How do you pay bills if social anxiety keeps you trapped at home?
December 13, 2010 3:18 PM   Subscribe

What happens if I can't work due to social anxiety?

First off let me apologizes for the ramble/disjointed way I've laid this out. I'm not terribly good at communicating in type and am currently in a bad mental state.

Background: I'm certain I have fairly severe social anxiety. I have never seen a doctor for it, but the last 10 years of my life have been affected in many many ways. Right now it is worse than it is has ever been and I'm very close to quitting my job (which I adore) because I can't. I can't go outside, I can't be around people, I can't go to work. I took the last two weeks vacation, before that I had FMLA for a funeral and a shoulder injury. I have 40 dollars in the bank. I have looming healthcare, housing, and medical bills. I've lost every job I've ever had because I would have an anxiety attack and not go in, call, or anything. I'd seal myself up from the world for a few months and then go back in when I felt I could. Those were times I had a little stashed away to take care of bills. Right now I don't have anything put away.

Three days ago I realized how bad it is, and I called my work-issued insurance's "Care Line" in which you talk to a counsellor who in turn can refer you to a therapist. My first appointment is two weeks from now. In four days I'm supposed to go to the hospital for a physical and see if there is a physical reason for the anxiety. This will be the third time I've set the appointment. I keep missing them because I can't bring myself to go.

The real meat of my question: what happens if I quit or get fired?

I am terrified. I am scheduled tomorrow and I know I can't go in, but if I get fired (I've missed a lot of time in the last few months and they are not happy with me) how do I pay rent? Buy groceries? Pay for anything? Can I qualify for unemployment if it's my own crazy that gets me fired/or I quit? How do I pay for a therapist without a job? Is there any sort of government assistance out there for this sort of situation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Going on disability should be your absolutely last-ditch attempt, but it exists and it exists for a reason.
posted by griphus at 3:27 PM on December 13, 2010

Did you know that in many hospitals you can get emergency psychiatric care in the emergency room? Can you bring yourself to go to the emergency room or do you have a parent or sibling or close friend who could take you? If you are willing to take medication it is possible that you could start treatment within the hour and feel well enough to get through tomorrow.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm reading this question as from someone in the United States. Is that correct? (If not, none of the following is relevant to you.)

To get benefits based on social anxiety you would have to be classified "disabled" because of it, which is a long slow process and anything but certain to succeed. You can find more information on that here at the NIH site.

If you do get disability status based on social anxiety, your employment would fall under the ADA and you could request accomodations for your disability. Under the ADA, your employer would be required to make reasonable accomodations so that you can continue to work (however you could still be fired without the company running afoul of the ADA if there were not any other job you could do for the company in spite of the disability).

Your best bet at the moment is to do your absolute best to attend work as scheduled, so that there is not reason for your employer to fire you.

You could apply for unemployment regardless of mental illness. The site to use to apply for unemployment is different for each state, but you should be able to find it by Googling your state + apply unemloyment

There are medicines with varying levels of effectiveness at treating physiologically-based anxiety disorders. If you can at all afford it, I'd suggest looking into it--at least as a stopgap measure (and if you have good insurance there's not much reason not to look into it). You might also consider a cognitive therapist if there is one covered under your employer's program (this could also be a stopgap measure). Keeping an income is very important.
posted by johnofjack at 3:46 PM on December 13, 2010

When you call in tomorrow, notify them you have a serious health condition and are applying for FMLA again. I don't know if you have any leave remaining, but if you do, it's at least a way to perhaps postpone getting terminated. You may still be let go if your FMLA request isn't approved (or if you decide not to complete the paperwork), or if your leave is exhausted, but it may buy you some more time in the short term.

If you're let go because you exhausted your FMLA leave, you may qualify for unemployment. Keep in mind, though, that generally, to be eligible for unemployment you must be willing and able to work. If you're not medically able to work, you likely will not be eligible for unemployment.

You don't say where you live, but if you're in or near a large city, you likely have access to many free or reduced-cost social services right there in your metro area. There is also a federal government website that will help you determine which benefits you may qualify for.

Good luck to you.
posted by pecanpies at 3:47 PM on December 13, 2010

Just remember that the more you work yourself up about it, the worse it's going to get. If you can get somebody to take you, or take a cab, do that instead of stressing yourself out by driving or taking public transportation. The key thing is that you GET to the doctor. This will provide you with the help you need (hopefully) and the excuse you need to miss work while the process to help you begins.

Most likely, the will prescribe some type of short-term anti-anxiety medication (Xanax, Clonipin, etc) while trying to get you into longer term solutions like anti-depressants and therapy. Hopefully, the drugs will work well enough to get you back to work while you try to figure out what's causing it.

Good Luck, and feel free to PM me if you need to talk.
posted by Raichle at 3:59 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can, ask a mod to let us know where you are. Perhaps we can suggest some resources that are in your area.
posted by prefpara at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have anyone who can help you out? Are you a member of a church or a social club or an alumni association? If you are, call or email the person you're most comfortable communicating with and ask them to please come and take you to the emergency room (if you are in the United States, now is a reasonable time to do this in every time zone.) Write out your exact symptoms (if you can't do it, print out this AskMe thread) and bring the paper with you.

If you'll contact the mods with your city/state, people can find you more places to get help. If you were in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, I'd tell you to go here.

This will be tough, but it's better to take care of this ASAP (like tonight) than to wait to get fired.

