I don't want to Netflix and dissociate any more, how do I get better?
February 26, 2019 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I am in my mid-twenties and have been out of work for almost two years, in tech, in a big US city. I quit my last job for mental health reasons and am trying to restart my career. Have you done anything like this, or helped anyone else pull it off? How do I do it? More specific questions below.

I have struggled with ptsd and depression for a long while, and seriously don't cope well with unstructured time. I dropped out of an undergrad CS program for mental health reasons. I have worked in various tech/IT-ish jobs for a few years, and might be able to get into an actual web dev/software engineering role.

At my last job, my last management team did some things that are very unusual for tech and that I could not cope with. I might have grounds for an ADA suit, but I didn't have the energy to pursue that then and I don't now. About a year ago, I did a three-month code bootcamp, which seemed like it was going to be helpful, but none of the job leads I got through it panned out, and I got less functional again when it ended.

I'm finally on meds that seem to be working pretty well, and I have a great therapist, as of a couple months ago. I feel like there's a chicken-and-egg problem where I'm way more capable of focusing on stuff and completing tasks if I have accountability and/or those tasks benefit others, so I could accomplish a lot more day-to-day if I had a job, but I'm struggling to get the executive function together to apply to them.

1) What, exactly, should I say to prospective employers about my job history? I'm especially looking for input from people who were hired after gaps like this, or who have chosen to hire people with gaps over people with steadier backgrounds. I'm worried that "took time off for personal reasons" reads as clueless or vague, and that employers will read descriptions of the reasons I left my last job as either vague, whiny, or bitter.

2) I could theoretically stay out of the workforce indefinitely, because my kind, loving, well-off spouse is supporting me. My day-to-day life isn't that bad, I have food and housing and Internet. I feel incredibly guilty and ashamed of my lack of activity, which tends to cause me to retreat from people more, which is not helping. How do I break out of this?

3) Should I be doing something else entirely? Should I be volunteering or freelancing or something in addition to trying to get myself to apply to jobs? Should I be looking for retail or food service or other non-tech work? Should I do classes or read books or something? Are there programs or strategies you'd suggest? Would it help if I went to a career counselor or intensive outpatient or joined a co-working space or something?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
What, exactly, should I say to prospective employers about my job history?

"I left due to health issues which are now resolved/under control."
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:15 PM on February 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

As to the rest of this - I also do better with outside accountability. You're in a great position, in that you have a supportive spouse and therapist. Let them know that you would like them to help you structure your time and achieve the things you're trying to achieve. It took a therapist to finally get me to apply for new jobs in order to leave my soul-sucking one - if left to my own devices I would have put it off forever.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:16 PM on February 26, 2019

When I wasn't working, I went a bit batty from having unstructured alone time, too. At first I tried scheduling myself some "career reading" time every day, but I lost interest after a few months since I had no way to apply what I was learning. I also don't have good internal motivation in general.

I eventually started volunteering at the library, which did a number of good things for me: It gave me a schedule around which I could structure the rest of my time; I made some friends that I still keep in touch with to this day; it gave me the external motivation I desperately needed; and it gave me a bit of an edge when I applied for a part-time job at the library a few months later. Most of all, I finally had external responsibilities and a reason to leave the house, which straightened me out mentally enough so I could start networking with old coworkers -- and that eventually led me to doing some freelance work for a colleague, which led to a job at their office, which revived my resume enough to get job I'm at now (which didn't ask about my employment gap! It's not always a problem!).

YMMV of course, but at the very least, if you're feeling aimless then find somewhere to volunteer! It'll solve a few of your problems right away, and over time might lead you somewhere new. (Note that my path above took about 3-4 years, so it wasn't necessarily a quick fix.)
posted by phatkitten at 12:42 PM on February 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

Hi fellow ptsd haver! I would look into a program that is trauma focused and can provide structure AND healing. If you are in a major city there are probably treatment programs that are outpatient and you get seen every weekday. Like camp for mental illness.

The trauma focused program I did was not daily but it used Dialectical Behavior Therapy and I love it.

