Guest Post! #946: I’m petrified of job-hunting.”

This is a guest post from a kind Patreon contributor who took on the “Advice Columnist For The Day” mantle. I meant to post it ages ago and never actually hit “Post”, so, apologies for the oversight b/c it’s a very good read.

Hi Captain!

I just graduated college a few months ago and I’m having trouble finding my way into the real world. I have a decent amount of experience for a new grad, I think. I’ve had jobs doing work relevant to my STEM field, I completed a 7-month-long thesis, and I had a leadership role in a club. While my GPA was not amazing (mental illness dragged me down the past two years), it’s definitely not bad and I know for a fact I was good at my major.

All that stuff should make me feel confident about my job search. Instead, I’ve sent out two applications in three months. I am absolutely petrified of job hunting. Clicking on online job postings sends me into a panic spiral. My heart races when I open up my resume.

Over the years, I’ve tried to be kind to myself about not “living up to my potential.” I try to remember it’s not that I suck, but that my depression/anxiety/maybe-ADD/etc. has its thumb on the scale. But that leads to terror that I’ll always be bad at the basic skills I need to survive on my own and I’ll just crash and burn out in the real world. I was a mess at school. What if the stress is too much for me? And my references, who saw me fall apart at school. How do I communicate with them about my job search when I’m still so mortified? Not to mention the nauseating thought of all the emotional, mental, and literal capital I’m going to have to spend up front settling into a new job, a new home, a new city (I’m job searching near some beloved family a state away).Every time I try to think past one issue, another comes up. The whole topic is a big ball of fear in my mind now.

Consistent treatment for my mental health has been difficult due to moving back and forth from school all the time, but I have a great doctor working with me on medication and I’ve finally found a therapist in the area. My question for you and your amazing commenters is: How do you do the terrifying thing? What tools do you use to move forward when you feel paralyzed with fear? And how do you hold off the self-loathing when you struggle with something you “should” be able to do?



(she/her pronouns)

Dear Paralyzed,

Congratulations on your recent college graduation! I am honoured that the Captain opened the opportunity for recruit awkwardeers to be the advice columnist for a day, and I very much wanted to answer your letter because it really, really speaks to me. I know from my own experience how hard it is to be in college while living with an illness and I am genuinely proud of you.

Often, the questions we ask are not to the answers we are looking for, but I don’t want to neglect your actual questions, so here goes:

*How do you do the terrifying thing?*

There are two ways that work on their own, but best in combination: you make yourself less terrified and you make the thing less terrifying.

*What tools do you use to move forward when you feel paralyzed with fear?*

You wiggle a little if you can. If you can’t, figure out what you need in order to wiggle a little. A snack? A nap? A hug? Go and get the help and support you need to wiggle a little. If you manage to wiggle a little, be really proud of yourself. Next time you feel paralyzed, and wiggling a little is okay and you feel adventurous, wiggle a lot. Great job! Maybe next time around you can move sideways a little, and then you do that, and so on, and then maybe you realize that you can move forward, or maybe you realize moving forward is not what you want at all because there’s a wall ahead, and then you try and find a door, or realize you want nothing to do with that wall and walk around it until you find something that you want to move towards.

*And how do you hold off the self-loathing when you struggle with
something you “should” be able to do?*

You take yourself seriously, you give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and you focus on being kind to yourself and getting better.

Let me start elaborating on the last point, to take yourself seriously. If you’re too sick to find a job right now, you are too sick to find a job right now. It’s okay. It happens. If you feel too scared browse job listings, you *are* too scared. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Take yourself seriously; if you can’t do it, no one can tell you you should be able to do it. Don’t tell yourself that either. Take your experiences and your life seriously. The job you don’t have right now is not “the real world” — your world is very much real. You
live in the real world already! If you aren’t well enough to do what you want to do, your job is to do everything you can do in order to get better. For instance, if you think you should be browsing job offers, and you can’t because it upsets you so much, be actively kind to yourself. Prepare your favourite meal. Go for a walk. Meet a friend. That’s not procrastination; it’s taking care of yourself and it is and will always be your number one job. If you don’t think you will be well enough soon to find a job you like, apply, interview,
start and have a regular income, make a plan for what you will do instead (e.g. stay with family for some time) Having to find a job when you *have* to because the money is running out is a lot more terrifying and less likely to succeed. Recovering from mental illness is a full-time job and while many people don’t have the luxury to treat it as such, there is absolutely no obligation to work full-time while you’re at it if you can avoid it.

Taking good care of yourself also means facing your anxieties. Not overcoming them, not battling or suppressing them, the first step is facing them. What is the ball of fear you’re experiencing made of? You mention settling into a new job, a new home, a new city. Take a big sheet of paper (or, if you have, a journal) and make three columns, one for each category. Are they still one big ball of fear, or three smaller ones? Pick the one that you think will be easiest for you to think about. What issues do you think you will be experiencing? What exactly are they? How do they look like? Can you put them into words? If you can, write them down into that category. If you have any energy left, think about how you might be able to tackle it. (E.g. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a place to live that I can afford.” — “I could ask [person I know in city that I want to live in] if they have
an idea in which part of town I could look for something suited to my budget”). The ball of fear consists of strands, that, when untangled, become more definite, and better to approach than an indefinite big knot.

While you’re at giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, give yourself permission to want what you want. (Poetry time! Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”). What do you want? (If there’s nothing you want but nothingness, it is your job to create the circumstances that the you who went to college and graduated, who worked on the side in STEM-related jobs, and was captain of a club, who did all those amazing things gets the possibility to come back if she wants.)

If you had a guaranteed income that covered all your needs, what would you do? For instance, it took me a year and a half of self-loathing to realize I wasn’t finishing my thesis because I wasn’t remotely as interested in Green Economy in India as I pretended to be, and that graduating with a degree in South Asian studies would not let me be the physician I had never admitted to myself I wanted to be. I don’t have the resources to start anew and go to med school, but I mentioned that to my thesis advisor and she suggested a new topic for my thesis. This new topic let me write a long chapter on the medical aspects of an issue relevant to my subject, and that helped.

If what you want is to find a job and nothing more, try and reframe. Try not to think of it as “I’m job-hunting”; a job is not an elusive animal, the rare quetzal you might hear but rarely see, impossible to keep alive in captivity. A job is like a pair of pants. You might never find the one that fits you perfectly and stays with you until old age. There are those pants that fit quite well, others that are a favourite for some time that you throw out once you’re over them, those that you try on and discard right away, and so on. It’s perfectly fine to get a cheap pair to make do while you shop around for something more durable. It’s perfectly fine to wear corduroy even if you’ve been a jeans type of person all your life. If you can, start to find something that will do for the moment. If on a day you feel well enough to maybe start an application, tell yourself (better, write it down) beforehand what you will do, such as “Today, I will spend ten minutes thinking about how I’m going to list the things I did at previous job that I liked. I will write down two bullet points.” The more specific the better. Set a timer. Don’t even open your CV; write it by hand or into a different file. If that was something you could do: great job! You are done for the day and you can return to your main job of taking care of yourself and recovering. If that’s something you could not do: commend yourself for trying! Return to your main job of taking care of yourself and recovering, and set a smaller goal the next time.

When you start to feel better over time, and more daring, but postings or your CV still petrify you, find something you can do instead. Is there a job fair near the place you
are looking for a job? Could you go and just hang out for a bit? Do you know people who work at companies you’d like to work at that you can ask about how they got that job and what they can recommend? Can you call HR at a place you’re interested in, introduce yourself and ask if you have a shot at applying? Don’t set out to buy the perfect pants. Allow yourself to not go for the one perfect gig. Go window shopping! Find something you might like and try it on. Give yourself time to figure out what you like first, and when that happens — it will, slowly — the terrifiedness will waver and wane. Once you think you’re up for sending out applications that will require communicating to your references, send them a short note. (I’ve never lived in a part of a world where references are a thing, so I’m not completely sure about that; the framework I nicked from
Comments welcome).

Dear Reference,

I hope things are well with you! + Some comment about a topic you
talked about, your thesis, your favourite class, a thought you had

As you may have realized I was not well during my last two years at
school. I am a lot better now and am setting out to apply for jobs. I
will be interviewing for some jobs in [field]. Would it be okay if I
listed you as a professional reference?

Not So Paralyzed Anymore

Lastly, I recently stumbled onto a small project that sifted through the research on what makes a job good for people individually as well as globally. They also evaluated the research on how to get a job, andI like what they came up with.(I am not in any way affiliated with this project). Basically, they recommend that if you apply for a job at a place where you’re not already known, add a “pre-interview project” to your application. A pre-interview project is something that you wrote/designed/came up with that relates to what they do and could be a valuable contribution to their work. If a pre-interview project is something you can see yourself doing, instead of starting with looking at job postings at an organization or company, you could browse through their internet site, read up on their projects/publications/whatever it is they do and think about whether that’s something you’d like to contribute to, and how you’d like to contribute to it, and maybe even sketch your idea. This will give you a better feel for whether it’s worth applying, and gives you an edge if you do apply. If you can’t come up with anything, that might just mean that it’s not something you want to contribute to and that would be alright too, because you’re taking yourself seriously. Keep on doing that, give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and be kind to yourself.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.


Your friendly street medic

Readers, how do you steel yourself to do the hard things?


107 thoughts on “Guest Post! #946: I’m petrified of job-hunting.”

  1. Could OP use a recruiter? I’ve never hired one out myself but the company I was recently hired for uses one and I’ve found them to be very friendly and they handle a lot of the calling and emailing back and forth so you don’t have to talk to the companies until you know you’re in the running for a position.

    To steel myself, I take it step by step. So what I only do one thing today that I Had To Do. Tomorrow I’ll do another thing and I’ll celebrate small victories and slow down when I’m getting signals that I need to.

    My anxiety isn’t as paralyzing as OPs but I find that helps when I’m too paralyzed to do The Whole Thing.

    1. I have worked with a recruiter, and I can attest that it is much, much easier and less anxiety inducing!
      Another thing is yes, sometimes, you just have to push through your discomfort. Always reward yourself afterward! As you keep doing this, it will get easier every time, and you’ll still be doing something to make yourself feel good after each time. This is something that really helps me to Big Scary Things, knowing that afterward I’ll be doing something that makes me happy and that next time, it will be a little bit easier.

      1. A recruiter could be easier, depending on if there are recruiters who specialize in what the LW is interested in. I have spoken to about a half dozen recruiters in the last few years and none of them ever have any leads on doing what I want to do in the field I want to do it in. If the LW wants to do something that falls under the IT umbrella, they may have luck. OTOH, if they just want a job just to get started and are not particular about the role or the field, a recruiter may be helpful.

    2. In my experience*, it’s _hard_ to attract the attention of a recruiter as an entry-level applicant if they’re not specifically recruiting out of your college. (Some recruiting firms might, and lots of STEM-involved companies have internal recruiters whose job it is to recruit current students and recent grads for the firm.) It’s not impossible, but I started getting far more recruiter contacts once I had about 6 months of experience in a STEM role at a multinational company.

      In my case, I specialized by pursuing a terminal Master’s in a STEM field that is also very business-facing. My research before starting the program indicated that a terminal Master’s was a reasonable route and led to a salary bump, but through my experience in my program, I decided that the geographic area with the highest concentration of jobs in that field was not an area that I wanted to live. I wound up moving far enough out of that geo-area that I couldn’t take full advantage of the recruiting efforts or recognition of my school, and openings in my field and the geo-area I chose lean heavily toward PhDs. I wound up taking an entry-level role in a marginally-related STEM position and aggressively pursuing projects relevant to my specialization/career interests.

      None of which is meant to be discouraging! It took me a little over a year of dedicated job-hunting and mental-health-maintenance to get everything to a position where I finally got an offer**. Ultimately, I got an offer that I was excited about, expecting to do work that I was also excited about, and a little more than a year in, I’ve touched all the areas I expected when I started, plus lots and lots and lots of learning and owning my first project from design to review.

      * as someone who avoided applying for jobs in my STEM field for a couple years after graduation, then really buckled down to the hunt after a bunch of parts of my life fell apart and I decided that facing that anxiety was better than the alternative

      ** plus a TON of applications, lots of conversations about job-hunting, plenty of good advice and bad advice, conversations with references, and a little more than dozen interviews scattered across companies from “tech giant” to “sawmill” — as in, an actual sawmill, the interview concluded with a tour

    3. I have also worked with recruiters from both sides. Generally they are not engaged to find jobs for entry level people, but in an STEM field that might be more likely.

    4. I ran into a couple recruiters in my recent job search, and it was terrible. It might not be as bad if OP’s field is one that does that, but I’m in design/technology (web design) and the agencies combing for candidates like me were generally representing places that didn’t have the expertise on-board to determine what a good candidate was, and therefore also generally didn’t have the wherewithal to pay one what they were worth. I got a lot of pressure to move forward with interviewing for some very, very shitty jobs, because it was clear the recruiter was having problems finding candidates willing to consider their client’s terrible offers and they wouldn’t get paid until the position was filled.

    5. My limited experience is that this varies quite a bit depending what you’re looking for. I work in tech, and there are a lot of awful recruiters and mediocre recruiters, and some fairly good recruiters. And when I was too scared to look properly, I got two decent jobs through mediocre recruiters. I didn’t even apply, I just uploaded my CV to a job site and they scraped it, and suggested a role, and I took it. And when I was more with it, I got in touch with one of the better recruiters and they found me some jobs which were more precisely what I wanted.

