What it's like to return to work after the government shutdown and still face an uncertain future
The longest government shutdown in American history took place from December 22nd, 2018 to January 25th, 2019 under President Donald Trump. Trump held government workers’ wages hostage in an attempt to secure funding for his border wall, which caused immense harm to federal employees individually and to American society generally. Trump has only re-opened the government for a three-week period before a shutdown may occur again. On February 12th, a deal to prevent another shutdown was presented to Trump, though it remains to be seen if the president will sign it or once again force government workers to either be furloughed or to work for free. An HG contributor who works for a government agency shared an open letter detailing the anxiety and instability she continues to face at work.
Quick update from your friendly and formerly furloughed neighbor. Wanted to tell you about the state of my life since 45 decided to shutdown the government and Mitch McConnell decided to keep it that way. 35 days later, the government opened back up—temporarily—and transitioning back into the workforce has left me feeling anxious. While I was furloughed, I managed to rest and find positivity because I had to. Now, back at my job, I am unsure of what tomorrow will bring. Trump only gave us 15 business days of being paid before a shutdown could occur again. That time is almost up, and Trump’s decision to keep us open or closed isn’t any clearer.
I can now laugh at the audacity to place hope, faith, and belief in institutions, or in someone else, more than in myself. To hope that my desire to serve my country would mean my country would look out for me. To believe that my Good Government Job was security, when it has shown me that it is not.
Instead of pursuing my passion, purpose, and dreams, I helped others accomplish theirs through the government agency where I work. My time off has allowed me to acknowledge this mistake and to take the steps to address it. For my fellow formerly furloughed workers looking to stay encouraged and sane during this uncertain time, here are some steps I took to find myself outside of work again:
1Get a good night’s sleep.
I just finished watching the Trigger Warning with Killer Mike episode on the Church of Sleep. I’d never acknowledged how stressed I was when I was working, nor how seriously tired I was. So while I was furloughed, I slept. This sleep was not a result of depression, though I have been sad some days, but a result of truly replenishing myself. Sleep allowed my brain to think about the dreams and hopes I’ve placed on hold in order to help other people accomplish their dreams and hopes. I finally thought about pursuing my artistic projects or even establishing my real estate business. For most of my career, instead of being driven by passion, I pursued safety in a Good Government Job. I needed rest in order to realize that.
2Think about how you can creatively provide extra income for yourself.
As an active creative, I work through a lot of my issues with art. Writing, painting, and taking photographs are my preferred outlets. I can’t sit still or be idle for too long before I feel the walls closing in, so I create. As the shutdown loomed, I decided to finally publish my first compilation book of art and poetry. I have also had time to start painting again. I started developing a class that teaches other artists how to sell their first work of art. I’d previously pushed these creative dreams aside because I placed more time and attention on my professional life. Now that I’ve prioritized them, these creative outlets allow me to feel accomplished and I am able to present my art to the world. I won’t let these skills be pushed aside again.
3Make sure others know you are one of the 800,000 who was furloughed—and who could be furloughed again.
Many people won’t think you are in need because you have a Good Government Job. But government workers have student loan debts, family obligations that depend on their incomes, and plenty of other obligations just like the rest of the country. We need to save from each paycheck to take care of all of these responsibilities, just like everyone else. The difference is that, for over a month, we might have found ourselves using that saved money to pay for everything, without any new money coming in. Letting people know that you are or were furloughed may not be an automatic plea for help for everyone, but for some of us, it is. Living paycheck to paycheck is still a real struggle—and contracted employees have no access to backpay. Don’t be ashamed to let people know times are hard—you might be surprised by the help your receive.
4Serve your neighbor in some way.
I like helping others, and I continued helping others even when I wasn’t working for the government. While I was furloughed, being available to help my friends and family with projects around the house kept me physically active and engaged with my community. From business brainstorming sessions with friends to grouting bathtubs in a rental home, this time spent supporting friends was meaningful for me. Despite what was happening in the government, I could still be there for others when they needed something.
5Again, don’t be prideful in receiving help.
The greatest thing I witnessed during the shutdown was the outpouring of support from strangers. Restaurants like Farm Burger and Twisted Soul provided free meals to me, which I also used as opportunities to just get out of the house. I have had former classmates offer me boxes of food. Strangers and friends alike have donated some of the money out of their own pockets to me. It is humbling. I’ve prided myself in being a giver and good neighbor, so to be on the receiving end of support makes me cry every single time.
6Speaking of which, seriously, get out the house.
Get out! Starbucks and Panera Bread became my new office during the shutdown. It is good for your mental health to see and interact with people just as if you were in your office. You can work on your 500 life goals not related to your job, or start going after your 50-year plan. You can read a book or write in a journal. You can still binge Netflix, just make sure you don’t stay in the cabin for hours and hours. If you’re able, go for a walk around your neighborhood daily. Meet up with other furloughed workers. Do something besides just sitting in the house. Every little movement is a positive step forward during an uncertain time.
7Educate yourself financially.
The best thing I did during the furlough was get more serious about where my money is going. I have since made drastic lifestyle changes to what I spend on food, water, and shelter. The feeling of someone else controlling whether I would receive my money, and when I could even expect to receive it outside of the normal employment agreement, was crushing. The wakeup call was awful enough to motivate me to stop being lax with money management and financial growth planning.
8Be kind to yourself.
Remember: The reasons for the government shutdown have nothing to do with you. It is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. It is an unfortunate series of events led by people who don’t even know your name or shoe size. Dwelling on the thoughtlessness of our paid political leaders will only fuel the flame in your belly. Instead of focusing your (valid) anger and disappointment towards them, look at yourself in the mirror. Take the necessary steps to improve your own life one day at a time in the ways that you can. That’s what I did—from pursuing creative goals to learning more about saving money.
And please, remember to vote.
Candace Eldridge is a government worker who was furloughed during the shutdown. You can find her via her Instagram, her art website, or her real estate website. Candace is the author of Naked, Alone, & Unafraid, available on Amazon.