Unemployed, mentally ill and confused.
June 27, 2018 5:17 AM   Subscribe

I recently got laid off for the second time in three years. I've been jobless for almost two months and I haven't even had an interview. When I was employed at my last job I was applying at other places and also couldn't land an interview. I know what the problem is: I have a long history of mental illness and poverty, so I haven't been able to settle into a career that I like and have often ended up working menial admin jobs out of desperation. Therefore my resumes for jobs that aren't admin assisting are spotty. I'm also extremely shy and don't/can't network due to the aforementioned mental illness. I may have a chance to get a grant to pursue a certificate in something, but I can't figure out what I should do. Consider this a crowdsourcing effort? Snowflakes inside. Apologies for length.

Other issues:
- I'm a middle-aged fat woman and anticipate being rejected because of that, especially by male interviewers and contacts. I've had bad experiences with men at work before, especially in the tech sector, and I've endured an absolute mountain of shitty comments, remarks, and outright bullying about my weight and fat people in general. I fuck up interviews and freeze a lot now in part due to stereotype threat.

- I've been drifting around for years trying to figure out what career to settle on, but nothing has panned out. I started in web design in the mid-aughts, but the aforementioned awfulness from tech guys discouraged me and I wasn't tough enough to handle it.

- I'm not persistent or aggressive. I get discouraged easily. I don't have a safety net to fall back on if I can't find steady work.

- I don't know anyone who does work that I'd like to do. I don't know anyone I could ask for advice. I'd rather stab myself in the eye than go up to or email a total stranger and ask them to meet me or talk to me.

- I often end up doing graphic design, writing, and web content management in my admin assistant positions, but my title never reflects this. Could I be getting filtered out because of this?

Things I am good at:

- I am decent at visual design and have education tangential to it. I have some graphic design work that I did recently for a couple of companies, and a lot of work that is now very dated and not portfolio worthy. I also do some OK illustrations.

- I pick up the basics of new skills and software very quickly.

- I'm pretty good at problem solving and spotting issues before they occur. Even as an admin assistant I was often asked for my opinion on issues that had come up with projects or clients.

- I have a bachelor's degree in the arts and I am pretty good at digging up information and compiling it. I'm not an engaging writer, but I think I am a clear writer.

More challenges:

- Meeting strangers terrifies and exhausts me. I will obsess before and after meeting people and can work myself up into a mental crisis. This is a real problem I've been trying to fix for decades and it unfortunately can't be solved with layman's advice or motivational quotes.

- I am bad at emotional labor and eventually my # of fucks is up and I start getting very crabby and depressed in support roles.

- I can't seem to focus enough to really pick up programming. My web design skills are ancient and I've tried brushing them up, but I just can't focus on Codeacademy for long. I used to be able to code a little bit so I'm not sure what the barrier is here.

- I'm kind of quirky? I guess? I don't pick up on tone well, occasionally say odd things, and I'm awkward due to shyness. People would describe me as friendly, but quiet and a bit strange. I'm not a good talker and I do not impress extroverted, corporate go-getter types. I also have never had money and look it. My clothes and jewellery are tasteful and clean, but slightly cheap looking. My skin is spotty, I have greyish teeth from well water, and my dress shoes have seen better days. It's all I've ever been able to afford.

What I want:

- Something that I can learn and focus on that will lead to work that pays well (i.e., better than admin assisting) and that is in demand.

- I really do need decent pay in the next year or so. I need a lot of peripheral health care that I've never been able to afford, and if I leave it any longer I will have some very expensive and painful problems to fix.

- A career that I can really dig into with enthusiasm.

- Something that is always growing so I can keep learning at a decent pace, but not breakneck speed.

- Something that won't make my mental illness worse. So, occasional telecommuting, flex hours, low social pressure, not a lot of interaction with "outsiders," working with women.

- Despite being really shy, I love collaborating and working on a challenging project with a team.

- I'd rather work for a company than a series of clients.

Current situation:

I'm currently applying to jr. graphic design jobs and corporate/internal communications jobs and getting nowhere. I live in a large urban area and my last job was titled admin assistant but I only did graphic design work, light website management, and writing assignments. I have other jobs on my resume related to these areas, but they were all contract or freelance and a long time ago.