      And for what it’s worth, actually interviewing etc was a *little* scary, but when someone presented an opportunity to me, it wasn’t very scary to just say yes; it may not be the same for the LW but it might be.

      For me that was well worth it. But in other fields, that doesn’t really exist, you need to apply to jobs which are advertised.

    6. I have gotten jobs several times through recruiters / staffing agencies, and was a liberal arts major (English and Art), so it doesn’t have to be STEM-specific. The key is the TYPE of recruiter you sign up with. It also helps to blow the skills tests (PowerPoint, Excel, MSWord, etc.) out of the water, which you can do with minimal effort if you brush up on them before the skills testing–that’s for recruiters who DO skills tests, mind you.

      Recruiters / staffing agencies to avoid: Those who want you to pay a fee up front, or urinate in a cup (for a drug test you probably pay for). The kind of work they will find for you, if any, will be demoralizing and low-paid (and they may be making money pushing drug testing or charging fees to review your application/resume, not placing people into jobs). Avoid strip mall-type bare store fronts from a non-national chain (though national chains, like KELLY, may not be your best bet either). Also, if you can find staffing agencies tied to your school, that helps, too!

      Tips: Befriend your contact person. The woman who found me my current job? I send her job leads I get from professional affiliation contacts when I get them, so she can help other people find work in my current field. If I lose my job, she will remember that. Also, don’t be afraid to work for the recruiter or staffing agency as a temp while the company they place you in as a temp worker checks you out and vice versa. It prevents a bad fit on both sides, and you get paid for your work, and that helps get you on your feet.

      My depression and anxiety manifests in list-making, which is both good and bad for me. If you start breaking things like “get out of bed” into 200 micro-steps, that’s not so good (for me, anyway) and is a sign to throttle back, increase self-care, maybe adjust meds, and just generally address your depression (if you are like me). If your list making is productive because you see a plan starting to take shape and have an idea of the smaller and less scary things you can do to move closer to a goal, that is good!

      Also, keep away from people, even or especially loved ones, who don’t treat mental illness or invisible disabilities with compassion and respect, or who talk about “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” or “having more grit” or “not being lazy” because they will make you feel worse, and feeling worse does nothing to help you deal with your challenges. Find supportive friends and/or a therapist who will call bullshit on bullshit but support you when you need support, and help you define, if it gets murky, which is which. (Hint: It’s more likely to be real stuff, but messages of guilt you have received for years are going to cloud the waters a bit.)

      Good luck. You can do the thing!

  2. I would add that, yes, graduation means you should now Be An Adult In All Ways. But if health issues truly are preventing that, it’s important for LW to make sure her Team Me is rallied around her. Can her Team provide her with some leads? Some good mentors? Does she know a good writer that can proofread her applications and her resume and offer some good advice? Does she have a Team member that can do some practice interviews (Google “common interview questions” for ideas). Also, if her search has stops and starts and bumps in the road, does she have Team Me members that can help out if she can’t afford her own place to live or food?

    Job searches are hard and time consuming as it is. But having a solid support system is even more important when you’re trying to Be An Adult in every other way, too, while also dealing with health matters. All the best to you, LW!

    Also, start reading Ask a Manager. It’s done me a lot of good in knowing what’s right and wrong in the working world as well as how to interview smarter.

    1. I don’t love the phrasing here that health issues could prevent Being an Adult. Taking care of health issues, even if that means forgoing other “Adult” things like having your own place/a job/etc., is still Being an Adult, and the LW isn’t failing at Adult if she needs to take time to deal with her own health.

      I definitely agree with the rest of your suggestions – just that the framing of “get better” vs. “be adult” is not particularly helpful.

      1. Thank you. That phrasing, in addition to being problematic, is also inaccurate. Not all adults have jobs or their own place. No one would ever call a SAHM a non-adult because she didn’t work outside the home, for instance. Many adults share a space with friends or roommates to save on rent. Are they not adults?

        *not intending to derail the thread, just pedantic English major being pedantic*

  3. I feel for you with the “I should be able to/have already…” voice, something I did when that was playing in my head was make a list every night of all the the things I did that day so you have evidence for yourself to show you did things.

    For example:
    -got up
    -made list

    To give credit where it’s due I nicked this from Hannah Hart back in the day 🙂

    1. I used to do this throughout the day, writing stuff I did on a notepad, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to remember them by the end of the day.

  4. This advice is very kind and lovely, especially the emphasis on self care as a worthy endeavour and framing of what is “real”.

    However, I really have to quibble with that “add a pre-interview project” thing.

    Do Not.

    Seriously, do not.

    What companies hiring want to to see, especially at junior level (which is where a new grad is going), is someone who can follow directions, is enthusiastic about THIS job (not just ANY job), and expresses that through 1) Their cover letter, and 2) the interview.
    They Do Not Want anyone to attach their special projects, sketches, and contributions made from the total outside.
    See also ask a manager for all the NOPE on job getting gimmicks.

    Any job that wants more than a CV and cover letter (e.g., design jobs that want a portfolio) will say so in their job ad.

    Now, it’s not 100% clear whether OP meant that these projects are supposed to be submitted with your application (1000 x NOPE) or just as an exercise to decide if the job is a good fit. If it’s the latter, more power to you, but from reading it sounds like the former to me.
    Might be worth rewording if OP actually means “pre-interview project” as an intellectual exercise sort of thing that you do for your own benefit before applying?

    1. That’s a very important point. I would also strongly suggest looking at the blog Ask A Manager, which has excellent advice about job searching/interviewing/cover letter and resume writing, for when LW is able.

      I really sympathize with this; I also struggled with mental health stuff in college and after, and I was really scared that I wasn’t actually going to be able to hack it “out there” with the whole looking-for-jobs thing and existing as a non-student in the world. One thing that really helped me was looking at it as a learning experience, one I could break down into more manageable chunks. Like, this month my learning objective is to feed myself without continually resorting to takeout. I did some internet research about things like meal prep and how to plan meals and grocery lists, and then found a couple of things that looked tasty/not to complicated, and gave it a try. Sometimes I found recipes I really liked! And it was great! Sometimes, I burnt shit, or left my lunch on the counter at home, or decided that my perfectly reasonable dinner was Sad and needed to be replaced with pad Thai. Still, it was practice, and once I had done the thing once, it was just a question of improving my percentages.

      Jedi hugs, LW. I know you are struggling, but I also know you are more than your potential or the weight of your expectations. Here’s at least one Internet Stranger awkwardly cheering you on.

    2. Yes – as a careers adviser, I think there are specific situations where this would work quite well – say if you’re going for a job with a small organisation who doesn’t know what they want until it walks in the door, somewhere that values entrepreneurial behaviour, somewhere where you already have a strong positive relationship and a lot of familiarity with the organisation and their needs. I work with some students in the art and design sector where that kind of thing might work even at new graduate level. On the whole, though, recruiters who are hiring for entry-level positions aren’t looking for creative entrepreneurial flair in their junior hires: they’re looking for reliable, dependable, and knows how to follow instructions, and this is probably doubly and triply true for most STEM hires.

      Paralyzed, I really, really, REALLY second everything that Friendly Street Medic has said about taking your anxiety and fear seriously and accepting that maybe you can’t do it right now. That might mean taking some time away from job-hunting all together for a few months, and saying to yourself, “step one: get stable and happy enough that job-hunting is feasible and manageable.” Build your Team You, figure out the stuff that calms you down, maybe look into volunteering a little (but only if that’s separate in your brain from “job-hunting”.) You could try giving yourself a three-month or six-month “officially not applying for jobs” period, but see whether your brain will let you LOOK at job ads in that time – not with the intention of applying, but just with the intention of understanding what kind of jobs are out there and maybe even mapping out in your head *how* you would apply for that job *if* you were going to apply for it *but you’re not*. Don’t think of this as an imperative, though: it’s just a thing you *could* do if it works for you and doesn’t trigger off anxiety.

      Best of luck!

    3. That was kind of my impression.

      It’s probably a good idea some of the time — if the organisation is small or in flux, and they don’t know if they need someone with your skills or not, saying, “hey, I can do X Y and Z you’re probably not doing at all at the moment, and you will make more money because P, Q and R” is the best pitch. But that’s kind of advanced applying, if you’re applying for a role which already exists, it’s probably a good idea to *think* of what you would do in the role, so (a) you have some idea what it might be like and (b) if they want someone self-directed, and ask “what would you do”, you can jump in with sensible suggestions.

      But my advice to LW would be, start by applying AT ALL, and then work on applying well when they’ve got over the fear a bit.

    4. Would you still say this was “nope” if the project was presented at the interview (and then only if it seemed appropriate given assessment of the situation once at the interview?) This is more the vibe I thought Street Medic was advocating.

  5. I have a habit of catastrophising and spiraling too, so when I’m trying to get something like this (especially with lots of small steps) done, I use the Pomodoro method. It’s usually used for writing tasks, but it works well for everyday life. You set a timer for 20 minutes, and do 20 minutes of work, non stop (the idea being that you would writing anything because it’s easier to edit than to start with a blank page), then you have a 5 minute break where you *must* stop working. After that 5 minutes you do another 20 minutes. After 5 pomodoros (20 minutes blocks) you get a 20 minute break. I never usually make it through that many when I’m using it help me get through life stuff, but you get the point. It’s a great way to break things up into small manageable chunks. There are apps out there for it too so you don’t have to worry about setting alarms or anything. And when you know you only have to tinker on your resume, or write emails or look at job sites for 20 minutes, with a guaranteed break at the end, it’s much easier. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to achieve anything specific in those 20 minutes, just spend it doing anything related to your job search. It took me 6 months to write my barebones, 2 page, no-qualifications-looking-for-part-time-retail-work resume because I would stare at my computer for hours and obsess over both how I was a failure up till now, and how many different ways I could fail in the future. If I’d known about the Pomodoro method I would have saved myself a lot of time and angst. I made it back to uni though, and the Pomodoro got me through that, and many crappy things after. Good luck with everything LW!

    1. Chronic illness sufferer here, seconding the Pomodoro method! What’s great about it is if you’re up to it, you can Pomodoro for a long time, but you don’t have to — if you’re having a bad day, you can just do one Pomodoro with a small, doable goal in mind. And then if you feel okay after that one, you can do another…but even a single Pomodoro represents progress.

      Plus, I know that “pomodoro” just means “tomato” in Italian, but it seems like such a cheerful, friendly word. “I just have to work for 20 minutes” doesn’t sound super appealing to me, but “I just have to do one Pomodoro” doesn’t sound that bad : )

    2. When I was doing exactly “get over being terrified of job search”, I did pomodoros (I can’t remember if I’d heard the name yet).

      But I started with 5 minutes, or even 1 minute — can I spend one minute doing the first step even if that’s just looking something up without panicking and running away. Then another, when I feel up to it. And it was very slow, but it got me out of “frozen”.

      Breaking down the task helped. Write a mediocre CV, don’t decide if I’ll send it yet. Then, decide if it’s ok to send a so-so CV or if I should spend more time on it. But don’t let #B freeze me doing #A

      1. I do the stupidly small timers loads too, it really works when you are just locked up and can’t even start work. Knowing that you just have to work for 1 minute is just about doable and it starts you thinking about the task in a productive way rather then in a dreading it way. Once you start doing the task I often find that it turns out it’s much more manageable then you think its going to be and you can start ramping up the length of time in between breaks. However if it is a particularly stressful task I have been known to spend a whole day just doing 5 mins of work in between 30 min breaks. At least you are doing something!

    3. a variant of that that worked for me when i was writing my thesis was “fill one notecard.” timers and time limits tend to worsen any panic I’m feeling, but “fill one 3×5 notecard with writing” was a manageable goal.

      1. I like the concrete-accomplishment motivation too. I can “think about something” (allegedly) for ten minutes and not actually get anything done, or the ten minutes in which I think are interspersed among about forty minutes in which I get distracted and do other things. If I set myself a definite small goal though, my fate is in my hands, and the faster I apply myself the faster I get done. “I will do five dishes.” “I will write 100 words.” “I will look at two of the emails from the job websites I signed up for.”

    4. On the one hand, I’m delighted to learn about Pomodoro because it’s so useful. On the other, I already thought of it! This is wild because I’ve been using a kitchen timer whenever I’m having trouble staying on task for years now. All this time I thought I invented it. I’ve told my technique to others in my field and been thanked for the clever time management idea. I hadn’t realized it, but I use pomodoro even for housework. I put on a music CD, fairly loud, and run around the house doing whatever needs doing for as long as the music is on. When it’s over, I stop even if I’m in the middle of something. The house gets pretty neat that way, not perfect, but orderly enough. I make it a point never to do more right away because that’s breaking a promise to myself. It works for exercise. Just running around moving for 40 minutes is good exercise. I didn’t know it was called Pomodoro, but I recommend it like crazy.

  6. Hi OP! I, too, had some chronic health issues in university. On top of that, I also ended up pregnant my senior year and gave birth a week after graduation. Needless to say, my GPA wasn’t stellar, and my health issues and a lack of maturity surrounding communicating those appropriately led me to be a huge, unreliable, flake. I had a lot of anxiety about entering the workforce. I found working full-time was much more manageable for my mental health that school was. Having a more structured schedule and clear direction just works better for me.

