By my desk. I used the soft board to put up art pieces and pictures I would gather from the field.

Becoming umemployed during COVID-19

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Coronavirus unleashed on earth fear, disease and death on an unprecedented scale. I silently watched the papers report on the spread of the disease in every corner of the world. I too was doing the same as a journalist in Gurgaon working for the national English daily, Hindustan Times. As a lifestyle correspondent, my focus was on the softer effects of the pandemic like changes in lifestyle, culture and social norms. I wrote on them to a small and large extent. However, the slouching effect of the virus on the economy slowly and steadily found a spot at the back of my mind.

It stayed there, feeding on the newspaper headlines that landed up on my doorstep every morning. As news of layoffs and furloughs emerged, first from corporates like Uber, AirBnb followed by Indian brands like Swiggy and TCS. My instinct told me that the media industry won’t be far from it. At this point of time, what scared me most was not dying of the disease but of the economic repercussions it was going to leave behind.

An anxious tipoff from a close friend, also working at the same paper, saying her boss had told her that if the market did not recover in the next 2-3 months, layoffs will happen, set off a different tipoff for me. The information set off my long lost tendency of panic attacks. Information about bureaus in other organisations shutting down or downsizing did not help either. While I was yet to lose my job, an agonising and dark fear made it feel like I had already lost it. Every non-friendly behaviour from my editor amplified my doubt that I would surely get fired from my team if layoffs were to happen. Working remotely did not help the situation either as it only lead to further miscommunications and wrongful apprehensions. I was stuck in a deep mental hole, scrambling to get out, searching for light when reality did not even have a pencil torchlight to offer.

This continued till a friend taught me to make better sense of the darkness and train my eyes to spot a ladder in the darkness. This outright required me to consider being fired a reality. In that situation, what would I do – chalk out a plan to go back home as soon as possible, find the items I can sell off in my apartment, break the news to my family, negotiations to make at the final meeting and several others. Visualising this was of some relief. The breakdowns became less frequent, the tear-worn red eyes with which I went out to walk my dog reduced.

The cab ride to getting fired.
The cab ride to getting fired.

I continued doing my regular duties, all the while counting the team members and mentally deliberating who deserves to get fired more than me. The calculation did not matter, because, in late May, I got a call to go down to Delhi to meet the editor. I knew this was it, I broke down again but then heard that another colleague/friend also got the call. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was glad I did not have to take the cab ride to get fired alone. Even requested the cab driver to take me around to India Gate as I had never bothered to see it despite living in the national capital for two years.

I don’t want to get to the specifics of the meeting or the absolute numbness I felt as I saw the HR takedown final details, repeat the same lines of consolation to over 15 other employees before me, the redness in the eyes of the senior reporters who left the conference room or the shocked confusion with which more people walked into the office, either not sure of what was happening or not wanting to apprehend the worst.

The red velvet cake my friend ordered for me from Bangalore.
The red velvet cake my friend ordered from Bangalore.

I came back home to a wagging tail. Worried about how I will take care of her with no salary coming in. My appetite was gone. A friend lovingly sent across a brownie and red velvet cake slice via Zomato all the way from Bangalore. It was the only thing I had for that day and the next.

I made multiple calls to my boyfriend, mother, aunt and friends. These were an attempt to stop the true emotions from sinking in. I was unemployed for the first time in my life since I completed my postgraduation three years ago. I was hurt, scared, embarrassed, uncertain and alone. However, having my panic attacks a month ahead meant I did not repeat them. Possibly because I recognised the triggers (thanks to therapy) and having trained myself to spot the ladder in the dark or at least be patient enough to wait for one to be lowered.

Read the next stage of the journey: Sending job applications during a pandemic

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