Definitely also volunteer, in a technical role if you can, but if that’s not available go be helpful at a structured time every week. Pick up trash, walk dogs at the pound, make sandwiches with meals on wheels, crochet baby hats, whatever is available to you. Maybe do more than one. Even if it’s just an hour a week, the process of getting out of the house will add structure and the benefits to you of volunteering are enormous.

Make a schedule for yourself. Things to consider including

Library time x times per week
Tech meetups (this is roughly how I got my first technical job, send a me-mail and I’ll be happy to bloviate privately)
Get on the message board/reddit group/whatever for your preferred tech, provide helpful answers to questions even if you have to hunt and google for them
Go on dates with your spouse
Floss! Brush your teeth! Put it on the schedule wvery day

Do some exercise. Don’t be extreme but be as physically active as you will regularly enjoy. Maybe it’s swimming. Maybe it’s lifting weights. Maybe it’s using your arms to propel you in a chair. Maybe it’s deep breathing exercises to maintain or expand limited lung function.
posted by bilabial at 12:51 PM on February 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

My partner is very similar to you and I am the well-off spouse in our house. He had a four month medical issue in 2017 during which he lost his job because he was physically unable to walk, go up and down stairs, got hospitalized more than once, and was attached to an oxygen machine 24/7. He has since recovered physically. He also has complex PTSD and has been dealing with that for a long time, before I knew him, and his preferred method of coping with ptsd symptoms and anxiety is to dissociate by watching stuff online or zoning out to music or getting stoned.

He's doing a lot better now, so I'll share what he did in the last couple of years in the hopes that it might help you.

1. Got his physical health sorted out (blood testing for various deficiencies) and started eating more and better. Part of his dissociation was wanting to not experience his body at all so he was avoiding things like eating properly, needed dental care, and getting haircuts often enough. Doing these things more often helped.

2. Signed himself up for an online program to do real estate education, which he was able to complete more or less at his own pace, although it had a schedule/deadlines in it as well.

3. Accepted that it was okay to get a job that was different from his previous jobs just to give himself a bit of money and more structure to his schedule - he helps with filing and assistant type work at a medical office 4 days/week. This job might not even end up going on his resume, but he likes that it gets him out of the house and gets him talking to people.

4. Got trauma specific healthcare: he did a two week myofascial release intensive (see www.myofascialrelease.com) and has been doing a 12-session EMDR treatment and some talk therapy once a week for last few months. Both of these things have helped him stop dissociating so much and made him more comfortable being in his body and in the present moment. Also he was able to halve his blood pressure med dose and get off anti-depressants, which was a bonus. The myofascial release helped him stop having constant low grade pain in various parts of his body that he's had since he can remember. He still uses cannabis but doesn't use the same forms of it (more CBD heavy strains) and isn't smoking to knock himself out at night to avoid dreaming, which was a thing for a while.

5. Has me checking in with him about weekly on how he is doing and what he did that week, to provide accountability. So if he applied for jobs or did informational interviews with real estate brokers or took care of a financial chore or went to the gym a bunch or something like that, we talk about it. Similarly, if he did very little and stared at netflix and wanted to stop existing, we talk about it as well, and try to come up with something he will do differently the next week.

I am immensely proud of him for how he reached out to other people for help. It's not easy to accept help if part of your mental health stuff is feeling ashamed, undeserving, self-loathing etc. but it's really important to ask for it and be open to it.

I agree with the first answer that you should tell future employers you left your last job due to a health problem that is now completely resolved. There is no reason anyone at your work needs to know your health history unless you are trying to get an accommodation under disability law or something like that. Even when I have to take some time off work to go to a doctor's appointment, I don't give any details about anything. Don't let anyone pressure you into that; if folks you work with ever seem to be fishing for details you can end the conversation gracefully by saying, "it was a difficult time for me but I'm feeling a lot better now, thanks for your concern!"
posted by zdravo at 1:01 PM on February 26, 2019 [17 favorites]

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