    Now that I’m on the other side of things, as a manager who frequently hires, I have some advice for you:
    1. It’s easier to get a job when you have a job. It’s true. I hire for work that generally requires a degree and is not necessarily “entry-level”, but I do give folks extra consideration when I see they have a degree and currently have an unrelated job, even if it’s retail etc. That means that they have a professional reference to can attest that they show up when they’re supposed to, maintain a good attitude, and act reasonably in the workplace. That’s a huge bonus! Getting something like a retail job could give you new references so you don’t have to rely on any from college. I became a part-time fitness instructor when my son was a baby, and used references from that job instead of using old professors etc.
    2. No one cares about your GPA. I’ve literally never been asked for my GPA on a job application. Maybe this differs country by country. If you’re not proud of your GPA, don’t put it on your resume. You have the degree, that’s what matters. Getting your degree is a huge accomplishment.As a manager, I also never notice if someone does not put their GPA on their resume.
    3. Consider finding a volunteer organization with a professional volunteer coordinator (so something inside of an agency). If you consistently show up when you’re supposed to, act friendly, etc. this person may also act as a reference for you. Again, this will reduce the need of relying on people from college. Bonus points if the volunteer work relates to the field you’re interested in!

    I was able to put my college dysfunction resulting from depression behind me and thrive on a full-time schedule. I hope you’ll find it easier as well, and consider some of the advice. I promise, the worst think that can happen is you don’t get the job. No one in an office sits around and reads applications and says “omg I can’t believe this person applied look at their GPA!”. I promise.

    I hope this helps. For me, the main relief was gaining references that didn’t know me in college. Starting fresh is a wonderful feeling 🙂

  7. Wiggle a tiny bit is a great way of putting it, advice-giver, well done!

    FWIW I am 40 and trying to execute a career change and it is still terrifying. That is ok. It is gradually becoming less terrifying than it used to be. There are not many people (AFAIK) at any stage of life who enjoy and feel 100% confident in job-hunting.

    One thing that is helping me is that I found a local career center full of other people at a similar point in life trying to do career changes. We are all scared and uncertain to varying degrees, and the company makes the feelings normal and less overwhelming. If you can find other people also job hunting, commiseration or doing it together helps. By doing it together, I mean just like in college when you had study buddies or group study sessions, find some people looking for work and get together at a cafe. Maybe you sit together in silent solidarity making tiny pokes at the job search. Maybe none of you do anything but just have a vent session. Maybe you ask each other, “Hey, how do you handle [cover letters, resumes, feelings, the overwhelming world of online job postings, etc.?]” and you find you know a tiny bit more than someone else on a topic and can help them while they help you with something. That feels good.

    A lot of times I have to do the job search thing even though I feel afraid and feel the self-loathing even as I make tiny steps of progress. The entire time I was writing and sending out a cover letter last Wednesday, my jerk brain was shouting “You’re a bad person!” at me. It was exhausting. But since I couldn’t convince it otherwise, I just went with “Yes, and bad people get jobs they’re not qualified all the time, so go for it.” After I sent it out, I sat in a park for a half-hour watching dogs with their people.

    Take breaks to celebrate your successes. It doesn’t matter if you think it *should* not be a big deal. If it felt like a big deal to you, it was, even if it was just “I looked at listings for two hours, saved three, and didn’t throw up.” Celebrate and take a break. Create a job search log so you can see your incremental progress.

    LW, just to cover a base not mentioned in your letter, if there’s anyone in your life adding to your job search fears by criticizing you or telling you should be able to do x, at a minimum do not discuss your job search with that person anymore. They are pushing you down and the damage might last beyond the interaction. (Um, obviously that was a real example from my own life, sorry.)

    All the best!

    1. I just went with “Yes, and bad people get jobs they’re not qualified all the time, so go for it.”

      If Trump can be President…

  8. One of the things I found and find really helpful is seeing my fear reactions around administrative tasks as a symptom of my anxiety/depression rather than a character flaw. This enables me to treat myself kindly AND to take steps to treat those symptoms. So it is not a character flaw that I, for example, have a massive, massive pile of grading right now that I’ve been putting off for (ridiculous, unreasonable length of time). My stress reactions — knots in my stomach, palpitations, lightheadedness — are symptoms of my illness and have happened to land on my grading pile as they often do in third term which happens to fall at the end of winter, the worst time for my depression. So knowing that they are symptoms, I can treat them like I’ve done with those symptoms in the past. I can get away from my desk and grade at a coffee shop so I don’t have WORK looming over me. I can set a timer for 20 minutes and set up all the gradebooks and enter grade categories and maybe even start on a class and then step away as soon as the timer goes off (thanks to Unfuck Your Habitat for that particular tip). I can put on really loud music I can sing along to and power through until I’m finished, and then be surprised like I always am that it only took X amount of time rather than X+10 amount of time.

    Should I have done this ages ago? Possibly. But that’s not relevant right now. What’s relevant is being gentle to myself as I work out how to wiggle loose of the symptom straitjacket.

    1. Ooh, this is a really excellent point! I especially love what you said about treating yourself kindly and treating your symptoms. I might need to get that made into a poster.

    2. Music is a great one! It drowns out my jerk brain voice. Also, creativity gives your brain a boost. Plus singing along = you are breathing, probably even deep breaths, which will help.

      1. It’s a great distraction for me as well. It’s like I’m tricking myself into doing things I don’t want to do. I used to put on Motown records and clean my entire house, obviously singing into my broom handle etc., and before I knew it I’d gotten the tub scrubbed, like?!? I feel like about five years of my life was just Hacking My Depression Brain until I was functional.

    3. As someone who had an anxiety attack triggered by doing the dishes a few weeks ago, this is incredibly helpful. Putting off the dishes or laundry for so long that it seems unconquerable (which causes me to put it off, which makes it MORE unconquerable, and on and on) is definitely a symptom of my anxiety and depression, but when I can’t do it or it triggers a full-blown anxiety attack, I feel like a ginormous failure who can’t even do simple things like dishes.

      Stepping back and saying, “Stress about dishes is a symptom. 1) Go easy on yourself. 2) Put on music and sing along (that always helps me feel better, too; I think there’s some endorphins involved) and make it happen, and you’ll be surprised how fast/easy it goes and feel better being in a clean kitchen!” is kind of exactly the type of mindset I need right now. Because guess what: I’m not a lazy person who doesn’t contribute to the household; I’m sick, and that’s prevented me from doing this task.

      It seems so simple, and I feel like I was really close — I definitely go a little easy on myself and say, “You’re too tired, that’s okay, do them later,” but then later I berate myself for not doing it. Just taking that extra step back and understanding the symptoms can work wonders. So THANK YOU!

      1. Oh hi, you are me! Please google unfuckyourhabitat + depression-messy house cycle (it’s specific to depression, but I think works for any illness that has stress around administrative/cleaning tasks as a symptom)! In fact, maybe read all of Unfuck Your Habitat? It is so kind and sweary and also so strategic and practical, and I came across it in the midst of one of my Months of Not Getting the Mail Because Panic, so exactly at the right moment. It is beautiful and wonderful for people whose brains sometimes tell them that cleaning is way too hard and big and scary.

  9. Job searching is hard for literally everyone I know. There are a lot of really good reasons for it. This is excellent advice – really prioritize self care when job searching!

    There is one thing I’d like to add. I interview really well and have gotten offers on about 2/3 of the in-person interviews I’ve done. I view interviews as trying to figure out whether the company is a good fit for me. Job postings should be the same way. Think of it as an imaginary situation: If I were hypothetically in this role, I would apply XYZ skills to do ABC.

    I interview candidates in my current role (in STEM) and:
    * Nobody is perfect. The people we dislike the most are the arrogant ones.
    * We expect to have to teach/train you. You’ve already proved you are capable of learning. The interview is mostly for figuring out if you’re a jerk. (Hint: If you’re worried about being a jerk, you probably aren’t.)
    * We are also trying to figure out if *you* are interested in working *here.* Turnover is awful, we don’t like it, and we want you to be successful. We can help with almost everything except you just not giving a crap. It sounds like you give a lot of craps.

    Good luck! 🙂

    1. Yes, all of this! Especially in entry level jobs we expect you to spend a LOT of time learning. What we need is people who want to learn and who are willing to try.

    2. I have been both the interviewer and the interviewee at tech jobs. One of the things that helped me most in job-searching was being on the interviewer side and realizing that it is not adversarial! I WANTED my interviewees to succeed, both because most people are not Darth Vader and do not yearn to watch others fail and because honestly hiring is a pain in the butt and the sooner someone seems like an awesome fit for this job opening we have the sooner we can stop interviewing yet more people and go back to doing actual jobs. Every single person I’ve ever interviewed, I have been rooting for that person. So I like to imagine that my interviewers are also rooting for me. (And if they’re not I don’t want to work for them because um ew mean.)

      I think as far as giving a lot of craps, the only way to stop giving a lot of craps is to do the scary thing a bunch of times, and eventually you will have given so many craps that you just run out of craps. And on that day you will no longer give a crap, because you cannot because you are ALL OUT. The nice thing about this is that the more craps you give to start the faster you use ’em up, in my experience.

      1. Yeah, and I think giving craps is good and can benefit you. When I’m interviewing, I look for people who seem to give a crap about the quality of their work and their product. Obviously giving too many craps can be super hard and stressful, but I found therapy very very helpful in teaching me appropriate crap allocation. Once you figure out how to give the right amount of craps about the right things, you are pretty much set!

        1. My SO keeps telling me not to get too attached to jobs I don’t have yet, and I keep telling him that I HAVE to get somewhat attached to interview well. You come off better as a candidate if you DO get a little invested in what the company is doing and what you would be doing at the job.

          I’m interviewing A LOT currently and I’m really struggling with being burned out and not being able to seem as enthusiastic about my work and the jobs I’m applying for because honestly I’m just really tired of talking about my work history. :/

          1. I talk about this a lot as a careers adviser. To make good, successful job applications, you have to invest in a job, and in your fantasy of yourself doing it! But that means it’s a bigger crash if it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a really exhausting cycle when you’re job hunting, and you need to acknowledge the energy that’s going into it.

      2. Yes, this. Realizing craps are a)finite and b) I can choose where/when/who I give them to has been the best adult realization of my life. Maybe should have realized before my 40’s…but I don’t give a crap about that!

  10. Dear Paralysed,
    I hope and presume you are eating ? My mental health issues mean currently I am fighting to eat an actual meal once every 2-4 days. (other days maybe 5 crisps, 7 salted honey peanuts, and a lot of water).
    So you are already a success!
    You are better at living than me!

    1. Margaret Cairns, I’m so sorry you are having a hard time with eating right now. May I suggest seeking medical assistance in dealing with this, if you have not already done so? I am worried about you and can’t help at all (both because I am a random internet stranger and because you are in charge of you), and so I hope you manage to get through this soon.

    2. I think this was very kind of you to say, and also I cheer you on in your fight and congratulate you on your winning. Jedi hugs, if oyu would like them.

  11. Hi LW,

    I struggle with anxiety as well, which also leads me to procrastinate (or plain not do) the things that I need to or want to do. My issue (and I suspect yours) is the panic spiral of “well X will happen which could mean Y which could mean Z!” and before you know it I have 500 reasons not to do something, just like you.

    It’s been helpful for me to break my work into easier chunks. The reason this is SO anxiety-inducing is because you’re living months and months in the future in your head. Remember – you have options! Suppose you get to the hiring stage (yay!) and decide that moving states feels like Too Much, or change your mind for any other reason? You don’t have to take the job! You are absolutely, 100% in control of your own life.

    I also find it helpful to reframe what I’m doing to it’s simplest version, so it sounds less anxiety-inducing in my head. Contacting your references sounds way less scary when you frame it as “send an email”.

    To take the little steps you need to, I’ve also had good success playing Worst Case Scenario. Pro tip: keep your Worst Case Scenario for the task at hand, not your whole life. For example:

    – You need to send an email to a possible reference. Worst case scenario? S/he responds with a “no”. That might be embarrassing, but it’s survivable embarrassment, right? And you wouldn’t end up anywhere different than where you are right now. Actually, even in your Worst Case Scenario it would be nice to have certainty around this, because the uncertainty is causing you anxiety. So your actual WCS is “I have a new plan for references.” That plan could be, use your professional references because they said yes. That plan could be, find some character references.

    – You need to browse job openings. Worst case scenario? You see a job you don’t want and don’t apply. Things stay the same.

    – You’ve applied for a job. Worst case scenario? You don’t get called for an interview. Things stay the same.

    – You get an interview! Worst case scenario? You don’t get the job. Things stay the same.

    – You get a job offer! Worst case scenario? For you it seems to be you would have to move (and do all the move stuff). But what does that really mean? Using our “keep it to the next task at hand” rule, you would have to pack and move your stuff Somewhere. Somewhere could be: to a storage unit while you stay with family in your new state. These are jobs you can enlist friends to help with, hire out or otherwise outsource to make it less stressful on yourself. And as I mentioned if you get to this stage and you’re like “I thought I wanted to move to a new state but actually I’d rather build my career here/somewhere else.”? You can do that!

    I hope this helps. Best of luck with your job hunt!

    1. I had the worst case of writer’s block I’d ever known when trying to write my thesis for my MA in English. It look me every day of 5 years from when I started the program to when I finally finished. I was paralyzed by a fear of failure (things had always come so easily to me before, and if I failed at this, which was supposed to be what I was best at, then what worth did I have at all?) and a fear of success (if I write this thesis, I’ll have to do even more amazing things in the future, and I’m supposed to go on to get my PhD which I don’t think I can do, etc., etc.). I finally got a therapist who had me do the Worst Case Scenario exercise– what would *really* happen if I didn’t write my thesis? I’d be in the exact same place I was–looking for a job and living at home. What would *really* happen if I did? I’d finish the degree I’d worked so hard on, but otherwise– I’d be in the exact same place I was. Looking for a job and living at home.