If you do lose your home/job/etc., post another anonymous AskMe (with your location) so people can tell you what to do. The answers will probably require you to do a lot of wandering around town, visiting strange new places, talking with people, being an advocate for yourself - it will be much better to get a prescription tonight, and get through the next few weeks of work, and see the therapist and the doctors and so forth while still getting paid.
posted by SMPA at 4:09 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Location in question is Sheboygan, WI.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:18 PM on December 13, 2010

You sound like you might qualify for Social Security Disability.* How many years have you been working? I believe the minimum requirement is at least 5 years of employment before you can receive benefits. You will need to have medical documentation proving that you have a medical condition which does not respond to treatment in order to go on disability, however, and that means seeing a doctor to get a diagnosis and trying to get treated for it first.

*Helping people get SSDI used to be my job so I feel like I can say this with some authority.
posted by Lobster Garden at 4:27 PM on December 13, 2010

From a medical student's perspective:
You almost definitely have an anxiety disorder.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure the above are correct - your employer can't fire you for your disability, as long as you are able to work.

As to treatment, we have a lot of fantastic treatments that work extremely well for anxiety disorders, and can let you get over many of these fears - going out, meeting people, how you are dressed, how you look, public speaking etc. I'd really love to see you talking to someone professionally about your feelings - it sounds like this is seriously influencing your life, and I think that you could make a lot of progress with medication alone - even more with meds and and through speaking about your feelings together.

I know that going to see someone is very hard for you to do, likely based on your symptoms, but I really hope that you will take that step and go to speak to a doctor. If you need help finding one in the area, I'd be happy to help.
posted by lrodman at 4:56 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

First of all, as a person who has dealt with anxiety (though not so severe) I can tell you that the best decision I ever made was to seek treatment. There are fantastic, effective treatments for anxiety disorders available. But two weeks is a long, long wait. Can you contact the office where your appointment is scheduled and request something earlier? There are often emergency slots available. Going to the ER is definitely an option, but it seems to me that it would be much easier to go ahead and see a doctor that will be monitoring your care in the future, instead of dealing short-term with an ER doc.

I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer, but I work in a field where a lot of my clients are getting SSI/SSDI or are in the application process. Those programs exist for a reason, and it might be that you're in a place where that's your best option. However, the application process is long, and the processing/approval process is even longer. Here (Tennessee) the average wait seems to be anywhere from six months to a year. I've seen it happen faster (shortest, maybe six weeks or so) and a lot longer (three years and still in appeals). So even if this is the path you're going to take, bear in mind that it could mean a LOT of time with no income.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by kella at 5:44 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also have an anxiety disorder, and I've watched a close friend go through crippling anxious periods as well.

The best thing I did for myself was ask someone to basically take care of me for a few days -- to make sure I got to those appointments, to nag me about eating and about taking my medication, to take me for walks, and to help me deal with work and school. I was lucky enough to have a friend who could do this for me. Is there someone near you who could help you at least a bit?

Feel free to MeMail me if you need to talk to someone.
posted by OLechat at 6:38 PM on December 13, 2010

I used to have SEVERE anxiety disorder. (Agoraphobic, manifested in many many ways, was completely disabling socially and professionally, as well as being a terrible kind of suffering. I HIGHLY HIGHLY suggest that you get ahold of someone and do cognitive behavioral therapy. I tried years of other kinds of therapy, meds, etc but CBT got me free, and did it fast too. Today I live a normal life... If you have more questions please ask. I am rooting for you. It is quite a bit to suffer with. But you can be free some day. I promise.
posted by jcworth at 6:59 PM on December 13, 2010

In Sheboygan you want to talk to these folks. You can also email Tana Koss,, if you can't get yourself to make the call, though she's not listed as a "crisis" contact and may want you to call or come in to speak to a counselor. They also have a "mobile" counseling unit, so it's possible they'll come to you.

They have lots of connections with your county health officials; it looks like this Turning Point center is where most public mental health initiatives are based.

It might help to write down your basic symptoms ("I can't bring myself to leave my house or talk to people,") your address, your phone number, etc., before making a call. They answer the phone 24/7, according to the website, so you can take a few hours to psych yourself up for it if need be.

(Phone calls are harder for me than in-person communication; the script, and the promise of candy afterward, helps a lot.)
posted by SMPA at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2010

The Psychology Today website could help. My anxiety wasn't social, but I still felt like it was hard to just call up people and talk about the problem. The website has a submission form that allows you to describe what's going on, and allows you to choose phone, email, etc as a communication mechanism. I know you already have an appt but it's just another avenue.

Like all the great comments here, I'd like to echo that some anti anxiety medication can help you a lot at least in the short term. It has the added psychological benefit of making your problem seem more biological/physical than mental and somehow more "real," if that makes sense, in a way. Because it is real and just like any other physical ailment, you can heal with treatment and care.

You can memail me as well.
posted by sweetkid at 7:23 PM on December 13, 2010

You know, there may be some short term care, but not forever.

There is always work to be done. You can do it.
posted by ovvl at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2010

I'm sorry you're going through such a hard time right now, and I hope you'll find some help in this thread.

Piggybacking on what Lobster Garden said, this page will help you figure out if your work history and FICA contributions qualifies you for SSDI. MeMail me if you want some more information on the SSDI application process. (Or just want to commiserate.)
posted by Room 641-A at 8:51 PM on December 13, 2010

Have you ever tried medication for it? Your "never seen a doctor for it" line suggests not.

Personally, I've found Celexa (which takes a few months to build up in your bloodstream) has done a lot to reduce the frequency of my anxiety attacks, and popping a Xanax for the few that still get through (or preemptively before situations that I know tend to provoke extreme anxiety) stops the rest.

Try to get your hands on some Xanax ASAP, and use that to help you get out of the house to get to the doctors appointments you need to attend get a better long-term solution. MeMail me if you want some ideas for this.

Do you have any local friends who can come over and physically make you go to these urgent appointments?

Meanwhile, at a minimum, email your supervisor that you're having a medical emergency (crippling anxiety counts!).
posted by Jacqueline at 9:18 PM on December 13, 2010

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