I'm 35 and I've been on disability since 2021 for spinal stenosis but, due to a stupid error on my part, I'm about to lose my benefits and I'm panicking because I don't know how to write a resume with my history. I suffer from chronic pain basically 24/7 with my back and can't stand long without it hurting and feeling like I can't breathe so I'm hoping I can find something that's a sitting job (even though that flares my back pain as well) that I can maybe handle.

Going back even 10-15 years ago, my work history is very unstable. Always been a job hopper and each one lasted between a few months to 1-2 years. I was just in the stage of "trying to find myself" and not really knowing what I wanted to do. I quit all of those jobs except one where I was wrongly fired and won my unemployment case against the employer.

They were jobs in retail, a kitchen, housekeeping, dog rescue, a plant and a shoe store. Between the dog rescue and the shoe store, there was a 2 year unemployment gap. Between the shoe store and now, there's been a 4 year gap (the disability).

I have ZERO references from any of those jobs except maybe (big maybe) the shoe store. I did end on good terms with them so they'd hopefully give me a reference but it has been 4 years. Aside from that, zero references due to burned bridges and no co-worker friends (no friends at all really because I'm, unfortunately, very anti-social by nature). How do I handle the references question, in my case, in an interview?

Any advice please? I don't know what to do. Since I have no choice but to return to the workforce, I want to not only find something I can try to physically handle but also just start fresh and end the job hopping. I'm more mature now and want to find something that could be long term, preferably a work from home job since I have such bad social anxiety.

  • Do you have any education, or job training? What is your base, what jobs do you apply for? Where in the world are you? Is there a govrnment agency that can support you (not financially, but by giving you tips and maybe training to find a job)?
    – nvoigt
    Commented May 11 at 13:13
  • Does anti-social just mean you don't make friends, or do you hate contact with people? Unskilled Work-From-Home jobs tend to be call-center agents. Not a way to get rich fast, but maybe something you should consider. If you can stand to talk to people all day...
    – nvoigt
    Commented May 11 at 13:15
  • @nvoigt sorry I didn't add some of that info. I have an associate's but it's in general studies (was the best option for a path I was on but it didn't pan out). I used to apply to pretty much anything: animal kennel jobs, retail, housekeeping, etc but those are out of my reach now with my health issues. I'm in the US (Alabama). If (when) I lose my disability, I plan to apply for food stamps since I won't have any income. Km hoping I can get approved and the website said that recipients usually have to register for job training or on a job database so maybe I'd get lucky but not sure
    – fd4517
    Commented May 11 at 13:25
  • @nvoigt antisocial for me means that I don't make friends easily. I have bad social anxiety and don't really know how to talk to people beyond small talk. As far as dealing with the public (like when I was a cashier), I was able to handle that because all I had to do was ring people up and they left. No long conversations. Hopefully that makes sense but I'm a very self conscious person,. especially since I'm overweight (hard to lose weight with limited mobility) and that has really skyrocketed my social anxiety. That's why I'd prefer something remote so I can work at home
    – fd4517
    Commented May 11 at 13:28
  • I take it the 'stupid error' isn't something that you can try to fix? Have you tried asking a lawyer? The last time I had to deal with Social Security on a disability matter they tried to wrongly deny the application until I spoke with a lawyer who gave me some tips that ultimately led to an approval. My point being, you might want to consider legal assistance if you've not already. Commented May 17 at 17:12

4 Answers 4


Not all jobs require references, or even resumes. Look around as you go through your daily life and you'll see people older than you working in retail, cleaning things, in fast food, and so on. These jobs pay little and demand little in terms of background and experience. Unfortunately, they do assume a strong and capable body, such as being able to stand all day.

Call centre jobs may "only" require you to sit, but could also be from home, meaning you could lie down or lean back to do them. The downside is they are highly stressful and set hard targets, then drop people who don't meet the target.

Where I live, there are trained professionals who will provide at least a cursory effort towards matching you with available jobs, in government employment centres. Often, getting benefits requires you to register with such a place and do the things they ask of you (take a course, apply to X jobs, go on interviews) -- so you might as well start doing that sooner rather than later. You can explain your restrictions, and they can see what they have that might be a fit for you. When I was hiring for jobs that needed experience, a resume, references, I got no help from these places. They were not trying to place people who would be a good fit for me. But they did have jobs that they were connecting people to.

I know multiple people who have been forced back to work by the disability people. In general, after a few awful months, it has worked out ok. Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of making mistakes you've made before are all very real. And the difficulty of going back is real. But with support and help, you can get through that and out the other side. There really might be a job that's right for you -- you'll only know if you set out to find it.

  • 2
    This is a great answer. Do you have a setup at home that would allow you to work comfortably? Perhaps you can apply for one of the many real work from home jobs. There are a lot out there.
    – Pete B.
    Commented May 14 at 11:34

I am sorry for you ongoing pain.

Consider speaking to a lawyer. In the US that is what disability benefits are for.

Frankly, other than maybe a call center, there isn't that many jobs that don't require standing that a de facto job hopper with your CV will get.

As I always point out, I am just a random internet person.


With no references: In the resume, say "references upon request." Then go through your record of everyone you were working with and figure out who can give you a believable and reasonable recommendation. It doesn't have to be a manager, but it should be someone with enough seniority that their opinion means something. The company you are interviewing with may never ask for references, or these less formal ones may suffice. Worst case, you're no worse off than you are now.

Bad work history: It would have been better, not to permit this pattern to arise at all, but given the corner you've gotten yourself painted into... You need to convince them this pattern will not continue, and that you will be around long enough to justify hiring you rather than someone without that checkered past. Can you justify any part it, eg with evidence that it was due to medical issues which are now under control or being forced to relocate for some reason?


Start on improving your health.

Would losing weight help with back pain? Do you know anyone who could give free massages or for a nominal fee?

It's not easy to overcome fear and anxiety but what have you to lose? Bearing this in mind, force yourself to visit neighbours, friends or relatives living nearby who need some assistance or just a friend. Doing something for others, even for an hour or two will give you an excuse to leave the house, do some gentle exercise and take your mind off yourself. It will also provide training to keep to a routine and give you motivation to go out and interact with people. Explain to neighbours, former coworkers, old friends etc that you want to overcome your social anxieties, and you realise living indoors for the last three years has closed you off from everyone.

Failing that, I would consider doing part-time volunteer work with animals, the American Red Cross, local charities, libraries, museums, visiting the sick in hospitals. Look up local non-profit organisations in your town, there must be dozens, giving your free time to others is rewarding. Yes, I realise you won't be earning a salary but you will be gaining valid work experience, and a non-profit might even pay if you do administration work.

Searching online I found the following website called VolunteerMatch you type in your zip code and an extensive list of organisations appear. These organisations don't care about résumés or lack of references they are looking for volunteers.

I also found an online organisation called Be My Eyes which sounds interesting. It's an app which you can download

By becoming a Be My Eyes volunteer, you can support those who are blind or low-vision when they need it most. Join our community and change someone’s life today.

After a period of time, a volunteer organisation will be happy to offer a great reference.

I realise these are long term solutions, there is no quick fix for your difficult situation but you are still young and you can improve your life, and, hopefully, your physical health too.

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