      Anxiety, and the imagining of possible consequences that entails, sometimes blinds you to the actual consequences. When I finally looked at what would *really* happen– it was so freeing. I wrote my thesis in a matter of weeks and got that degree.

    2. Aha! This is a good way of describing the Worst Case Scenario exercise and how to find the right point to cut it off. Another tip: when it reaches the words “and then,” you are probably going beyond the task at hand.

  12. I really like this letter and a lot of the advice here!

    Some things that helped me a LOT:

    * Tons of great advice.

    * Therapy and self-care around depression and anxiety. Some days on my search I really didn’t do anything “directly” related to the search, but instead had to focus on surviving the day with depression/anxiety. Tracking my activities on a weekly basis (even if it was ‘5m looking at listings on’) was helpful to remind myself that “these are weekly goals, not something I need to have already have done.”

    * Deliberately having conversations about looking for working / building a career. Sometimes these were explicitly informational interviews or networking events, but often it was just, “oh, you know, I’ve been looking for work and [volunteering / pursuing hobby / practicing skill / doing odd jobs] in the meantime” when catching up with friends. Normalizing it in conversation was a BIG help in reducing the anxiety for me, although it certainly didn’t eliminate it.

    1. OP, -jedi hugs- if you want them. Job searching is a big, scary thing at any age. It’s easy for any job searcher to equate “I applied for a job” with “I applied to let total strangers judge everything about me and decide that I am too terrible of a person to hire.” Mental illness exacerbates that equation until all you want to do is hide under your Protective Blanket of Fear, where you loathe yourself but at least know what to expect day-to-day. The thing is, job applications are about matching your *skills* – something you can practice and develop over time – with the skills a company needs. Good hiring managers know this. They know that finding a job after school is tough, that people new to the full-time work force are beginners, and that their skills need a lot of polishing.

      The Guest Poster gave some great advice. I second Solo’s recommendation of – her archives are broken down by topic and address all aspects of job searching, from speaking to references to crafting cover letters. Her answers are written with compassion for those of us who are paralyzed by the job searching experience. And she always reminds those of us seeking jobs that the application is not a measure of our self-worth but rather a presentation of our skills. If we don’t match what a company needs, or a company doesn’t match what we need, then it’s okay – we aren’t any less worthy of our humanity.

      On a personal note, I’ve struggled with applying to and interviewing for jobs due to my anxiety and depression. The big thing that helped me was a modification of the Unf*ck Your Habitat method. That method, in case you’re unfamiliar, is to clean for 20 minutes and take a break for 10 minutes. Or, if you have bad anxiety and depression like I do, clean for 5 minutes, take a break for 15 minutes. The trick is that you are doing SOMETHING to break the pattern of inertia and panic. When I’m working on job applications, I set a timer for 5 minutes and focus on doing ONE thing. Listing a skill. Coming up with a name for a reference. Going to a job search website, typing in a job title, and hitting Search (no looking at results). When the timer goes off, I walk away. I stretch or read or drink a glass of water. When I’m done with my break, if I want to do another 5 minutes, I do. If my brain is still in “AVOIDALLTHETHINGS” mode, I extend my break. Some days I only do one thing. Some days I do 10. But that one thing is getting me closer to a job. Maybe this method will help you, too.

  13. LW, I have been adulting for 30 years, have recently been laid off, and job hunting is still terrifying and super difficult feeling. You are not alone.

  14. Great advice here! Paralysed, I agree with the other commenters that job fears are very normal, it’s a stressful process that draws in a lot of high stakes anxieties about Future Prospects and What If I Fail and My Whole Life Starts Here. It doesn’t, of course, but it can be hard to stop catastrophising. I’m a similarly anxious job hunter who’s only recently got into the groove of it, so I’ll try and tell you what I know in case it helps:

    1. As other have suggested, check out Ask a Manager and make sure your resume and cover letters are tight (if you type ‘cover letter’ into the search box for example, you get some great sample ones). If you’re applying for fairly similar roles, once you have your resume and cover letter ready you just have to tweak them a bit and send them straight out. I find the time it takes to apply for jobs often stresses me out but this can make the process a lot quicker.

    2. If you have an new grad friends who are job hunting too, enlist them in the search! I had an application afternoon with my friend recently where we got cake and read each others CVs and moaned about how horrible job hunting is. It helped and it’s good to remember that no-one really enjoys this process, it’s just a necessary evil (don’t forget the cake, the cake is vital)

    3. Do not be mortified about your references! You had mental health problems, it wasn’t your fault, and if they’re any kind of decent person, they won’t be judging you for that. My most often used reference is a manager who literally had to comfort me once while I was sobbing my eyes out in the office toilets, but he’s never tanked my chances for future jobs. He knew me at a difficult time in my life and he understood that, as your referees will. If anything, they’ll be extra keen to recommend you knowing how much you overcame to finish your degree.

    4. Let the future take care itself. I know that is SO easier said than done with anxiety but if you can stop yourself going down the path of where do I live and what if I can’t adult and what if I fail my potential, that will help. You have a LOT of time to figure this out and find the right pants job, please don’t worry about fulfilling all your earthly potential on your first job out of uni. These things take time.

    5. It’s undeniably hard to have to factor your mental health into your future plans, and tt’s very natural that you’re scared all the things that made you falter in uni will rear their ugly heads again. If it helps to hear from someone about six years down the line to you, I have depression and anxiety and I work. Some days it is very difficult and I have to go and cry in the toilets. Some days Excel breaks on me and I curse myself for being the only inadequate human in the office who can’t complete the simplest of tasks. Some days I get close to quitting just because I’m so scared of making a mistake and getting in trouble.
    And then other days, I drink tea in the kitchen with my friends and we have a laugh. I figure out how to do a new formula on Excel and do the giddy dance of self-congratulation. I go home at the end of the day knowing that, while I’m not working in my dream role, I did a good job today.

    The place you’re in before you actually get a job is full of possibility (amazing job! high salary! paid vacations to Hawaii for all employees!) but it’s also full of fear about what the working world is like. I can’t predict where you’ll end up, but it will probably be somewhere in between the two. There will be good and bad days. And if the bad days start to outweigh the good, I promise you will be able to move on.

    You got this! Best of luck with the search!

  15. Well this is particularly relevant. I took last year off from my old work, and though they’re perfectly happy to take me back now it’s been13 months so technically I have to reapply. I have to find a bunch of ID, sort out my security clearance and re-interview.

    I know where all my paperwork is. I still have my security clearance. The interview will be a) with people I know, and b) consist of “Why do I want to work here? Well you’ve not had any complaints the last 11 years…”.

    And despite all this? I am STILL dreading the whole process. Job stress is stressful, and I intend to have some sort of self-care plan in place post-interview day. LW, allow yourself to take steps as baby as necessary, and only stride when you feel you can.

  16. One of the things that I think is unfortunate about school right now is that it doesn’t really prepare you at all for what the working world will be like, especially not entry level jobs. At entry level you’re likely going to have a LOT of support. The people who hire you will know they have to train you on things and it’s going to take you a while to get comfortable with a lot of things around the office.

    I also think that it is good to keep in mind that there are different kinds of jobs for different kinds of people. (And you may feel like you want different kinds of jobs at different points in your life.) Myself I like a Slytherin type job, I’m ambitious and I want things to get done and get done right and I don’t really want to deal with a lot of bullshit. Other people prefer a more Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff type job, very intellectual or maybe very task oriented. Gryffendor jobs I would say would be more like sales or other promotional type things that ugh, no.

    Right now, you probably want something more on the Hufflepuff end of the scale, something that will let you focus on learning about the working world while you get settled into post college life, without a lot of risk and stress.

    And I know the college student is already thinking “But how will that set me up for future jobs if I get a less ambitious job right now.” Career progression is nothing like school, the pre requisites are much looser, and you can transition from one type of job to another throughout your career. Sometimes you can TURN one job into another one just by showing your boss that you can and want to do certain things.

    Right now most of what any job will expect from you will be learning, so if you go in ready to do that, you’ll be in good shape.

  17. Additional advice – I was a super flake in graduate school; I did not do well networking because I was too anxious/didn’t really try, I skipped class a lot because I had some of my own stuff going on that I wasn’t dealing with effectively, I mostly used it as an extension of college and totally squandered whatever career building potential it had. I had some super motivated advisers who basically dragged me over the finish line, but it took a LONG time before I felt anything but shame and overwhelm about job searching, just seeing my cohort who did not make those mistakes excel. I kept comparing myself to other people, feeling like I’d dug a hole too deep to get out of, and as a result I spent all my time pretty much spiraling and self-sabotaging (that lovely little, “I had a rough day so I get to do this self-destructive thing to feel better because I deserve it.”)

    Two things –

    1. I did what Cap suggested and found A Job, Any Job. I was way overqualified. It was part-time, no benefits, basically an internship and here I was with an MA, but I took it because it was in a field that interested me and I figured I had nothing to lose. I then spent about a year and a half Getting My Shit Together, and I’m glad I did that instead of jumping into a Real Job because I was nowhere near ready for prime-time.

    2. Anxiety and depression can get really, really bad when you’re in school because, especially if you’re very bright (which it sounds like you are! you write really well and are very self-aware), school doesn’t require you to have decent habits. You realize that you can get away with terrible self-care, a lot of flakiness, etc. and still more or less graduate because, hey, you can write that paper the night before! You can skip class but still pass a test!

    Work on your habits – so much of managing mental illness for me and many people I know is routine, planning, consistency, and self-care. If they’re not habits you HAVE now, cultivating them is as important as resume work, etc. Job or no job, try to do small things that you would need to do if you did have a job – start by just trying to wake up and go to bed at consistent times. Try to make those times jibe with general business hours, if possible. Then learn to cook a few simple things that you like and come together quickly. Make a habit of moving your body in a way that feels good and energizes you every day. Work on keeping your living space relatively neat and organized and create habits to keep it that way (laundry once a week, etc.) Get up and get dressed and go somewhere (the park! a coffee shop! a museum!) every day even if you don’t have to so you don’t catastrophize how Hard it is to Person. Practice.

    I found that if I behaved like an employed person, even when I wasn’t, I was calmer, less overwhelmed, and more able to, say, manage my e-mail flow and get to interviews etc when I did finally start getting them. I also self-sabotaged less because I had a purpose each day. When I did find a job, I wasn’t unlearning a whole lifestyle and sleep schedule. I was ready to go.

    If this means you need to take a huge step back and find free or sliding-fee mental health care so you have allies in this, do it. Friends and family are great, but people can be really weird about stigmatizing employment status and you need someone who understands your limitations and strengths as a professional.

    Good luck, and let me know how it goes! I now have a job pretty much commensurate with my skills and education, one that I like and find rewarding. Your path may be windy, but you’ll end up where you need to be. You’ve got this!

    1. “found A Job, Any Job” – that can be a huge help, if you can find one. You don’t have to go from degree to Perfect Job in Your Dream Field. After my BA I worked retail for a year, then in an office doing interesting things for another year. Then I got an MA, and temped for eight months (while I wait to discover that I’d been rejected by the PhD programs I’d applied to) and then, eventually, found a job I liked. A Job For Right Now isn’t always available, but sometimes it helps make the process of figuring out what you want to do a little easier.

      (Side note: the best part of temping was that I discovered I liked the office manager stuff I was helping out with. So I now know that if I’m ever in a position to once again have to find a job outside of my field, I would enjoy doing mid-level admin and office manager stuff).

    2. Re: your point about “Find a job, any job” = this is so true. While I was reading the LW’s post, the word “potential” jumped out at me, and I’ve been thinking about this all day.

      The idea of living up to your potential can be such a heavy weight for a new grad to carry around – or really anyone, especially someone with anxiety. It’s so loaded full of other people’s expectations about what you “should” be capable of, what you “should” be doing. It puts so much pressure on you to land that job that will impress everyone! It brings so much shame if you don’t immediately start living the life people think you ought to be living! It’s way too much pressure!

      LW, you have a whole life to live up to the potential you see in yourself – not the potential that others see in you. It’s great to have people who believe in us, but sometimes that support comes with implied or overt expectations. I’ve seen “but you have so much POTENTIAL” frequently used to guide people into prestigious careers that weren’t a good fit, when they had a perfectly marketable passion right in front of them that wasn’t impressive enough for a parent or whatnot.

      Sometimes a low-stakes job, where you get up and get out of the house every day, and don’t bring home work stress at the end of the day, can be a perfect bridge between the world of school and the world of work. You build up your confidence, maybe you even get a little bored, but you don’t have to climb the whole insurmountable-seeming mountain all at once.

      1. I think this is a good idea. Is it ever possible in your field to temp? Because then you can learn a lot by doing, in jobs which are hopefully somewhat relevant to your skills and long-term choices, while safe in the knowledge that the temp roles not a long-term investment. I’ve had truly awful jobs that I was able to breeze through because I knew they were ending next Friday and two weeks’ pay was better than none. And in my experience people are very willing to extend themselves for good temps – they will help you network, they will give you references, or they will just treat you well and that’s a confidence boost, which is not nothing.

        Also LW don’t forget that a big journey is made up of single steps. You’re feeling afraid and paralyzed because you haven’t started yet. Make one small step at a time and don’t worry about the big picture for a while. But once you’re on the road it’s easier to look around and figure out how you’re going to get to where you want to go.

