking through cabinets, kitchen drawers (I didn’t even know I had a meat tenderizer. Let’s be real, I’m lucky I know where the silverware and the paper plates are.), bookshelves, etc. I caught up on my TV and magazine reading. I even started a book! I didn’t make it to Soul Cycle just yet but I did manage to take The Hubs shirts to the dry cleaners. I felt so accomplished. The second and third weeks were pretty similar minus the organizing. At one point D told me to stop organizing the house, do some research, and get myself out there because he didn’t want me to become a freeloader.

The apartment was organized, the trunks were packed and Soul Cycle was still not happening but the snacking was. Good Lord, was the emotional eating happening. To be honest, that started way back when I heard the rumors about the sale. Who finished that bag of Nestlé chocolate chips all by themselves? A whole freakin bag! Oh, that would be me. Ugh, I’ve got to get my ass to Soul. I missed work so much, I missed the gossip (celebrity and office), I missed the routine, I missed sending an email and getting a response within 10 minutes, I missed my friends (Yes, I know there is a phone and getting together but I missed the every day.), I missed the feeling work gave me. I can’t exactly describe it but whatever it was, it made me feel good. I knew what I was doing even though each day brought something different. That feeling was now gone, dead and buried.

As the days dragged on so did my mood. The Hubs would ask, “What are you going to do today?” I would respond, “What I do every god damn day. NOTHING.” D would come home from school and ask, “Did you find a job?” I would bite my tongue and say, “that’s not exactly how it works.” Then I’d go into my bedroom and cry.

At work, I went by a couple of names: Very rarely Jen. A solid rotation of Halper, Halpy, and my personal favorite, Halps. When I went by Jen, I was always “Jen from Us.” Even after I was laid off, when I called the doctor’s office to make an appointment I started the call with, “Hi, this is Jen from Us.” The receptionist was like, “who dis?” My thoughts exactly. Now, I’m just Jen. My sister got this awesome, Rails jean jacket, made for me that says Halps on the back. I don’t know how she knew I needed some sort of reassurance of my identity (that’s what sisters and best friends are for) but I did. I may never have another staff in an office call me that but some rando on the street will!

People would ask me if I started looking for a job. Ummmm… no, I literally just got laid off from a place that I worked at for 15 years. I deserve a break and don’t even know what I want. Isn’t that how I should be feeling? Or, maybe they were right and I should get on the job hunt? How should I be feeling cause I don’t freaking know?!

I guess I feel: Weird. Lost. Sad. Anxious. Angry. Stressed. Bitchy (Actually, that was always there). Lonely. Embarrassed. Like a loser. It didn’t matter how many times people told me I wasn’t and shouldn’t feel like that, I did and sometimes still do. How would I answer someone when they asked me “What do you do?” Before, I was always secretly hoping people would ask because I loved talking about it. A few weeks ago, we had an event to go to and it was stressing me out. Lo and behold, I was asked. So, I did what any insecure, just laid off person would do, I told her my whole work history and what happened. I monopolized this poor woman, who was probably giving her husband the “save me” eyes, but I just kept on talking. I had to justify to a stranger why I wasn’t working. I felt pathetic.

One morning I asked The Hubs if he would like me to make him eggs. He nicely turned down my offer. I asked again. He turned it down again. I lost my shit and screamed, “I need to make you eggs because I have no purpose.” Now that is some really sad shit. Making eggs is going to give me purpose? I know it isn’t but I needed to make the god damn eggs because it gave me something to do and validated me. It turns out, they were actually really good eggs but even if they weren’t, he wasn’t about to tell me. God bless The Hubs. He should go into sainthood.

I finally got my ass to Soul. While I was dying on the bike, the instructor said, “You came here for a reason. What is your purpose?” I thought to myself, “Not making eggs!” I knew I had to do something other than watch my beloved Law & Order (all except for Criminal Intent). So, I continued to go. I got the nerve up to take a class with an instructor, Sue Molnar, I’d heard about but was, previously, too scared to go to. I heard she played awesome music and did very little choreography. Sounds like a win to me. Not only do I hate choreography, but I can barely catch the beat and will only sit in the back row to hide. SoulCycle became my outlet. Most importantly, Sue, became my therapist. Whether it was her wicked sense of humor, the music she played (I’m an ‘80’s girl!), the f-bombs she dropped, or the stories she tells pre/during/post class, I was able to get a something to take with me for the day. Those 45 minutes in the dark were magic.

I can’t candy coat this because I don’t candy coat anything. I’m a truth sayer. Being laid off sucks. I can’t think of a better word for it than that. It totally sucks. But, I believe things happen for a reason. Sometimes you can’t see those reasons right away. You think you’ll never be the same but hopefully the answers will come in time. My old life is like a death to me. I’m still going through all the stages of grief and have a feeling I will be for awhile.

HOLD UP: See the part above where I say everything happens for a reason? Well, it does. I wrote this 11 months ago but it feels like a lifetime. I’m in a much better place mentally, physically (trying) and emotionally. Thank God for The Hubs, family, friends, the peeps that went through and are still going through the same thing as me, TV, Sue and Soul Cycle. Not working gave me the opportunity to do things that I always wanted to do, things I needed to do and be there for people who needed me. Being laid off led me to where I am now: a fun gig, at a cool place, with an awesome friend. So, when your mom, husband, sister, friend or anybody that cares about you tells you, “it gets better”, instead of biting their head off, take a beat, and say “I’m looking forward to it.”

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