My Unemployed Life: Held Back by Obesity

obesity and employment My name is Bob Moore, and my journey into unemployment began in 1999. I lived and worked in a small town west of Daytona Beach, Fla., when I accepted a buyout package from my employer, after nearly 17 years of service as a machinist.

Being a machinist had always been a rewarding, creative trade for me. I worked mainly on horizontal lathes, vertical mills and drills. Mostly machining stainless steel, but I also turned every metal, from aluminum, brass and copper to the different grades of tool steels. These component parts were used to assemble filters and filtration systems for domestic and foreign customers. I survived three different owners, and in 1999 the company I worked for was facing another imminent sale.

An easy-going period

A previous buyout had been offered six months earlier, which I had refused. But this time, the chance of being laid off with nothing, made the buyout deal just too sweet to pass up. I accepted $12,000 cash with six months of continued insurance, six months of unemployment, and the $125,000 balance in my 401K. I moved my 401K to an IRA in a trustee-to-trustee move that cost me nothing in terms of income tax.

My wife was working, and with my unemployment, the though was that we would be able to make ends meet until I found another job. At first I enjoyed just sitting on my ass, puttering around the house, and surfing the Internet for work. Life seemed to be all good. I wasn't that serious about finding a job; I submitted applications and e-mailed resumes without much follow-up. It took about three months of this monotonous routine to become a complete bore.

I was 42 years of age and my inactivity was not helping my girlish figure. I was already pushing 300 pounds before unemployment. I gained another 40 pounds before I finally landed another job. Those six months between jobs did not help in terms of me dealing with my obesity. Having that job helped, but it only lasted three and half years and then once again I was faced with unemployment.

A big move

This time, I adopted a new strategy. Since my mother's death, my father had developed dementia and appeared to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Living alone was no longer an option for him. I approached him with my dilemma and asked if my wife and I could move to Indiana and live with him. Once there, I'd continue my search for employment. He agreed.

It took three months and $48,000 to close up all the loose ends in Florida. This allowed me to return to the Hoosier state, which I'd left 21 years earlier. My weight had continued to balloon, and I was up to a whopping 410 pounds. I tried to lose the weight, but without much success.

My dad seemed to enjoy our company and we learned to cope with each other's ways and means. We quickly discovered that the job market was just as bad -- if not worse -- in Indiana. But at least living in a less-populated area meant less competition for whatever available job openings were out there. I posted my resume on various job websites and received a couple inquiries, none of which were substantial, until I received one in February 2004. I scheduled an interview with a race-car manufacturer on the northwest side of town. When the phone call concluded, it seemed that they were impressed with my resume, and I was very hopeful. Then came the interview.

When I walked into the manager's office, I felt as if my weight immediately made his decision to turn me down, regardless of my qualifications. He talked as if my experience was adequate, but his eyes said he just couldn't accept my appearance. After the 10-minute interview, I knew I would not be returning. That was my first and last interview. No more calls, no more nibbles. It was as if all of Indianapolis had passed judgment on me for being obese.

I became very depressed as my health continued to decline and I struggled to lose any weight. Even if I was able to find a machinist's job, I wasn't physically fit enough to work. My weight was causing back problems and with my other health issues (asthma, high blood pressure, etc.), I attempted to file for Social Security disability. Social Security authorized two doctors to evaluate me and in September 2004, I received notification that they did not deem me worthy to receive a disability stipend, which meant that we would have to use the money in my 401K and IRA to stay afloat, despite the large tax hit we took for cashing them out early.

A growing problem

With no possibility of finding work as a machinist, I knew my only chance at employment would be through continuing my education. So I applied to the University of Phoenix and pursued a online degree. I was accepted and received a student loan and a Pell grant. Returning to school became my salvation. My first year, I carried a 3.82 grade-point average. I was taking two classes every six weeks. I was completely enjoying the world of online education; it was my passion. I had just begun my second year when my health forced me to quit.

I was taken to the emergency room on the night of Nov. 16, 2005. I blacked out during the ambulance ride and only know my wife's version of what happened next. I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and was placed in a medically induced coma. My weight had reached 615 pounds. There was a good chance I would not live to see another day.

Today I sit here, 53 years old, having lost more than 100 pounds, but still morbidly obese, with a myriad of health issues. But I'm alive. My father passed away in September 2009 and my wife and I now live on Social Security disability, which was finally approved in 2006, as well as her paycheck from a job at a local convenience store. I have survived this journey through unemployment, but just barely. As for the future, I hope to find a way to lose some of this weight and get back to being one of the employed; but right now, I love my wife, am happy to be alive and try to enjoy each day I am here as a blessing.

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