        Keep calm and carry on x

        1. Seconding the temp idea. I used to do a lot of temp work, and many companies do temp-to-permanent hiring these days instead of committing to an untested person. (Yet another reason why Ticket To Work to get people off disability is a bad idea: Voc Rehab agencies only place people in permanent jobs and they’re rare these days. They can’t place people in contract gigs because you could use most of your trial work period months and then not get renewed or hired directly. Then VR wouldn’t get their payment and you’d have fewer months left in your trial work period before getting off disability.)

          Also, I’d suggest finding a professional association in your field and finding events to attend, or at least being on the mailing list. Even if you don’t make connections to jobs (when I was doing this, 95% of the attendees were also job seekers) you will learn about the overall culture and particular companies that are desirable or undesirable. Gossip can be useful. Listen a lot. If you have social anxiety, see if they have online message boards or social media so you can participate (or lurk) without using all your energy going to meetings; I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds them overwhelming.

          I don’t want to add to your stress, but one thing I did that may have contributed to the lack of response to my job applications (in 2010-11 when the job market sucked) was to have been a bit promiscuous with my resumes at job fairs. Back then, the job fairs were mainly recruiting firms gathering resumes. I found out at a professional gathering that you need to research the recruiters the way you would a company you’re applying to directly, because there were a few professional ones and a lot of unscrupulous ones who can undermine your job search. (I ended up starting a business before I figured out how to find the good ones, but you can probably find that on Ask A Manager or find people in your field who can recommend recruiters who matched them with their job or the employees they’ve hired.)

          Naturally, recruiters want to be the ones to introduce you to an employer so they get their commission. Good recruiters have a relationship with client companies and the company goes to them and says “Hey, we need to hire an entry-level X person for $payrate for Y months, can you send us some resumes?” The recruiter searches their resume database and calls the applicants whose resumes have the right keywords or whatever, and asks if they’d be interested in an entry-level X position with ABC job requirements etc. They don’t submit the resume unless you agree.

          Bad recruiters spam employers with resumes they get at job fairs or in response to advertisements for hypothetical jobs or jobs they recently filled. The problem with this is that responsible employers don’t accept resume submissions from recruiters they aren’t working with already. If they wanted random resumes, they’d put an ad on Craigslist. They deal with recruiters who will listen to them and find the right people for the job. And if you happen to find a good opening with the company through other sources–whether your advisor has a contact who is looking for someone just like you, or you saw a job posting on their website–the recruiter will want a commission even though they weren’t solicited to seek candidates. (This is why many ads say “no agencies, principals only.”)

          So what do many or all employers do to avoid being hit with a bill from some spammer calling themselves a recruiter? They log the resumes they get in spam, and they don’t hire those people. I don’t know if the database has an expiration date after which these unfortunate souls would be eligible (the recruiter’s contract expires after a year or something) or if it’s permanent. The latter would probably just mean they don’t have the resources to maintain the database, not that they have a personal grudge. Or if they do, it’s probably “don’t want to hire people naive enough to sign up with spammers.”

          Anyway, to end on a more positive note, I also second the suggestion that you do some volunteer work to try out working. Generally non-profits are so happy to have volunteers you can arrange your part-time hours around whatever else you need to do while you’re recovering (therapy, etc.). It’s also a good feeling to volunteer somewhere that makes you feel you’re helping make the world better, even if it’s just letting them delegate stuff to you so they can call the donors instead of doing the thank-you notes.

  18. Speaking to the specific question about references – as a college lecturer, when I write references for students who suffered from any kind of illness during their studies, I don’t remember them as ‘that terrible student’ but as ‘that student who had a really tough time and made it through’. In those references, I tend to praise the person’s resilience and their ability to deal with challenging situations. And I am really happy when someone I saw fall apart gets in touch to let me know they are doing better and i can help them in some small way. So please, Paralysed, don’t fear to reach out to your referees.

  19. First-time commentor because this letter-writer reminds me so much of me when I was right out of school.

    I just wanna say here, as someone who essentially had a nervous breakdown my senior year of college and just barely got through (thanks anxiety/depression combo) I have actually had a MUCH easier time in the working world than the academic one. You sound worried about making the adjustment, letter-writer, and let me maybe reassure you about this. Both college and a full-time job have their pressures and stresses, but they are different. You may find that you adjust much better to the working world than you expect.

    For one thing, jobs, especially entry-level jobs, don’t tend to have homework. You can leave that shit at work and relax when you’re at home, which I have found to be extremely good for my mental health. When you get into a job, generally speaking you aren’t expected to study up all the time and work at home. Having things constantly hanging over my head and the sense that I was always fighting a deadline even in my off-school hours contributed hugely to my anxiety. Work-life balance is a struggle for everyone, but it’s a completely different situation from when you’re a student and expected to be productive constantly (possibly WHILE working a job or two on the side, which was my situation).

    Fifteen years down the road I’ve actually advanced quite a lot in my career and am in a much more stressful position now than when I started, but I was able to ease my way into that over time and develop the coping skills I needed along the way, as opposed to being thrown into the deep end and expected to swim in academia.

    1. Yessss what a good point! I’m always worrying I have SOMETHING I need to be working on and that free time is a lie made up by the government or whatever. I can definitely see how no homework hanging over your head would help.

    2. Yes, I totally agree! Also, many jobs are a bit more regular, which can help. Of course that drives some people crazy but I like to have my schedule more or less set. That doesn’t always mean every single day the same, but work can have a useful schedule that you can adjust to.

  20. My boss has a theory that people procrastinate on things that they don’t fully know how to do/tackle. While that’s not an all encompassing reason for procrastination, I think it covers a wide swath. What we suggest for our customers who struggle with this is to break it down into smaller chunks (which I’ve seen suggested in other comments), and delegating/farming out what you can.

    In practical terms for you, this means taking each part of the tasks that have you paralyzed and breaking it down into smaller parts and do them over time. Example: If the idea of writing your CV brings up fear and anxiety, how can you break it into smaller, manageable chunks? Maybe one day you can write a basic list of what needs to be on it (for instance, the places that you’ve worked, your degree/school information, any skills/proficiencies you have, etc). Then, the next day (or the next time you feel up to it), you can take one of those items on the list and expand it a little – say, take one of the jobs and write a list or paragraph about what you did there. Then do it again for another item on the list the next time you feel like you have the spoons for it. Pretty soon you’ll have the meat of your CV that then just needs to be formatted into a document. Things like, “write a list”, “write down what I did at that one job”, or “write down what my schoolwork was about” are less scary than “Create your entire CV right now”.

    Delegating – do you have friends or family that can help you? I have a friend who LOVES internet research and would happily spend hours searching through job listings to send me the ones that fit a specific criteria. Another friend of mine is an editor who manages hiring at her job and I have seen her offer to help others with putting their resumes together, or reviewing the one they have and making edits/suggestions. Having someone to help can ease the anxiety a lot. In fact, I’m currently helping my boyfriend with his. He gets a lot of anxiety about it too, so he gave me some basic information on what he does at his job (if you have a job description, this is helpful) and I take that and write what I think is applicable and sounds good and then he edits it since he’s obviously more knowledgeable about how things should be worded (institutional terms, acronyms, etc). It’s much easier to edit something that is already written than it is to face a blank page and write it all yourself!

    For me, what helps me get through my anxiety is getting into action. Even if I only do a little bit, knowing that I did SOMETHING eases the “you’re a total failure who doesn’t know how to adult” jerk brain voices. Also, lists (which plays back into the breaking it down into smaller chunks thing). I am the list queen. Any time I feel overwhelmed by a task, or when I have a lot of different tasks to do, I make a list of each step I need to take to complete said task. This can apply to anything. House is a giant mess and looking around thinking about everything that needs to be done to clean it is overwhelming? “Clean the whole house” is a vague, amalgamous task that has no clear foothold or starting point. So, I make a list – 1. Do dishes 2. Put dirty laundry in hamper 3. Wipe down counters 4. Sweep floor, etc. Then, I can just focus on one task at a time which is easier. Just sweeping the floor is not an overwhelming task. Then, I get to cross it off my list, which I find immensely satisfying. Pretty soon, I’ve gone through everything on the list and the house is clean! (I often break this up over several days so I don’t use up all my mental energy all at once)

    I also liked the comment about thinking about what the Worst Case Scenario for *specific action* is. Often, you’ll find, that the worst case scenario is just that nothing changes. BUT, the only way something WILL change is by taking that action, and then another, and then another. As the saying goes, the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. And I realize that this may be something that doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes when I know I’m putting off something I need to do, I have to just tell myself sternly “Ok Meredith, stop farting around on your phone, get up, and do the thing!”. Even though I feel anxiety about it, I know that I will feel better once I push myself to just get at least part of it done. Obviously, YMMV, and don’t push yourself at the expense of your mental health – but for me, sometimes I just have to force myself to take the first step. Then, once I do that, the next step is easier.

    I find in my personal experience, that anxiety and feeling paralyzed about something compounds on itself. You feel anxious about job searching, so you put it off, which makes you feel anxious about it, so you put it off some more, which makes you feel even MORE anxious, and so on into a spiral. Know that this is SO COMMON and you are not an awful person for falling into it.

    1. I have found that breaking things down is absolutely essential, and that tying it together with a gamification system like Habitica helps me keep the whole thing organized and makes me feel rewarded for small tasks where I wouldn’t otherwise feel a sense of great accomplishment (because I “only” did one part of the task).

  21. Honestly, I pull a Shia LeBoeuf and JUST DO IT!!! *pose*

    Being chronically mentally ill, I’d often hear that advice and scoff, because OF COURSE I can’t just do the thing, don’t you know I have crippling mental illness? But eventually (through therapy) I realized two fundamental things:

    1) I do have to “just do it”. I can be stressed and depressed all I like, but at the end of the day, if I want to be an independent person, I have to just Do The Thing. No one is going to do it for me. However,
    2) It’s so important to set yourself up for success. Take concrete steps — I’m still in school and mental illness has always made me an awful student, so I adjusted my standards, quit beating myself up for not being perfect, and reached out to friends and family for support while I do this very difficult thing. Just because you’re the one driving the car doesn’t mean you have to forefit having a pit crew, if you follow.

    Included in that crew — your Team Me! They aren’t just for crisis — is your mental health professionals who will help you learn the skills to manage your illness. Because like… I am not objectively “better” than I was when I couldn’t leave my house or was drinking a lot or whatever, but I have become skilled in managing my symptoms so they don’t get in the way of my life. This is something I am certain you can do, too!

    Best of luck, LW! I hope things work out for you. ;v;

  22. Job hunting terrifies you? Okay. Don’t job hunt. Just put one resume in the mail to one place you might work.
    Next day, put another resume in the mail.
    Then another.
    One of the places contacts you, and the idea of interviewing scares you? Then just get dressed, fine the address and walk in.
    Shake hands and talk to the person in the office.
    One step at a time. Break it down into even smaller steps than I’m giving.
    Don’t keep your eye on the big prize. Because there isn’t any big prize.
    It’s just one foot after the other, one at a time.
    Did you get through one interview? Great! You got through one interview! Relax for the rest of the day because getting through one interview is a big deal and an end in itself.
    Going on another interview is another end in itself.
    Someone is likely to hire you, but don’t think about that. Instead, think about checking out what one day at work is like. Just that. Nothing more.
    Get through one day of work? Try another.
    Then another.
    Then a paycheck which you can decide how to spend– or not spend.
    Forget adulting on a grand scale. Just make decisions and see how they feel.
    One step at a time, then another.

    Counter-intutively, I give free rein to my imagination for disaster scenarios. My work involves a fair amount of speaking in front of groups. In reality, they’re a nice bunch of people who don’t put me on the spot, but I can’t help the way I think about people heckling me or asking impossible questions before each speech. Turns out, this makes me less afraid because I start to see how absurd it is. I don’t try to squash the anxiety that bubbles up. I look at the big anxiety bubbles and watch them pop as they break the surface.

  23. LW here! I asked this question some months ago now. Since writing in, I moved to the city I wanted to move to and I’ve been working full time at a workplace I like for almost 2 months. My whole life isn’t fixed (obviously) but I feel a lot better. Here’s what I learned:

    The main thing, I think, is that once I did one scary thing, every scary thing after that was so much easier. For me, it was all about breaking that initial paralysis. Having forward momentum made all the difference.

    But doing the first scary thing took so much reflection and hard work and TIME. It took several months to reach the point where I could do one scary thing. For me, it all came down to teasing those fears out of that big dense ball and recognizing them as many different fears that were all affected by different actions. My fears about starting over in a new city had nothing to do with my fears that I wasn’t competent enought for work. After a very long time (cannot stress that enough) of sitting with my fears, I slowly realized that browsing job listings doesn’t make my fears come true. I can just ignore any job listings that look like too much for me or that I’m not qualified for and no one comes banging down my door to tell me how terrible I am.

    After that, applying to jobs only makes one or two of my fears come true. Maybe I’m not good enough for the job I applied for. By that time, I had managed to break the problem down enough that I felt like I could deal with the single issue of being rejected from an individual job. There are more jobs. I can try again. I was still afraid of actually getting the process underway, but if anyone showed an interest in interviewing I could always decline if I didn’t feel ready.

