Any advice on job searching for the anxious and depressed?
August 4, 2014 10:35 PM   Subscribe

I have social anxiety that gets worse when I'm depressed. I'm unemployed at the moment and really need work, but I'm in a lot of physical and emotional pain, so leaving my bed is a challenge. What can I do?

I've been depressed, off and on, for more years than I care to count. The fact that I had the kind of childhood one has to escape didn't help things. I also struggle with social anxiety that makes getting to know people really difficult: I feel like a burden, a fraud, annoying, pathetic, not good enough for other people, etc. a good lot of the time, even when things are OK. I can usually just ignore those feelings or logic them away, but it's lately gotten so bad that I'm constantly trying to keep from breaking down in public -- which has happened and cost me an interview recently -- and end up rarely leaving my room, lying in bed, sore everywhere. I'd been seeing a therapist, but our work is on hiatus until I can afford her again. I'm not on medication, except for pot. It helps, but I can't be stoned all the time and have no desire to be.

I want to be functional right now. I need to be. I keep telling myself 'It doesn't matter how you feel, you have work to do'. That helped when I wasn't an absolute mess. It helped me through my dad's death and almost a year of homelessness afterwards. It's not really helping now: I'm two months out of a job I left because my employer couldn't pay me every two weeks, and the stress of that on top of showing up regularly anyway put me in a near-constant state of panic. For six months. (They never paid my last two weeks' wages.) I'm still panicking. I'm not homeless yet, but this feels worse.

I've got some work trickling in, various graphic/web design projects, but it's not really enough to keep me afloat. I want to go back to school for programming (or at the least take some intensive courses) so I can get a better-paying job, get my driver's license, get a motorcycle license, take a serger sewing class, move into my own place again, but I can't afford it. I can't afford anything. I want to live my life as a person, not a quivering ball of desperate need that flattens everything in a five-mile radius. Help.
posted by oogenesis to Work & Money (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think you really need another shrink, one who is willing to see you on a sliding scale. Ask your current shrink if she can refer you to anybody, and if not call other shrinks in your area. You absolutely should not be trying to get by without any help right now.

I also strongly suggest you give a listen to the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast. I have recommended it plenty of times on Ask Metafilter, but that show can be life-changing. If nothing else, it will show you that other people are struggling with the same feelings.

I sent you a Memail.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:25 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't believe I've ever met a single person for whom the use of recreational drugs to overcome personal difficulties has ended up a net positive.
posted by flabdablet at 3:00 AM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you applied for Medicaid at all? It sounds like health care (physical and mental) need to be close to the top of the priority list. I struggle with chronic pain and depression too. But my life has gotten better now that I can afford meds to treat it.
posted by kathrynm at 4:04 AM on August 5, 2014

The first thing you need to do is stop smoking pot. If its for medicinal purposes, you need to find a new medicine that doesn't get you stoned.

Call one or more free clinic near you and start hustling for appointments. This is all you need to do, just focus on this one small thing. When you go to the appointment, talk about pain management and an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

That's it! That's all you have to do! You can google the numbers and make the phone calls from bed. Once you get some of this sorted out, then start looking for jobs. Then start thinking about school, and moving out, and driver's licenses. Your physical and mental health is the baseline and the first step, though, so don't get ahead of yourself.
posted by mibo at 4:31 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I must want to tell you that I sincerely admire your strength and resolve. Very few people could deal with what you're dealing with, let alone when they're severely depressed and anxious and in physical pain. Just please just know that I think that what you're doing is really brave. I say brave because I can only imagine how scary things have been for you and still are. And regarding the self-doubt and self-loathing, just from reading your post I can tell that you're a totally competent, interesting, and worthy person. I'd bet a lot of money that those negative feelings you have are distortions and not reflective in the slightest of how you really are. I'm all too familiar with those kinds of feelings and I know how powerful and persuasive they can be. So for what it's worth just know that I'm rooting for you and I know you're going to get out of this and flourish. Just take one day at a hour at a time...even one moment. See the David Foster Wallace quote I pasted at the bottom. If you haven't already, check out mindfulness meditation. It may help, or it may not. I know how hard the living in the moment thing is. Echoing other people, you should definitely press your therapist for a sliding scale, and if they're not willing then try to find another. I don't know how much social/family support you have, but you really need someone to be in your corner. A therapist that be that for you. I don't know anything about pot but others have urged you strongly to get off of it. Sitting in the bad feelings can feel unbearable, and the mindfulness thing is based on the counter-intuitive notion that sitting in the bad feelings and constantly intrusive thoughts and really experiencing them and observing them but not trying to control them or push them away, etc. actually dissipates them and allays their intensity. This is another thing I know is really hard but I'd urge you to give it a shot if you feel up for it. Put off the job searching until you have to do it or are ready to do it. But maybe most important, I want you to know that you're not alone. You mind may be telling you that you are but your mind, especially in depression, is often wrong. So hang in there. You're going to get through this, and looking back you'll be amazed out at how brave and strong you were.

"He could do the dextral pain the same way: Abiding. No one single instant of it was unendurable. Here was a second right here: he endured it. What was undealable-with was the thought of all the instants all lined up and stretching ahead, glittering. And the projected future fear […] It’s too much to think about. To Abide there. But none of it’s as of now real […] He could just hunker down in the space between each heartbeat and make each heartbeat a wall and live in there. Not let his head look over. What’s unendurable is what his own head could make of it all. What his head could report to him, looking over and ahead and reporting. But he could choose not to listen; he could treat his head like […] clueless noise. He hadn’t quite gotten this before now, how it wasn’t just the matter of riding out cravings for a Substance: everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you then somehow believed." -David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
posted by early one morning at 6:39 AM on August 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'll disagree with the pot advice. I do know one person who uses it for anxiety. It's not the worst thing you could be doing.

