I’m a federal employee. My day job consists of putting on the National Park Service uniform and going to work in a fort and kind of having the best time ever. I’m blessed that I really do love what I do. Austin is also a federal employee, but of a completely different sort – the sort that puts on a uniform and goes to work when no one else does, because he’s active duty military.
Of the two of us, I am the one who spent January 20-22 furloughed, unsure of when the government would reopen, what would happen to my job, my paycheck. His status was also uncertain, but he still had duty. He went to work. I sat at home, afraid to go to the store, afraid to get involved in a project, afraid to do anything but live stream C-SPAN occasionally on my phone to see what the status of the Senate was.
This isn’t to get political. I’m not taking sides, or pointing blame. I can’t. I don’t want to. I just want to reflect on the three days I spent wondering how things were going to turn out.
I know that the shutdown isn’t as stressful to all employees as it is to me. But talking to other employees around me, we all had similar stories. In 2013, the shutdown lasted 16 days, and threw off pay for at least two paychecks afterwards. I was working for a contractor, and was not paid for half of the shut down because the contractor wasn’t making any money with the park closed, so they let all of their employees go, and rehired them when the park reopened. I was in my first semester of graduate school at the time, so staying home and studying Biology wasn’t a huge problem for me – I was already broke, and didn’t have anything to do and my Bio grade benefited from the intense study at the beginning of the semester. But my meager savings had to make up for the deficit in my pay, and I felt that lack for months afterwards.
Now I am lucky that I am more financially stable, and that I could have lasted a longer government shutdown and the financial hit wouldn’t have been as severe. Not all of us are that lucky, and many of us are living paycheck to paycheck, and that creates it’s own stress, compounded when the status of the next check becomes uncertain.
When we went back to work, I was surprised to hear more than one visitor tell me “Welcome Back!” as I walked through the park on Tuesday. I replied, always, that I was glad to be back, and happy that they came to visit us. As I tell visitors every day “Thanks for visiting, if you didn’t, we wouldn’t be here!” The National Park Service is a very “customer service” oriented agency. I still want to cross stitch a phrase I heard from one of our regional employees when they visited after we were damaged in Hurricane Matthew “Service may be our last name, but it’s our first priority.” I think that’s why people get so upset when we are closed due to a government shutdown, because we are the visible element, the Good Face that people see and recognize.
The stress of the shutdown was physical – I ate a lot of ice cream. I broke out in acne that would have shamed my teenage years. Mentally, I was kind of in a fog. My antidepressants were working overtime to keep me on an even emotional keel, and that kind of ended up with… nothing. But my body was manifesting the symptoms of stress even if my brain wasn’t, and even a week later, my body is still showing signs of a thyroid flare with shedding hair, psoriasis patches, etc. I keep reminding myself to give myself some slack, to be kind to my body. I’m not doing anyone any good if I ignore the signs and don’t let myself handle my problems.
The government is funded until February 8th. I may be stocking back up on Klondike Bars (mint chocolate chip or Reese’s, all the way) in preparation, just in case. If nothing happens, I don’t have to send another closure e-mail. I can ration out the ice cream over weeks and months, if Austin doesn’t find the Reese’s ones first and make them disappear. The cats will avoid having to look at me weird for being on the couch on a Monday afternoon.
And we can keep taking selfies in front of park signs whenever we travel, because we’re dorks.
I love my job. I love my agency. I love this country, and everything it stands for. I love the people in it – even the ones I disagree with. Part of loving them is knowing that you don’t have to like them very much.
Let’s just work through this together, and remember that it’s not the people on C-SPAN who are hurting, it’s the ones watching C-SPAN, worried about affording groceries.