    It was a combination of throwing sand at my brick wall of fear until it slowly (VERY SLOWLY) eroded into a manageable pile of distinct pebbles and getting that forward momentum of doing one scary thing so the next scary thing is less scary. In all, I lived at home for around 8 months. I had an additional 6 months or so of mounting fear before I graduated. Now, I have a lot less fear in general. I’m in a stable place. I adopted a beautiful 4 year old dog from the shelter. I visit the family I moved for every weekend. I have new scary goals, but they’re just a little bit less scary than last time. 🙂

  24. I don’t know if this is applicable, because my daughter went through this at a more basic level, but you might be able to use a similar strategy adapted to your level.

    Her therapist suggested she look on interviews as experiments – I think we did this wrong, but it sort of worked for her – she kind of took the ‘getting a job’ mentally off the table, and just attempted bits of the process. So – could she get dressed for the interview? Could she stay in her interview clothes for a short period of time? Could she get through the door and be interviewed, accepting that she’d probably bomb the interview, but just as another step forward?
    (All these things she had to attempt several times, before she could do them.)

    So one equivalent for you might be to do a CV and send it in somewhere – maybe for a job you know you wouldn’t ever take. Armaments manufacturer who tests their products on particularly cute orphaned kittens? (One of my daughters, in a moment of clicking the wrong thing, once applied to an investment bank in New York, despite being a drama person in Ireland. You could return the favour by applying for theatre jobs in Dublin.)

    Also, and I don’t know if this is a thing in the US, she used ‘references on request’ on her CV, which meant she didn’t have to approach that hurdle until she was a little further along in the process.

    (FWIW, turned out she interviews fine, once she gets through the door. Her therapist’s theory was that most people are anxious when they interview, so anxiety is less of an issue.)

    Good luck.

    1. I really like the foreordained-‘unsuccessful’-interview idea. It’s a similar application of the dating advice that if you find yourself out with someone you know isn’t right for you, it isn’t a wasted evening – it’s an anthropological exercise in getting comfortable in the role of Person On A Date when the stakes aren’t that high.

      Because if I were in LW’s shoes (or *past*-LW’s shoes, because they’ve responded and sound like they’re doing great!) the idea of applying to a ‘good’ job in a field or company that I want would have an extra layer of stress, because my jerkbrain would insist that the worst that could happen is not, in fact, not getting the job – it’s making a bad impression in front of someone who will remember it, and me, later, so maybe I shouldn’t apply *now*, I should wait until I’m super-sure I’ve got my shit together and will make a good showing, hello intersection of perfectionism and procrastination.

  25. I can’t speak to the anxiety issues, but I have two strategies I use for dealing with big, difficult or nebulous tasks.
    First is lists: break the task down into bits, and aim for one bit at a time. E.g. clean the kitchen turns into wipe the counters, put away clean dishes, wash dirty dishes and sweep floor. Even if I just do one of those (or start one) I count it as a win.
    I also set myself goals and aims; the aims are things I want to change about my life (e.g. spend more time socialising, be more active). I have a goals notebook where I put my aims repurposed as goals and give myself a star when I meet one. E.g. one of my aims is to read more nonfiction so my goal is read 1 nonfiction book. When I meet it I give myself a star and write the goal again at the bottom of my list.
    Second is a mind hack that works for me with writing tasks: open a new document, write the title at the top (or recipient’s address if it’s a letter) , save it and close. Now my brain thinks of this as “finishing the essay/letter/whatever” and it is much easier to do.
    And third, reframe my thinking from “I only did x today” to “I did x today and that is an achievement”.

  26. When I feel paralyzed to the point of inaction I find breaking the problem into tiny bits very helpful and I do something similar, just keep breaking down the problem until you go, oh, that’s something I could tackle. I also like to take that big or small list and start prioritizing and scheduling what I want to do when, that helps me feel in control.

    And yeah, just doing small things and giving myself credit for them, yes, this helps a lot. Doing just a little thing, then a slightly bigger thing, etc. usually will help build enough momentum to really get going.

  27. Tried to reply on mobile but I don’t think I succeeded – here goes

    LW here! I actually sent in this question some months ago. Since then, I have accepted a job, moved to the city I wanted to move to, and I’ve been working here for almost two months. To be honest, I did it by doing many of the same things the guest poster suggests. Here’s what I learned:

    Maybe the biggest thing I learned was that doing one scary thing made each scary thing after it much easier. For me, it was all about the forward momentum. Once I could do step one, step two was easier, and so on. But the hardest part was to do step one.

    Being able to do step one took many several months and a lot of really uncomfortable reflection. This seems like a terribly uninspiring thing to say, but really all I did was live with the problem so long it was literally impossible to live with it any longer without uncovering different facets of it, or teasing out some of the tangles. Not impossible in the “I cannot endure like this anymore” but impossible in the “It’s not possible to jump in a lake and not get wet” kind of way. After a very long time, I began to tease my fears apart from the big tangled ball and realize that they are different, and much smaller individually than they were together.

    I think the other big thing I learned was that a lot of the time, the only way out is through. Someone could have told me my fears were smaller than I thought they were, but I wouldn’t have believed them. I had to live with it for long enough that I could see that for myself. Again, uninspiring, but maybe it helps to realize it’s ok if you aren’t ready yet because there isn’t some kind of shortcut you’re not good enough to see or anything like that. You’re just at a different point in the process than some other people are, and that’s ok.

    Just to illustrate how long it took, I lived at home for 8 months. I now work as an entry-level analyst mostly making recommendations for companies buying ads in newspapers, which is really not even remotely related to my field of study (physics). It’s not a perfect solution to my original problem, but I really enjoy doing work that I can relatively easily be good at, and leave behind at the end of the day to go play with my (newly adopted from the shelter!) dog or do something creative. Things are stable for the foreseeable future 🙂

    1. Huzzah! I’m so glad things are working out. And a dog too! I hope this stays a good experience and you enjoy your time – long or brief – in the new city. And for what it’s worth, I found a job completely outside of my field, in a field I didn’t even know existed, and 8 years later I’m still there and plan to make a career of it. School can help you go in the direction you think you want to go, but if you figure out a different interest or passion, or even just something that’s not too much emotional energy and so it lets you cope with other things, that can be a real win! Short-term or long-term, either could happen.

      And I am still excited about the dog. But then I’m an animal person myself.

    2. Woooooooooooo! Well done so much.

      That sounds very like my journey a while ago. Congratulations on finding a reasonably good place. And on having the skills to maybe be able to find an even better place in future if you want to.

  28. It’s jumping ahead a few steps, but the best advice I ever saw for interviews and job hunting in general came from some advice column for ~executives~, and yet it’s been super applicable to me, a low-level research biologist.

    Basically, try to turn interviews, cover letters & etc from Presenting Yourself For Judgement into Talking Shop and Nerding Out A Little. The logic was, employers generally hire because they have some problem: their work suddenly requires skills no one there has already, they’re short-staffed because someone left or their demand is growing, stuff like that. Moreover, most people in STEM are specialists of some kind who (hopefully) have some interest in their work they get excited about and want to share. So when you get the chance, get them going on what it is that they do, what they WANT to be doing, and point out the ways in which you could totally do the thing, ask them questions about what they’ve tried so far, etc. Try to think of them as colleagues who want to talk to you for your expertise & to make their problem go away; power dynamics aside, that’s why they’re interviewing you.

    For me personally, this totally changed job interviews from a terrible firing squad (my workplace always does interviews by a panel of 3-5 ppl, it’s not pleasant) into something much more comfortable. And it gave me a way to actually figure out wtf the job was about, to mention stuff I’ve done that’s actually relevant, and to get a feel for what it’d be like to work with the people interviewing me (which included my future-bosses).

    My other tip I’ve employed before is, if you have a friend who’s also job-hunting (or a friend/family member who’d be willing to help), consider asking them for help with the most paralyzing step, while you practice on theirs. Maybe they could scan job listings for half an hour and hand you a couple links to chose from, while you do the same for them, reading listings in their field for jobs you never have to worry about again. Edit each others resumes or draft each others Scary Emails (but edit & proofread it yourself before sending, trust me, I’ve made mistakes)

    For me, a lot of the terror is about having My Whole Future riding on those stupid little tasks, and learning to do them when it’s no stakes for me helped a lot with doing it for myself. At the same time, getting a break from the big roadblock tasks made it easier to do the stuff I was good at. Whatever you do next, good luck!

  29. Ahahahahaha
    I came to the Captain’s site because I need a break from writing a cover letter to go with my resume.
    Oh, the coincidence, it is painful.

    So I don’t know if this will help, but here’s another data point for the OC.
    Job hunting is hard.
    Actually starting a job means making a major life change, which is scary.
    Thinking it’s hard and feeling scared are normal reactions!

    Also, the first two months I started looking for a new job, I looked at about 15 ads and sent out… zero responses. Because HARD. And SCARY. Now I try to do between two and five a week. And my brain is still telling me that I’m not working at this hard enough, I should do more…

    Doing one job search and writing one cover letter to match the job ad is enormously time consuming. And hard. And exhausting.

    If your jerk-brain starts to self-sabotage and tell you that what you are doing is hard and scary and exhausting, you can tell it that you are in the process of building your courage, one paper at a time. Jerk-brains often look at the big and overwhelming picture. They can get confused at slow but steady progress.

    Also, did you connect with any professors or guidance people at your school? You can contact them for pep talks and tips and pointers. College staff are very proud to brag about alumni who got jobs after getting a degree, so they have a vested interest in helping you.

  30. If the moving to a new city part is nauseating, maybe don’t do that? Or don’t do it yet?

    A low-stakes task could be to list companies that have offices in Current Location AND the location you plan to move to? Just list them. Don’t apply for jobs there yet. Picture yourself getting hired by one of them, staying in your current place, and then when you’re ready, applying for a transfer to the other city.

  31. When I finished my degree, I was paralysed by fear: the great unknown, the world “out there”, adulthood. Some months before I was excited to finish, to close that chapter of my life: the idea of finding a job, to be truly independent and providing for myself was exhilarating. It was a cold shower.

    Like you I panicked at the thought of writing my curriculum, or send it to someone. Job hunting was impossible.

    What helped me was finding a part-time job outside the field of my degree. It lifted a huge load of my back: I got paid, I started working (so “work” wasn’t terrifying anymore), I gained some experience in juggling supervisors and colleagues, I started to understand various work mechanisms (contracts and holidays, and time-off…). And -as it wasn’t in my chosen field- I was more relaxed, because -in my mind- it wasn’t *real* job**, so I wasn’t always thinking “oh my god, oh my god! What happens if I make a mistake? I’ll ruin everything!”

    Maybe you could think to find a occupation that is a little step onward without be a full-time career? A sales clerk? Dog-sitter?

    **Yes, I know: it was a real job (I was a clerk in a private medical practice), but I deceived myself until I was ready to admit the truth 🙂

  32. LW

    Is it possible you could work your way up to working? Depression and anxiety and maybe ADHD are real and important and can make it harder to find work, and make it harder to find work that is suitable for your needs and that doesn’t make your health worse. But there are jobs out there that work for people with the issues we’ve got. There are even jobs where folks like us can thrive! And, yes, some people simply cannot find that job because the balance of needs they have makes them a hard fit in full-time employment.

    But you don’t have to start with full-time employment. In addition to homelessness, poor education and a bare CV making it harder for my partner to find work when we first got together, he also has chronic depression and has always found it really, really difficult to look for work and to keep jobs and maintain his health while in them.

    So when we started needing more than my income to survive, he started small.

    Option One. Volunteering on a small scale. No major commitments. No full-time hours. Volunteer work is still a commitment and the people you work for need the help they ask for, so self-limit yourself to very, very small-scale endeavours. There *are* volunteer opportunities that are small-hours and/or short-term.

    He did 3 hours of volunteering in a local charity shop twice a week. It was a small shop, run by a couple of elderly ladies, and was quiet and had a relaxed pace, but also had some variety in the work that let him try out a few things. Some days he’d sort through bags of donations into items they could sell and items they couldn’t. Sometimes he’d take down old stuff that hadn’t sold or make himself a personal project – like if they got a big stack of someone’s old games he might spend one of his shifts putting together a display of those in a spare corner. He’d handle lifting of items the ladies running the place couldn’t. Sometimes he’d work the till, although very rarely as the ladies in charge usually set up their folding chairs next to the till and ran that themselves. Once or twice he was taken out on a van to do a house-clearance and take those items as donations. Mostly he made tea for the ladies and tidied up.

    He also took on some small, once-off volunteer opportunities when they came up. Like when there was an archaeological dig taking place in our town that wanted volunteers. He spent a couple of weeks crouching in a shallow ditch, gently brushing soil away from what usually turned out to be yet-more-soil. But it was outdoors and in the company of lovely nerdy people and sometimes they found pottery shards or other little exciting things. Now sure, on neither of these things was he getting an income. But he was getting a little bit of experience doing work stuff in some manageable, gentle ways and in low-pressure environments, and he got to test the boundaries of how much work was too much, and to see how it worked when he had to try to incorporate a job into his day and still make space for his health needs.

    Option Two. Small-Scale Freelancing. Again, no major commitments. No big contracts. Limit your time to something VERY small.

    My partner did some odd-job work for friends and relatives who needed simple things done, like clearing out a garden, dismantling a shed that needed to go to the skip and setting up the new one, replacing the plaster on a crumbling wall, painting shelves, etc. He got paid for it of course, and it was all things he knew how to do safely and properly, but most importantly it got him in the habit of working. I, when I wasn’t able to work a full-time job due to a mental health slump, put up ads on fiverr and did very small, simple writing projects and simple excel spreadsheets for people. If I got more than 2 sales at once I’d temporarily close my services until those projects were completed so I didn’t have to worry about a sudden influx of business I couldn’t handle. It literally paid pennies, but the point of it wasn’t to run a profit. The goal was to test my boundaries, and work on the work-related phobias I’d developed as a result of some recent bad times. And to experience getting feedback on work I’d completed, in a relatively low-stakes environment.

