Often, people aren’t used to being a tourist in their own town and in Milwaukee, I come across the phenomenon often. When was the last time you took the Miller Brewing tour? Or had lunch at the Safe House? Or, like the woman I met at the Pfister lobby bar, when was the last time you had a staycation in Milwaukee? Micki (not her real name, of course, but she was nervous to be written about, so I’ll change her name here and bear the pressure of giving her a name she’d like. I think of a “Micki” as energetic and as having a fun, infectious laugh, and this woman did, so she’s become Micki to me).
Micki and her mom were taking a time-out at the Pfister for the weekend and it was working its magic. Caught between celebration and desperation, Micki is one of the many who had been downsized when our economy so dramatically shifted. Out of work for more than a year, she finished her bachelor’s degree and was proud of her accomplishment, but the celebration was tinged by her job hunting priorities and the pressure of work.
A massage, haircut, great dinner and drinks in the hotel and she still wasn’t comfortable. She bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t even quiet her mind during her relaxing massage at Well Spa because the stressors of unemployment were so great.
I think as a culture, we need to become attuned to this. Two years of people’s lives shifting so dramatically has taken a collective mental toll on us. This summer, I met a suburban couple who lived in a utopia of a neighborhood with expensive homes and two-car families. When the husband lost his job, the wife explained, the neighbors treated them “as though it was catching.” She was confident and strong when she explained they lost most of their friends because they were “infected” with unemployment.
Micki was feeling the same pressure. A young 42 and a clearly vibrant woman, she confided in Valerie (the Pfister’s bartender) and me about how troubled she was that her work life had so profoundly affected who she was. “Getting back to my old self” was her mission and it was pretty inspirational that she kicked off the journey with a staycation at a local hotel and some bonding time with her very supportive mother.
We often forget how many human connections we need and have and how often those come from our work. I was happy to be a connection to Micki at the hotel while she talked through how she was feeling. It was clear she was seeking out confirmation and conversation and it was easily found in those she interacted with at the Pfister.
It’s a reminder to us all to recognize the people in our world as not simply unemployed, but rather, without the support of daily work routines and colleagues. If our culture has been treating unemployment like a disease or sickness, then the recovery metaphor is clearly apropos here. We should start a conversation about how to support each other emotionally because our nation’s “recovery” isn’t only a recovery of spending and saving and index rates. Like Micki, the need to recharge, recalibrate and reinvent yourself demonstrates that many need emotional recovery as well.