I read advice on MeFi about front end web development and UX, but the comments from users made those fields seem equally as challenging to find work in with a lot of competition and many years of experience needed just for entry positions. UX seems like it involves a lot of meetings and consulting with strangers.

What am I suited for, given my background and challenges? Anything?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What am I suited for, given my background and challenges? Anything?

Nonprofit* work. The pay is not great but people are mission-focused and everyone answers the phones/changes the toner while coordinating events and writing grants. It naturally results in camaraderie and a sense of connection. Find something that matters to you - mental health, for example, or children, or literacy - and find the small local nonprofit doing good work in that field.

*I am referring to small community-based nonprofits - you are in a large metro so you may have national HQs of nonprofits - they are run no differently than large corporations so you might hit the same experience/skills gap there.
posted by headnsouth at 5:34 AM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you can find the right nonprofit, that could work - although some of them have dysfunctional cultures. If you get stuck in an admin role long-term, though, the sense of mission might not be enough to carry you through e.g. month 26 of the emotional labour/boredom problem, and if the money's not great to begin with...

I'd make a two-phase plan. Phase 1: get a job somewhere relatively non-toxic that offers $$ and benefits that could pay for therapy, healthcare, and shoes and other nice things. Someplace that will let you leave at 5 on the nose. IMO this would be either a huge corporation (see this question) or a university (probably yes in a support role :/ You'd likely work with other women, for the most part, which is a good thing), maybe a hospital (one of the last bastions of unionized jobs, in my area). It will be boring and support is support (no getting around the shit-eating part of it), but, it'll only be for the short-term. and will be more tolerable if you have a clear path out of it in not too long. You'd be surprised at what's endurable if you have a long-term goal (and some of the nicer things money can buy).

Phase 2: take evening or distance courses in something that will get you to a job you won't hate. Your concentration is likely to be better if you have decent mental (and other) health care provided by the phase 1 job, and the structured goal-setting a class could offer would more than likely help you get through the material. As for what to study - UX, yes, why not? (One way into that is through courses - another is through training departments in big companies.) Adult education, e-learning. (Maybe you can shift your day job towards those kinds of directions simultaneously.) Healthcare technology would be another field that might suit, I'm thinking.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:11 AM on June 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

What do you enjoy? I couldn't get a sense of that from your question. For the potential certificate, I would take a look at your local community college's certificate programs and request information from any program that looks interesting to you. Maybe pick two of the largest companies in your area and look at their job board - does anything look interesting to you? What skills would you need to get that job?, etc.

On preview, I second cotton dress sock's phase 1 and 2 plan.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 6:31 AM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

{{hugs}} It's okay. Take a deep breath. You haven't messed anything up, and you are definitely not doomed. The place you're in right now, where you feel like you can't do anything right? That's your depression and anxiety lying to you. Your brain keeps telling you "What the fuck, why can't you just pull yourself together like everyone else?" That voice in your brain can fuck off. The issues you are struggling with are not trivial. You are allowed to pause, walk slowly, take your time, fumble sometimes, and try again. Your life is your own. This is YOUR story. You get to write it any way you want. It does not have to be the same as anyone else's.

I think you are much stronger and more resourceful than you are giving yourself credit for, but that's okay. You don't know to know it or believe it right now, because that's just more work struggling against what your brain is saying. It doesn't matter. The fact that you ARE strong and resourceful will save you anyway.

I've been in a similar place. Was a stay-at-home mom for many years, so I was practically unemployable. I didn't know what I wanted to do, even. I was in an abusive marriage, worn down, no access to money to buy myself a decent interview outfit. I was fat and brown and felt like a complete fake every time I asked for the job I was supposedly qualified for, so I didn't ask for it.

But it is possible to claw your way out of this. You need two things:

(2) Medication/treatment (including mental health issues) (NOT including obesity, unless that is indeed causing immediate health issues), and
(2) Time (by which I mean a way to get by, paying bills, until you figure yourself out).