    Option Three. Short-term temp work.

    Now, this is one I would suggest doing *after* trying out one or both of the above, once you’ve got more of a feel around what is and isn’t workable for you and once you feel like you could handle it. There are agencies that get short-term work and part-time jobs. From single days of kitchen portering to cover an event booking at a local hotel, to 2 weeks of cleaning a newly-built office building ready for it to open, to a week of doing dishes for a college kitchen, or 10 hours a week part-time work in a supermarket on the night shift, when it’s dead quiet and stock needs rotating for a new season. and more. These jobs can be a little unpredictable, and often will come up at short notice, so won’t work for everyone. But they can be a way to dip your toe into working life. And if that 1 day of kitchen portering doesn’t go well, you can be comforted by the fact that you’ll never have to go back there again.

    These are all steps that can be taken when you feel ready. For now, don’t rush. Follow the excellent advice you’ve already gotten. Just remember that the choice isn’t “get a full-time permanent job that will be super hard and will be really difficult with my mental health” and “somehow fail at adulting and never get over this”. For one thing, choosing to prioritise your mental health over a career IS adulting. For another, there are lots of smaller things you can do. You can work your way up to whatever point feels right. Maybe you’ll find that, overall, you can handle about 15 hours of jobbing a week before it impacts on your health. So you find part-time work. Maybe you really thrive as a freelancer. Maybe you find instead that the set structure of scheduled work is more manageable. Whatever you wind up finding works for you, is good.

    1. Great advice, though I’ve found that trying to get a volunteering gig can be even more soul-destroying than trying to get a paying job: you’re trying to give away your labour, and they STILL don’t want you. So be aware of that.

      On the freelancing side, I’d like to add that this is a great way to mitigate ‘cannot work, brainweasels will eat me’. If you freelance – even if it’s not full time/full rate – you’ll have something to put on your CV, and you’ll have work experience to talk about. It looks *much* better on your CV than not working.

  33. There’s a super cute video of singer Janelle Monae’s visit to Sesame Street. Her song is called “The Power of Yet.” The song is basically, ‘I’m not good at [thing]!’ ‘You mean, you’re not good at [thing] YET.’ The power is the reassurance that there is a time in the future when you WILL be! What is now is not what will always be, at least in terms of how you manage and gain skill sets. I find the notion really kind of comforting. It’s the first result in a search of her name and the song title — she’s a terrific presence and performer.

  34. When I was in full-on job hunting mode, I worked out what the scariest, most paralysing thing was, and wrote myself a database to deal with it. (An excel spreadsheet would do the same job). For me, the horror lay in writing a cover letter which picked 2-3 items from the job description, and then said why I was qualified/how I would excel at it.

    I kept a database with those terms and those snippets. This did not, of course, give me a finished cover letter at the press of a button, but it gave me something I could then edit and shape and adapt, which was a million times better than staring at a blank page.

    If you can find the scariest part of job applications and automate it (or semi-automate it), you might find the process much less stressful.

    It IS stressful. Not only is it hard work, and difficult, and there are so many hoops to jump through, but you’re also supposed to project a lot of confidence that you don’t feel, and afterwards you’ll be tempted to play rejectomancy, because the cultural narrative is that if you didn’t get the job, you did something wrong, and if you get your job application 100% right next time, you will get a job, and why haven’t you got one already?

    (Partner just applied to newly-created job. 200+ qualified candidates, 5 interviews, company decided that none of the candidates were what they were looking for and that they didn’t know what they were looking for, so they’ve uncreated the job and scratch their heads. This is not completely uncommon. I’d guess that at least ten people in that stack would have been great for the job, and at least 50 other people are probably perfectly decent, perfectly capable, and perfectly un- or underemployed, because the economy sucks.)

  35. Hi, LW. I work in higher education with students applying to major scholarships, which is a lot like applying for jobs. I see this kind of thing a lot, and I think part of it relates to the Cap’s brilliant definitions of Geek Social Fallacies.

    It’s possible that when you start thinking about contacting references, you brain plays that movie where Professor X gets your request and says, “OH GOD NO NOT THAT FREAK SHE WAS SO STUPID GAAAAAHHHHH.” Then, you think about sending in your application, and your brain plays that movie where you watch the hiring manager open it, read it with increasing fright/pity/contempt and then she runs to her colleagues yelling “AH MAH GAH WHAT A FREAK READ THIS LETTER I CAN’T BELIEVE PEOPLE LIKE THIS EXIST.” Then you think about interviewing, and your brain plays that movie where you’re at a table with twenty glowering sarcastic assholes who make you feel like shit, and as soon as the door closes you hear everyone laughing their asses off yelling “HOLY SHIT WHAT A DORK GOD I’M GLAD WE RECORDED THAT LET’S GET IT UP ON YOUTUBE RIGHT NOW SO THE WHOLE WORLD CAN MAKE FUN OF HER.”

    None of this happens, because sheer numbers don’t allow it.

    Your professors have had tons of other students. They don’t think about you all the time. They don’t even think of you as That Freak. Trust me on this. Your professors have seen so many students who have sucked way harder than you. You might not get the very best reference, but they do NOT spend hours thinking about what a loser you are. Not even close.

    Hiring managers get dozens of cover letters and resumes, and they don’t have time to critically read between the lines to find out if you’re a total dork or not. If you can write a good cover letter — and Ask A Manager is such a good place to start for this — you will a cursory read, then a closer read when you make the first cut. and the hiring committee has other cover letters to look at. Yours will NOT be the strangest, I promise you. Go to Ask A Manager and look up some of the craziest cover letters she’s gotten. I’ve never met you, but just by your letter I can tell you that you’re not even CLOSE to some of the jackassery out there.

    Finally, the interview. Sometimes they suck, sure — but when they suck it’s because the interviewer sucks, not you. Think about your professors. Some of them are nice, right? Some are kind of scary, but they weren’t, like, really hateful, right? Some of them were kind of clueless, some were disorganized, some were just plain nerds. That’s what interviewers are like. They’re regular human beings. And again, you are so not going to be the weirdest candidate they’ve ever talked to.

    One thing at a time. Find a job you want to apply to. Don’t think about OH GOD WHAT IF THEY HATE ME, just apply. When they schedule a phone screen, don’t let yourself go to OH SHIT WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THEY READ MY SHITTY REFERENCES just do the phone call as best you can. When they schedule an interview, don’t let yourself go to OH GOD HOW AM I GOING TO GET AN APARTMENT, just prepare, as best you can, keeping the above in mind. And when they offer you the job, think very, very carefully over whether it’s what you want. If it is, yay! Now, you can worry about the apartment and the car, with the help of family and friends.

    I know all of this is very easy to say and very hard to do. But if you’re seeing a therapist and understand what your issues are, I think you can totally break this into feasible steps, stop yourself from crash-landing into Anxiety Gulch at each step, and totally do this.

    1. I will also add, I am a college professor, and I have had quite a few students have Bad Shit happen when they were in my class and handle it variously. I am not always the best reference for those students, but the story I tell myself, when I think about it at all, is “that student was dealing with a lot, it was not a good year for them, and it is reflected in their grades.” I generally assume it is not a reflection on their general character or future. This is especially true if I’ve seen a student both at their best and their worst and know what they can do.
      I have also had quite a few students ask me to be listed as a reference for them. I have been called by an employer as a result of this twice. This is probably, like, a 5% hit rate? College professors are not reliable references because being a student and being an employee are different.

  36. “If you can’t do it, no one can tell you you should be able to do it”.

    Thank you so much for this comment Street Medic.

    I suffer from depression/mild anxiety and I’m currently unemployed, though starting a teaching course in September. I can relate to the LW in that I have struggled with job-hunting, especially the interview process. However, I can mostly draw a parallel with something slightly unrelated but is causing me anxiety just thinking about it: I have an ex-boyfriend who I am absolutely terrified of bumping into. Even if he drives past me (he has a very distinctive car) I’m left shaken. This means that I’m too scared to apply for jobs at his company, one of the biggest employers in my area.

    I’ve had friends who’re supportive and have tried to be reassuring “[Company] is a very big place” but I’ll be on edge all the time I’m there – hell, if I see someone that resembles him or has silhouette from a distance my heart seizes. One of my best friends, M, who is a lot more emotionally tougher than I am, has been unsympathetic regarding this. “Just blank the fucker” she’ll state incredulously and even suggested asking if there are any jobs in his department so that I “can stick two fingers up at him”. To me that is Eli-Roth level torture. During the summer I had a job interview, and while the job wasn’t going to be based there the interviews were being held at Company. I was so close to declining but I asked another one of my friends to email my ex and tell him to stay out of my way. While M praised me for my strength in setting foot in that place, something I never thought I’d ever be able to do, she said that our other friend shouldn’t have emailed him as I’ve gone and “let him win”. Ugh I hate that attitude with a passion of a thousand suns! LW, readers, everyone, your mental and emotional wellbeing is paramount, and comes before any vacuous notions of “winning”. If that was the price to pay for guaranteeing my piece of mind, then so be it.

    But there have been times that I’ve felt that I *should* be able to face him, and jerk-brain loves to tell me how so many other people have to face their ex and that if I were as emotionally tough as M and people like her then I wouldn’t be so weak and pathetic. I’m just glad of your advice, SM, in taking yourself seriously and learning to be kind to yourself.

  37. I started to reply before I saw LW’s responses (YAY CONGRATULATIONS LW) but here’s my take:

    Hi Paralyzed!
    I’m a professional resume writer who struggled so much in university due to anxiety/depression/undiagnosed ADHD that I dropped out and started resume writing instead… if it’s possible for you financially, I would strongly suggest contacting a professional resume writer for assistance with your document as this can both improve the document but also give you practise talking through your experience with a third party who should also be able to give you interview tips based on how you describe your experience to them. I’ve had clients (of mine and my colleagues) report back that the experience gives them confidence in their CV and how they present and describe their CV. Separately, I can’t recommend Ask A Manager more highly.
    I’m also someone who is quite anxious generally, including around work and searching for work, and some random thoughts/tips are as follows:
    * Looking temp agencies – might give you a foot in the door and let you get a feel for workplaces and their expectations and conventions without having the commitment and stress of a full-time job. Alternatively, part-time?
    * Making job applications from more ‘neutral’ spaces than your home – e.g. libraries/cafes if possible, or at a friend’s house. (Again, if dollars permit) Applying whilst treating yourself to a nice coffee or snack can be a good reward. Applying WHILST doing it might help you have more pleasant associations with applications rather than using coffee or treats as a reward. Plus if you’re starting to freak out, you can just take a break, sip your drink, take some deep breaths. And if it’s just not working – you can go home and try again another day.
    * Scheduling – making a note that you will try to apply for a role on M, W, F and S and take T, T and S off, for instance. Ground the scary behaviour in time and space by putting it in your diary and deciding where you will be when you do it.
    * Looking at job ads and keeping an Excel spreadsheet of URLs (don’t forget to download any position description attachments in case the job ad gets taken down unexpectedly!), names of companies, locations, and any other factors that make you want to work for them e.g. location, interesting projects or forays. Tracking ads that catch your interest, even if you don’t end up applying, can be really good for you to get a sense of what’s getting your attention and what motivates you to apply. For instance, there are lots of jobs that I see that I think ‘hmm’ and save them to my spreadsheet, then there are some that I think ‘wow, that looks really cool!’ and I add them and then I’m still thinking about them and then I work up the energy to apply.
    * Fighting perfectionism – you don’t have to be the perfect applicant. You don’t have to get the perfect job. You don’t have to be perfectly calm, you don’t have to handle your anxiety perfectly. Just do what you can and try to list your achievements like some other commenters have suggested.
    Can I just say how proud I am of you for finishing your degree? You got through it, which speaks to your resilience and persistence and bravery while you were dealing with serious mental illnesses. I was dealing with similar illnesses and I couldn’t do what you did and stay and finish. I think this speaks very well as to your chances in this next stage. Serious kudos.

  38. When I start getting anxious/overwhelmed by All The Things I Should Be Doing, a few things help – your mileage may vary
    — relax, remind myself things are actually pretty good (may not work if your life is actually miserable – more applicable if your life is OK and it’s anxiety of the future that is miserable) and it’s okay if All The Things do not get done.
    — think through “worst case” scenarios. Job hunting, worst case of sending in an application? You don’t get the job; already the case! Definitely the case if you don’t send in an application! So it’s okay if you don’t spend a million hours finding The Perfect Job and making The Perfect Application, because even in the “worst case” scenario you’ve lost nothing compared with not sending in an application.
    — don’t set unreasonable goals, ie “today/tomorrow/whenever is the day I will fill out 10 applications!”. Break the job down in to goals you think you can achieve. “today I will browse one page of job listings” “this week I will fill out one application” – even if the goals seem small and not what you “could” do, it’s important to try to come up with goals that sound easy to achieve to reduce the anxiety. And even if you don’t that’s okay, you’re learning.
    — agreeing with the guest poster to try to visualize where you WANT to be (not where you think you SHOULD be), see if it matches up with what you are doing and try make a priority list of what it will take to get there.

  39. Hey LW. Sorry you are having such a hard time. I can really relate. I got laid off right before the election and so in addition to dealing with feelings of inadequacy about my abilities, I was also dealing with ALL THE DESPAIR about the state of the world.