See if your county or state has legal aid, and call one of their pro-bono attorneys to go after your employer for unpaid wages. If you have a record of him/her not paying you, you can maybe sue for damages. (Better chances if this is a big company rather than a mom-and-pop store.)

The #1 advice I would have is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which you can learn from the book Feeling Good if you don't feel like going to a therapist right away -- or find someone who specializes in it. The paragraphs you wrote just reek of depression. What this means is, every sentence has a hugely negative bent, when it could be turned around positively. You could write about how you overcame challenges rather than seeing your history as a challenge-ridden mess. The point of CBT is that thoughts become feelings, feelings become moods. Changing your thoughts -- the language you use -- really does make a huge difference. Night and day. Also, thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become a life.

The other thing is that everyone needs people who love them. Can you rely on your most generous, loving friends or family members? If you don't have any, can you find even one person? It can be a therapist if nobody else is available. The purpose of a therapist isn't just to shrink your brain and teach you CBT. If you find the right one, it's someone who is in your corner where a parent wasn't. People don't like to think of therapists that way, it puts too much on their shoulders and their as-stated job role isn't to replace someone's parents. But for a person who doesn't have a lot of people in their corner, that little injection of love can be what you need (what anyone needs).
posted by htid at 7:24 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rather than focusing on your drug use right away, I would focus on bringing in more freelance web and graphic design work. Take work for really low wages if you have to, but do whatever you can to stay busy and remind yourself of your skills. It *sucks* to have no money, and not be able to do anything, so you need to tackle that first.

If it's too stressful to go out and meet people, bid for jobs on sites like guru. You will probably have to work for less than market rate, but there's a lot of design work out there, so hopefully you can get enough to get back on your feet. Once you have more of a baseline down, see if there's a community group of people learning programming together through Coursera or something similar. That way, you can learn a new skill and meet people without having to put money down. It's also less formal so if you're freaking out one day, it's not a huge deal to skip it.

Don't push yourself too hard. Just start slow and get some more money in so that you can build on stuff. Don't focus on the motorcycle license, either. Just get some work coming in and move from there.
posted by ohisee at 10:44 AM on August 5, 2014

Can you get outside without being so much "in public"? You gotta get outside every day, the earlier the better. I've never been homeless, but as you have hinted, being homebound can feel even worse. Also, have you looked into food stamps?
posted by serena15221 at 12:03 PM on August 5, 2014

I have been to this godforsaken place you describe, depressed and underemployed. The social anxiety component is very familiar, too. And the physical pain of depression. There's no sugarcoating it: This is hell. But there's hope, I swear.

One thing I try to do when I'm feeling depressed (still happens a lot) is remind myself that change is inevitable. Even the most entrenched systems tend to wither or evolve. Mean neighbors suddenly move away. Employment opportunities open up. New businesses form and old ones disappear. You get the idea.

Do not beat yourself up. Do have compassion for yourself. I imagine you'd have compassion for someone else who is hurting, so why not treat yourself the same way? You deserve it.

Do you live in a town with a substantial number of people on Craigslist? When I went through an extremely bad period, I'd go to the "gigs" section and find the craziest, silliest sounding thing someone would pay me to do. It was still hard to get out of bed, but I knew I had a responsibility to be a ghoul at a haunted house or hand out menus while dressed like a pickle. I tried to find gigs that were easy to laugh at and had nothing to do with my usual career. I met interesting people who didn't take themselves too seriously while working these gigs. I've found that it is good to be in contact with such people when depressed, even if you're not having in-depth conversations.

Do you have belongings that you don't need? I sold almost all of mine at one point when I really needed money, and I didn't miss them when they were gone. You can go to resale shops, or you can use sites like eBay, Decluttr and Etsy, which let you sell from home. With the online options, most of your time will be spent filling boxes with objects, which isn't mentally taxing.

There are websites that offer online therapy via chat applications. This might be helpful if you're struggling to get out of bed. Face-to-face appointments with a GOOD therapist are preferable, though, in my opinion. Some mental health clinics offer services on a sliding scale. If you have no money, they don't charge you very much. There are also free support groups. I've seen these do a lot of good for people I know who are struggling.

You can build your confidence with small social interactions, like asking a friendly-looking cashier how his or her day is going. It's likely that few people have bothered to ask about the cashier's well-being. It will probably make that person feel good, and you might feel a little bit better, too.

Sleeping is really important as well, obviously. It can take the edge off, if nothing else.

Hope at least some of this tome is helpful!
posted by hifidelity at 4:50 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi everyone. Thanks for all your suggestions and kind emails. I'll try as many as I can.

Some thoughts:

Re: the Mary Jane -- I don't struggle with substance abuse, and I think this is why: the respite from pain is so, so temporary. I started using pot to help with the cyclical depression/anxiety I deal with monthly, and it helps a lot, but only for a few hours at a time. Unfortunately, if I take enough to quiet my cramps too, I'm basically couchlocked -- nice sometimes, but not helpful. I literally do not see the point in staying under the influence even for a single day, so I only use at my worst. I'm probably the only smoker who can make a gram last half a year.

I think the social anxiety is more caused by the depression than anything else, because I'm not so worried about being liked or hated or whatever when I'm not unhappy.

@htid: No family that close to me, unfortunately, either physically or emotionally, and most of my friends are busy or too uncomfortable to be supportive, so I don't reach out much anymore. I was at the low end of my therapist's sliding scale already.
posted by oogenesis at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2014

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