During the final months of my graduate program, my partner was offered an out-of-state in Chattanooga, Tn. Since her own graduation, she had yet to find a local job in her particular niche. I urged her to accept the offer and told her I would follow her after my graduation. I was confident I would find employment as well. In a word, I was hirable.
Throughout school, I always worked part-time; my CV had no employment gaps. Moreover, my resume boasted internships, awards, a high GPA, and extracurriculars. My graduate school didn't offer students assistance with job searches, but I didn't need that. I had the buoyed confidence of someone freshly out of school who hadn’t experienced how hard the job market could actually be.
When I moved to Chattanooga, I combed through Indeed and similar employment websites. I researched nonprofits and set job alerts for the ones that I liked. I scoured local ads and explored different avenues like Facebook pages. I was patient and persistent for the first few months. My optimism was relentless. Somedays, I even liked the challenge of the hunt. I was a scrappy young woman in a new city performing my perfunctory montage before my big break.
My confidence began to dim when I hadn't received a job offer three months into my search despite averaging two interviews a week. Essentially, I failed a dozen interviews—and that’s exactly what it felt like, failing. It was a new experience for me. When my partner would say, “You didn’t fail; they just went in another direction,” I told myself I was pathetic. I resented my floundering. I’d spent the past 24 years readying myself for professional success. If the problem wasn’t with my resume or experience, it was me personally.
My patience was gone. My persistence morphed into a frantic fixation. I increased the number of jobs I was applying for and widened my search. And yet, rejection continued to pour in like burnt coffee—it was acidic and bitter all the way down.
While I was home daily with my laptop and dog, I plummeted. My perspective warped. One day, I decided to create two inbox folders. One folder housed my rejection letters, and the other my inquiries and follow-up emails. That's when I noticed my first folder was the size of a minnow, and the other was the size of a hippopotamus.
My mind began to distort as I compared the two folders. In my new perspective, rejection letters became a source of comfort—they validated my efforts and humanity. I emotionally couldn't comprehend the number of companies that never followed up with me. While I didn't anticipate follow-up emails after applying for positions, I did expect polite rejections from companies when I made it further into their hiring process.
For one company, I participated in a phone interview and two in-person interviews. I was notified that it was between myself and another candidate. We were asked to create a project proposal. Upon submitting my proposal, the HR director told me I would hear from her by the end of the week.
I waited a week before following up. One week became three. Each week I sent an email inquiring and expressing my appreciation for their consideration. Those three weeks were horrific. Leading up to my application, the HR team perused me. While I waited, I craved their affirmation and flattery. We’d played the field, had gone out a few times, and I was ready for commitment. I would sign whatever contract they handed on and confidently say, “Yes!” when they asked me to join their team.
I never heard back.
I was ghosted by a job where I spent a month's worth of emotional labor. When the company decided not to contact me, they denied me closure. I became obsessed with the application wondering what I did wrong or what I should have changed. While I managed to leave the online dating world unscathed from ghosting or rejection, I now found myself in that specific hell.
My bitterness was visceral. I longed for acknowledgment; I craved a generic copy and pasted template stating: ‘Thank you for applying, but we’re going another way.’
HR departments became sculptors, methodically chipping away at my self-esteem. It wasn’t noticeable in the beginning. But a few months in, I noticed pieces of myself falling away. Joy and laughter were the first things to leave. I was crafted into a vacant slab of marble. My remaining emotions were anxiety and depression. While I was no stranger to anxiety, depression was a different beast—and it was ravenous.
I've always turned toward indoor plants when I experience melancholy. My favorite plant is my Bird of Paradise. It's a 6-foot whimsical plant that looks like it belongs in an Anthropologie store or Starbucks rather than my house. My plant's most visually appealing aspect is its large oblong leaves; each leaf is a blue-green oval longer than my forearm.
Typically, when I was in a funk, my Bird of Paradise could snap me out of it. But, when I turned towards my plant this time, nothing happened.
As I studied my plant, I realized I could yield a pair of office scissors and hack off each leaf without feeling anything. I could prolong the act and make it more profane by cutting ribbons out of each leaf like a child making paper snowflakes, and still, I would feel hollow.
I lacked the capacity to care for the things I loved—even when I caused them pain.
My partner helped as much as she could. She picked up my slack and never made me feel guilty. I was a stay-at-home dog mom without the energy to cook meals or keep our home clean. Still, she supported me. She loved me when I was incapable of doing so myself.
She encouraged me to keep applying for jobs. She raged with me when an employer left me without closure. She surprised me with cards, bubble bath, and funny socks. She was sanguine while I spent my energy finding a psychiatrist and a counselor.
It took a team of three to make life feel manageable. I don’t mean to gloss over my experience. To be clear, recovery was a brutally slow process. It was also a deeply personal journey that moved at a glacier pace until I started making minor changes, like cleaning one dish or taking my dog on a walk down my driveway.
One night, my partner and I went to Walmart. I walked into the store, focusing on simplicity. I concentrated on finding one healthy item that made me feel happy.
While my partner tackled the actual shopping, I canvased the produce section adeptly, dodging carts and loose children. I narrowed my search to fruit and scanned stands of blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries before selecting a carton of blueberries. I chose a pint filled with plump denim berries larger than a nickel.
We paid—the cost of fresh groceries feeling more like a splurge than a necessity—then left. The trip was easier than expected.
By the time we made it back to the car, the sky was a purple twilight. We started packing groceries. Midway through, I heard it: a heavy “Plunk.” I spun around. My partner’s eyes were comically wide. She looked at me, down at the ground, then back up again. As my eyes scanned the asphalt, I noticed the single grocery that fell—the damn blueberries.
"It's ok, it's ok," she said slowly with hand gestures meant to soothe. Her eyes opened even wider as she scrambled to the ground proclaiming, "Five-second rule!" Her six-foot frame crouched over as she tried to scoop as many as she could that had spilled into the grocery bag.
I stood and watched her. She managed to rescue a handful. "I'm sorry," she cried, holding the half-full carton. I could tell she was waiting for me to start crying. "I'll go run back in and–" she began. Rather than my anticipated tears, laughter seized me. It was light and hot, rolling from my stomach until it burst from my mouth.
I doubled over, gasping hard through peels of giggles. The lower I bent over, the funnier it became. I took stock of the fruit rolling across the black abyss—indigo marbles scattered throughout the lot, aimlessly moving under numerous vehicles.
I imagined backing out of the parking lot and crushing the berries under my back tires. I dissolved into more laughter. When was the last time something had felt that funny? Weeks? Months? Ever? "We're going to run them over," I squeezed out between bursts of breath. She eyed me cautiously before she started laughing too.
As she backed the car out of our spot, I looked forward. My eyes were drawn to the streaks of blueberry remnants. Laughter seized me a final time. In the end, she was right. I laughed until tears streamed down my cheeks. When we left the parking lot, I felt the weight I'd been carrying for weeks dissipate. Perspective blanketed me. We would be fine. More importantly, I would be fine.
Leslie Ann has a Mdiv from Columbia Theological Seminary where she studied the intersection of faith, testimony & sexuality. With a penchant for romance and a love of all things queer, Leslie dreamed up Love Les, an LBGTQ+ storytelling blog. Leslie is a social worker in Chattanooga but dreams of becoming a FT creative. When she’s not working on Love Les, you can find her fueling her caffeine addiction, orchestrating photoshoots, or buying yet another plant.