    I now have a job I got by stating what I was looking for on Twitter and applying to a friend’s suggestion. My advice if you go that route is to be brief, specific as to what you’re looking for, and try to keep any anxiety you feel about job searching out of that particular post, hard as it is. Not that your anxiety means you are bad or don’t deserve a job! But it doesn’t define you or change what a badass you are.

    I want to address this part of your letter:

    “Over the years, I’ve tried to be kind to myself about not “living up to my potential.” I try to remember it’s not that I suck, but that my depression/anxiety/maybe-ADD/etc. has its thumb on the scale. But that leads to terror that I’ll always be bad at the basic skills I need to survive on my own and I’ll just crash and burn out in the real world.”

    I don’t know what area of STEM you are in, but I’m a programmer, and I had a hard time thinking of a programmer friend who DOESN’T have some kind of mental illness. Of the tech people I’m close enough to talk about mental health with, I can think of two people with bipolar, one person with severe PTSD, and two with depression. I am a web developer with depression, PTSD and moderate social anxiety. All of us have been successful in some corner of software development.

    I don’t know if this is just a tendency of my friend group, or what. But I suspect that mental illness is very common in tech, at least, for several reasons.

    – being eccentric is more likely to be tolerated if you have valuable technical skills. You probably don’t think of anxiety and depression as being cool zany quirks, and they aren’t, but what this means is that often any coping mechanisms you have aren’t seen as a sign that you are weird or bad, but rather just part of the set of odd things nerdy folks always seem to be trying. I wear noise cancelling headphones because ambient sounds make my anxiety way worse, no one thinks that’s weird. I’ve had non-technical jobs where I was told not to wear headphones but I can’t imagine anyone telling that to a programmer.

    – while communicating with others is important, the bulk of the work is solitary. It means it’s easier to shut out distractions while I’m in my office and easier to work from home when I really don’t feel up to going into the office. It means those of us for whom interacting with other people is really hard sometimes have a minimal amount of needing to do that.

    – even when someone is so sick they can’t hold down a job, often they can do side projects or self study at home by themselves. Kahn Academy doesn’t care if I’m studying computer algorithms at 3 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. (This can also lead to some unhealthy behavior where you obsessively work on side projects and neglect to care for yourself, so it’s a double edged sword, but when I’m really depressed it does make me feel better about myself to be working on a skill.) But it is true that this s a field where you can accomplish things with your skills even when you are not well enough to keep a regular schedule or interact with a lot of people.

    I don’t know which part of tech you’re in, but I’d suggest searching online for “advice for (teapot researchers)(widget analysts)(TARDIS operators)(mad scientist assistants)(whatever you’re trying to work as) with depression” and see what comes up. Not because you need to do the exact things others are doing, but because I think it will help show you that others with similar issues have been successful in your field and there are resources and coping mechanisms available.

    Best of luck to you LW. I know it’s been a while since you wrote in but I hope you are doing well.

  40. LW-

    If you think you might be ADD, but haven’t yet been formally diagnosed, please go get screened at a psychiatrist.

    For years, I battled anxiety. Between sleeping for only 2-3 hours at a time, and having my head constantly spinning, I’m amazed I made it to my 30th birthday with an engineering degree and a solid career. I also didn’t do great in college – I had somehow mathed-out the maximum output with the minimum effort, resulting in some really fun college memories and a transcript full of B’s and C’s .

    About two years into working as a support/applications electrical engineer, at about age 24, I finally had a bit of a panic event that prompted me to meet with a therapist. Therapist was great at doling out some advice on how to handle emotional outbursts, taking time to really process feelings before responding, and had diagnosed me with PTSD-related anxiety once I started to tell some childhood stories. My family wasn’t perfect (who’s is, really?), and at the time the EMDR therapy did seem to have a net-positive impact.

    However, even after picking up regular exercise routines, taking melatonin to help sleep at night, and even trying to up my magnesium intake, I still didn’t think everything was ‘quite right’.

    So, made the appointment with the psychiatrist. He asked a series of questions, mostly about how fidgety I was or how often I forgot or lost things. I divulged my recreational use of green, which really was also a self-medication to help me sleep more soundly at night. We discussed my lack of sleep, which was only ever 5-6 hours at most, and he decided to start me on non-stimulant Straterra because I was already so tightly wound. I had thought for years that I ‘couldn’t possibly be ADD’ because the folks I knew who had it could barely keep their eyes open. They would crash and sleep for days, and here I was wound the hell up about 80% of the time.

    Holy man, I cannot properly describe the changes I felt immediately. Dr. said it could take up to 2-3 weeks before I felt any impact, but I sincerely felt it on Day 1. It’s remarkable going from a plate-spinning, list-making, fast-talking, emotionally-charged person who’s managed around things for a Long Time to…everything just being Easy. I still definitely Feel when things are troubling, such as getting a speeding ticket or being pressured by a customer at work. But it’s like my anxiety baseline just dropped about 60 points, and while I was ‘able’ to functionally manage before, it is a HECK of a lot easier now.

    I’m finally ‘easy going’. I’m definitely still a morning person, but I’m sleeping a solid 5-6 hours instead of 2-3 hours at a time with a mental marathon in between. I no longer try to race myself to destinations when driving (I used to play a game with myself to stay engaged where I’d guess the arrival time, and what track of a CD I’d be on when I arrived or I’d be making free-body physics diagrams of things) and my old road rage habits are near null. I have better relationships with my friends and family, and I am Very Clear and Concise when I communicate with others.

  41. oh god, this post both speaks to me and makes me incredibly depressed. Because I do have to have a full-time job to survive, and yet I’m trying to recover from my mental illnesses (and deal with chronic physical illnesses) while working full-time, and there is just not enough of me left over at the end of the day. The only time I really feel like myself is when I have a few days off to recover, which is rarely, and that’s no way to live my life, but I don’t know what else to do.

    I work at a library, which involves customer service as well as organization skills, and a bit of physical labor as well (shelving books). But I know I don’t want to be a librarian or a supervisor, so I’m stuck at my current level. and I feel like any other entry-level job would be just as demanding as this one. 40 hours a week is too much for me to work, and yet if I want to support myself, it’s the only option.

    Pardon me while i go cry.

  42. “If on a day you feel
    well enough to maybe start an application, tell yourself (better,
    write it down) beforehand what you will do, such as “Today, I will
    spend ten minutes thinking about how I’m going to list the things I
    did at previous job that I liked. I will write down two bullet
    points.” The more specific the better. Set a timer.”

    This is the most helpful bit for me. Starting really small with defined time limits so that I have to stop does the trick.

  43. Hi, LW! I use what’s maybe a counter-intuitive technique, and it may not work for everyone, but I offer it in hopes it might. I just dive right into what makes a thing terrifying. First, I make a plan by breaking it into smaller (or much smaller) steps. Planning feels good to my brain; maybe it will to yours? Then, I focus only on a step that I need to accomplish next. Say it’s reading about a job, or opening your resume. What’s the worst thing that could happen, just while doing that? So I game it out, and focus the answer of “what’s the worst possible thing that could happen while . It could just be that I don’t get it done. Less scary. It helps me filter out the anxiety/fear around the bigger picture, those become extraneous what ifs that aren’t directly related to the step. Next, I look at the best thing that could happen: it could be that I get this small step done, or that I at least make progress. While I’m doing this, I also remind myself that “in X minutes or hours (or whatever), this’ll be over. If I make progress on a step, I reflect on how good it felt, or if it didn’t feel good, that I GOT IT DONE HUZZAH I AM UNSTOPPABLE. Then I reward myself somehow (could be deep breathing/relaxation, music, a treat, etc). I feel more confident when it’s time for the next step, and I’ve reinforced some coping skills/behaviors.

    This has helped me move out of paralysis mode and onto getting through a lot of things I find terrifying, some that were pretty objectively terrifying, and I’m quite the worrywart/second-guessing/quietly anxious type. Or maybe, I used to be.

    Best of luck to you!

  44. OP, no advice, just encouragement: I used to avoid applying like the plague because it felt suffocating. I would regularly break down crying about not being good enough. But! IT GETS SO MUCH EASIER. I went from a weeping pile of self-loathing to having multiple interviews in one week. It wasn’t easy or fast, not by any stretch of imagination – just wanted you to know it’s possible even if it doesnt feel that way where you are. It didn’t when I was there. But I’m wishing you all the best SO HARD. Take care of yourself.

  45. I find a lot of my anxiety and overwhelm comes from feeling like I’m supposed to feel a certain way and then I spiral out when I can’t. Like, washing dishes *shouldn’t* upset me, I *shouldn’t* feel overwhelmed looking at my mail, I *should* feel motivated and competent and excited about job hunting, and this circle is spinning in the background sending me downhill. I remind myself that the dishes don’t care how I feel about them. I can just do them and hate it at the same time. The mail doesn’t care, I can just open it and have an anxiety attack and it doesn’t matter, because it’s opened. Job hunting isn’t a moral failing if I don’t feel “the right way” about it. Giving myself permission to just do things and not have the extra emotional baggage on top stops the cycle really well for me. So, sometimes I do the dishes and hate every second of it anyway, but a lot of the time I end up with dishes done and no particular anxiety attack around it. YMMV, of course.

  46. Paralyzed, I totally feel you. I struggle with depression/anxiety, and I know that there are definitely days when the smallest things feel impossible. I also recently had to pack up my entire life and move to a new state when my partner got a job (we literally had a month to move from the Midwest to the East Coast!) I know taking care of yourself is incredibly important, and it’s vital to be gentle with yourself. That said, I’ve found that sometimes self care means doing the things that need to be done so my life doesn’t fall apart. It took me six months to find a job in my field after we moved, and that was with me applying to multiple jobs a day. (We moved to a major metropolitan area, so there’s pretty fierce competition.) I’m hesitant to agree with the “wait for some time (six months!?) before even trying to apply anywhere” approach, because as much as it sucks, the longer you’re out of school/unemployed, the harder it is to compete against other candidates. Self care in the moment is very good, and you should continue doing that. Self care to ensure that your future is more secure is also good, and anything you can do to get some of that going would be really helpful.

  47. This post is very timely for me too! I have a job that’s fine for as long as I need it to be, but I would like to not be an 11-month temp, and I would like to have more challenging work. I’m following the Captain’s advice from the last job search question and I more or less feel like it’s okay – I’m regularly applying to jobs and doing things to support my search, and I jump-started it with a weekend spent primarily on job hunting stuff.

    And yet…reading articles about how to get a job is really stressful for me because they make me feel like one has to be extraordinary to get the kind of job I want, and we can’t all be extraordinary. (And I’m not talking about being an astronaut or a Navy SEAL. I’m talking about a mid-level, non-supervisory, technicalish position in ecology, GIS work, data analysis, education, or writing/editing). I look at the amount of contacts you’re “supposed” to make and how you’re “supposed” to find ins into a company and how it’s nearly impossible to get a job without some sort of personal reference. And it’s just how am I going to find these personal connections and develop them while also doing my current job, trying to save the world (thanks Trump), having some sort of a social/personal life, and staying healthy, keeping house/clothes/dishes vaguely clean, etc?

    I keep telling myself that my job is fine for now (which it really is) and that it might just take longer, but part of me is terrified that I’ll never be able to have a nice solid pair of pants that I can wear for 5 years or more.

  48. Late to the game, but this is *great* advice. For the LW, a lot of commiseration. I’m in my late 50s and I still *hate* looking for jobs and get all the same anxieties that you do. The good news is that it can be done; I look on it as a very distasteful task that *must* be done well.

  49. My anxiety disorder started in a big way after I graduated from college. I had had “psuedo panic attacks” for several years while alone in my parents house at night but I thought that was just me being wierd. This was despite knowing that my maternal grandmother, AND my maternal great grandmother had both died in mental institutions. I’m still curious about why, through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, I never understood the depth and breadth of an “anxiety disorder” on a life or how it held me back. Perhaps it had something to do with not telling anyone what was happening, or not telling the right people, but I’m sure it was more than that. I led a very sheltered life growing up, and we moved every two years, so as a young adult my brain had just started processing the outside world, the world outside of my family and school. I think that’s why, at 30 or so, my brain did not take in the phrase “generalized anxiety.”

    I’m in my 50’s now and I’m getting it and learning how to take care of myself. So I want to commend you, Paralyzed, for understanding your illness at your age. You are waaaaay ahead of the game in this sense. You will only get better and better at managing your symptoms and in that way, fear does dissipate some.

    For me, managing my symptoms has meant a) medication; b) various “natural remedies” like yoga, aromatherapy, etc; and most importantly c) accepting the limitations the illness imposes on me. I became a part-time ESL teacher in my 30’s. This job was very hard for me because of anxiety. I tried and tried but could never make lesson plans because I would get too anxious. Fortunately I discovered I didn’t have to make lesson plans. I could simply grab a book off the shelf, open it to a page, make a bunch of copies, and I’d be good to go. I felt guilty and less than for several years because of my lack of prep skills, but gradually I started having fun doing things like bringing in music, and teaching them computer skills. I was fortunate the job offered the flexibility to allow me to feel myself into it in this way.

    I like what friendly street medic says about pants. I have not ever found the perfect pair of pants, not by a long shot. But I am finally learning to love the pants I’m wearing and that’s good enough for me.

    Good luck to you my dear. Get lots of hugs. Join a support group or a DBT group if possible. Accept your limitations and love yourself anyway. You will be ok.

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