My Battle Through 6 Stages of Existential Agony

By Sandra Gallistl

1. Everyday-Life Discomfort: Work-Life Balance

About 2 to 3 weeks ago, I remember worrying about juggling preparing for the California Bar exam this July and working fulltime at a new job at an immigration law firm in Los Angeles. Throwing my habits overboard I got up in the early morning hours to commit to at least three hours of study time before eventually starting my actual workday at 9am.

2. Ignorance: Early Warning Signs

When the Corona virus made news in the United States, everyone felt growing discomfort and general doubts about how their situation at work/school/home will be affected – if, at all. Robust ignorance in society made my hours incredibly long, as clients demanded rushed processing in order to obtain their desired visa status. The growing uncertainty kicked me off balance and the intense workload kept me from keeping up with my study plan as well as squeezing in workouts to stay healthy seemed more and more impossible. Even though I am typically practicing gratitude, I started complaining to friends and family that this sort of daily schedule would not be a feasible option on a long-term basis. I had wished to have found a different job. Well, my wish was granted.

3. Annoyance: Stay At Home, Transition

As the virus continued spreading and turning into a global pandemic with serious health concerns for the public at large, Los Angeles and California announced a stay at home order which meant for the vast majority of employees to transition to work remotely from home. Within only a few days, people already freaked out, not being able to get anything done efficiently. Having only started my position a couple of weeks before this whole circus started, I came into the office, because I needed some guidance on my cases and it was crucial to print out documents I then had to send out via postal services. However, when co-workers started to show signs of a cold, potentially a Coronavirus infection, coming to the office became more and more a concern and a health risk. For the most part though, we all didn’t take it too seriously, as we were too focused on dealing with a flood of concerns of clients’ outlooks of their immigration status. With immigration services starting to modify rules on an almost hourly basis, the entire system crumbled.

4. Fear:

Once infections catapulted exponentially, death tolls climbed up and up, trading at the stock exchange had to be put on a hold, and toilet paper turned into a rare commodity, people seemed to prepare for an apocalyptic like setting. Seeing, really is believing. The more patients reported their experiences on the news and other media outlets, the more fearful communities and individuals became to leave their homes. Facing the possibility of serious illness or even death has placed us all in a mentally as well as emotionally tough trap-like spot, scared not just for our

own well-being, but also worried for our family and friends. It has been particularly challenging for my family and I, since I am living on 10,000 miles away from my home country, Austria. Breaking news about closing boarders and restricting international travel have made this crisis truly nerve-wracking. If any one of us ends up with developing bad symptoms, we are all aware that we wouldn’t be able to support each other in person. This physical distance to one another has brought us closer in a way, that we are constantly checking in on everyone and we are on the phone every day.

5. Panic: Ground vanishing from beneath my feet

With all immigration matters being on hold for the time being, I lost my job end of March. That job was not only pivotal for my financial stability but much more so the basis that maintained my work-visa here in the United States. Losing the job meant I would have to find a new one within 30 days otherwise I would have to leave the country in which I have been living for almost 2 years now. In addition, I immediately feared that limited available flight options into Europe could lead me to possibly overstay the visa which would then qualify my stay as illegal. I felt like I got hit by an avalanche and the adrenaline kicked in. The thought of packing my vast amount of belongings, breaking my lease, selling my car within only a few days, let alone leaving this beautiful place without a proper goodbye, triggered a panic attack in the middle of the night.

6. Desperation & Action: Finding a Silver Lining

All of a sudden, my concerns about my work-life situation falling out of balance, or the annoying process of working from home, seemed like stupid problems to have in the face of losing my whole life I have come to know the past couple of years. No matter where you look, Americans were, and still are, losing their jobs which means that my chances of obtaining a new one now where close to zero. So, I focused not only on sending out applications and reaching out to friends who might have a lead for me to finding a new position, but also manifested my desperation for support of my situation in emails to the offices of Mayor Garcetti, Govenor Newsom, and Senator Harris to help change the system. The only requirement that needs to be lifted in order for international students who were on their student visas and received a post-graduate work authorization on the so-called OPT visa work status, is to not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment.

While I was lucky that my former employer hired me back, I am still fighting for the many thousands of foreigners who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are forced to give up their lives abruptly and risk their health by traveling back to their home countries.

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