(1) needs to happen as soon as possible. Have you seen your doctor? Do you have the right medications for your health problems? Make this your top priority. You may or may not have the time or money for therapy right now - but if you don't, then saving up money for therapy and making time for therapy needs to be a very high priority also. Trust me on this one. Invest in your health as if you are a queen. It *will* yield incredible returns.

(2) is all about laying off of yourself and taking a sabbatical from the pressure you're putting on yourself. Take some time to figure yourself out, and to pay your bills, get some "low level" work. When I was in this predicament, I went to work for Starbucks, and I highly recommend it. The best thing about it was they pay for college! You can take college courses and have access to a guidance counselor and all that jazz as long as you are working 20 hours a week, which I think will help refresh your resume as well as help you figure out your interests. Starbucks is generally known for its liberal workplace culture (relatively speaking) and I suspect you will feel more at ease in such a place than you have in more regimented/corporate environments.

The other enormous burdens you are carrying can be dealt with as long as your health is taken care of and you give yourself some time to work through them. You're smart and you have demonstrated resourcefulness all your life. You got this.
posted by MiraK at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2018 [13 favorites]

I agree with Mira--from the inside, you may not be able to see just how much your mental illness is getting in the way of both your career and (more important) your happiness, but it's all over your post. (E.g., inability to concentrate and irritability are both often symptoms of anxiety.) If you are getting treated and this is how you feel, you need to change treatments and/or doctors. If you are not getting treated, you need to make it a real priority. Of course you're tired and feel hopeless right now--you're dragging around a 100-lb backpack of rocks on your back in addition to all the crap society dumps on middle-aged overweight women generally. Give yourself a break, get yourself some relief. If you can't afford it now, then it should be your #2 priority after finding a "low level" job to make it possible to afford it.

Ultimately, you might want to look into jobs with state or local government, as they tend to have predictable demands and don't usually expect you to go above and beyond. Depending on where you live, much of the hiring process may be based on getting an exam score, not an endless series of interviews.
posted by praemunire at 8:02 AM on June 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

What about technical writing or copy editing, do either of those interest you? You say you're not the most engaging writer but you are a clear writer—clarity would be a big asset in either of those fields. They also seem to me like jobs that involve a minimum of interpersonal interaction, or at least the interpersonal interaction is fairly low-stakes and low-stress. And I get the impression that candidates for these jobs are often given tests to check their skill level, so your hiring would be based more on your hard skills and less on your ability to charm the interviewer.

(I should say I have not worked in either of these jobs, so my impressions could be wrong! But it might be worth at least looking into.)
posted by Mender at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2018

When you apply for jobs where you have the skills, but not the titles that go with them, try organizing your resume into a skills based resume. They're not as common, but they directly solve for one of your big barriers and make it clear that you know what you're doing.
posted by oryelle at 4:56 PM on June 27, 2018

One surprising thing I've found at the large corporations I've worked for is how welcoming and accommodating they can be to people of all sorts. I've been amazed to work with some truly bizarre people, and over the years, have learned to hold in awe many of those people, have come to truly respect them, both for the work they do, and for the people they are, both on the job and outside of work. I've found that many managers have learned that some of the quietest, quirkiest, unpleasant people really perform well, over long periods of time, outperforming slick blowhards who talk up a good meeting. I've worked with some real assholes, people who've made me consider quitting that job, but after seeing them in action for a couple of years... I really want them on my team!

So don't discount working for a large, staid corporation. Sure, the C-suite, sales, marketing, and HR folks will be slick and personable, but many technical managers (and those are the folks who hire the UX designers, and sometimes the ad agencies) will look past a person's surface presentation and give them a chance to show what they can do.

Regarding stereotype threat... yes, that is certainly real, and the tech industry has a well deserved reputation for "bro" culture, but, as I've said above, the opposite can also be true. Sometimes this stereotype rejection has more space to flourish in tech areas that are less than state-of-the-art, where people aren't so full of themselves, aren't racing so fast to change the world and get rich, are maybe in a smaller, less glamorous city. But these tech areas still have deadlines to meet, products to ship.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like specifics, or even just to chat, do a mock interview, whatever. Best of luck to you!!!!!!
posted by at at 7:55 AM on June 29, 2018

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