I am a female in my 40s who has not worked for 9 years due to severe personal trauma and health issues (PTSD, depression, back/spine injury, sciatic pain & fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue). I am in various degrees of pain every day and because I must alternate sitting and standing (I cannot sit for more than 1-1.5 hours at a time nor stand for more than about 3 hours at a time, nor bend or squat without pain) I was almost always declined jobs I applied for in the past, & the few (unskilled) jobs I did get didn't last long due to increased and debilitating pain.

Also I am not that confident engaging with groups of people and the prospect of being in the workforce again is very daunting. But I must try again after a long hiatus as I cannot spend the rest of my life doing nothing.

My work experience is all in hospitality and with animals. No university degree/higher education. My last boss now has dementia so references are not an option, & given the length of time as well.

I did volunteer at several animal organisations in the last few years but had to leave all of them within a few weeks or a month each time because of my back pain. So I don't want to mention these places to a future employer because of course if they knew the reason for leaving why would they give me a chance?

Regarding study, I find it extremely difficult to focus and finish anything. I have attempted several college courses, I either didn't finish or couldn't get a job upon graduation. I have also tried counselling in the past which did not help.

I want to start volunteering again (in disability care) in view to hopefully get a paid job eventually but I honestly cannot think of what I can say to the typical interview questions such as What are your strengths? What can you bring to this organisation etc.

I hope I'm not doomed spending the rest of my life like this. I so badly want to be a normal functioning individual but everything I try I seem to fail at. I don't feel I would fit in as a Client in Disability Care as the clients there aren't like me- they look disabled and I look normal. I don't judge disabled people as I feel I am too in some ways just not in an obvious way. Instead I'd like to see if I can help them... or perhaps I too am not functional enough to do even that? I do have an empathy for those who cant help themselves & have a disabled relative.

I feel if I was allowed to ease into volunteer work very gradually (& sit/stand as needed) I may just do ok with it. But it seems to even volunteer you need to answer all the interview questions like when applying for a paid job. I am certain I will not succeed at an interview if asked the standard questions.

Please advise me on what I should say, I do believe honesty is the best policy but am worried Disability Organisations will not consider me as a volunteer or a staff member, but perhaps only as a potential client instead! I am against the idea of becoming a Client as I need to focus on being functional for a change, not focus on being dysfunctional! Also I am on a Disability Support pension myself, another thing I would rather not tell them until if and when I am offered a paid job. If that happened I would happily go off government benefits to work again.

Any Employers reading this, particularly in Disability Care what do you think - would you take me on, even as a volunteer, if I told you all this?

  • 3
    Have you considered volunteering exactly for an organization that works with disabled people? They might be able to accommodate your physical problems well and you might be of great help to their clients because you might be able to understand them and their struggles in everyday life in a deeper way.
    – skymningen
    Apr 27 '17 at 5:51
  • Hi thanks for replying. That is ironic you suggested that because that is exactly the type of organisation I am wanting to not only volunteer at but (if I like and succeed at it) to work / develop a career with as well.
    – user69264
    Apr 27 '17 at 6:08
  • Do you think I should tell them of my problems? Or pretend I am perfectly normal and hope for the best? Although of course there is the "elephant in the room' of not working for so long so I will have to explain that but what do I say?? If I mention the trauma of 2009 I doubt I will be able to hold it together/will burst into tears.
    – user69264
    Apr 27 '17 at 6:10
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    There is no use in pretending. Pretending you can easily do something you cannot will only put yourself under pressure that will make it even harder for you. Mention the trauma in your application if possible and ask to not talk about it. If they won't take you because of that, you could not have made it there anyway. By definition, a trauma is something that cannot be purposefully hidden, because you cannot hide it if triggered and you never know for sure what situation could trigger you before you are in the situation.
    – skymningen
    Apr 27 '17 at 6:52
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    Possible duplicate of How do I explain being unemployed for nearly two years due to untreated depression and maybe also this one: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/12291/…. Perhaps not exact duplicates, but at least you'll have more advice to choose from. Apr 27 '17 at 7:59

Please advise me on what I should say I do believe honesty is the best policy

I agree honesty is the best policy but going into an interview and listing all your faults is not, go in with your strengths, talk about the difficulties you've overcome and how this has shaped you as a person.

the question will come up about why have you not had work in 9 years, that is when you mention that you've had some difficulties but you were continually trying to improve yourself that you had short term volunteering jobs as you are not content to be idle and you want to put 100% into the job

Don't sell yourself short you are not your disabilities, you are your strengths

  • 1
    I guess the probleme here is, that OP does not want to risk to break into tears during an interview, because their were asked what happened. This is generally valid advice, just I would say the situation is quite specific in this case.
    – skymningen
    Apr 27 '17 at 12:49
  • user29264, I really like this answer as it's concise and directly addresses the question, but I strongly urge you to read and re-read @mutt's answer as that's full of useful and relevant advice. My wife is in a similar position, although her health problems are different to yours. She has just secured an unpaid position in a local company from which she can gain training and skills to restart her career. Best of luck with both your health and work life.
    – Justin
    May 17 '19 at 11:36

As someone who has PTSD as well, I sympathize and want to applaud you for your boldness and honesty on a public forum like this!

Facing the Interviews: With the issues you mention, especially the PTSD, you need to find your comfort level vs. what is "pushing" yourself too hard. This is difficult and this is very personal for you. Statements like

I am certain I will not succeed at an interview if asked the standard questions.

are a clear indication of pushing yourself too hard. I recommend picking a job and writing questions and quizzing yourself for the job category (like an interview) and trying to answer the questions out loud that you come up with. Make these positive focused answers. Having a supportive person help out with mock interviews with you as well will help you be able to see your threshold points and your strengths more clearly while if you accidentally push to fast and trigger a break down there isn't pressure, but there is safety instead. Take a break, document the point, come back later and try other questions. Through this process you will do 2 things:

  1. Continue facing your trauma and get more comfortable talking about it
  2. Find out trigger points related to the specific job choices you are interested in pursuing.
  3. Discover some hidden strengths that have been there, but you were less aware of due to the focus on the disabling situations.

You will be able to more confidently go forward when you operate within your own sphere of confidence. Everyone is nervous on their first interviews including degree workforce people with no trauma or injuries, only after practice and experience do people begin to be more confident. Cockiness isn't confidence, just another cover for insecurity. You want to be confident which will require you meeting yourself where you are and progressing to where you want to be.

What Jobs: I'm sure you have a lot invested in the disabled and similar sufferers, but you also mentioned the difficulty in that while you are triggered or experiencing pain, you can't facilitate others and would be considered a client instead of staff. The questions should help you figure out if you are too close to your limits or if you are in a place to help others out. In general, although you understand the feelings, it's best to work in situations that do not directly mimic your experiences, but that your natural empathy can engage without triggers. Also the physical is a concern as well to consider.

I am by no means an expert, but it seems based on what you mentioned:

  • Working at a Vet behind the desk might be ideal. Sitting for computer work, and you can stand as well and alternate as needed so long as you can position the keyboard/mouse appropriately.
  • Working with the elderly in nursing homes might be a possible location as well. There are a wide variety of jobs there which your skills might fit.
  • Pet boarding place seems like a good option too as they will need caring for, depends on physical demands there.
  • Hospital greeting staff, in general people have to man greeting desks for directions to everyone who shows up. This has similar sit/stand ability as the Vet and puts you facing people with the hospitality you mentioned.
  • Support groups, these may not have as many paid spots, but certainly would be more down the ally of what you mentioned as wanting to work to help others. This is also a great place to make tons of contacts in which other job possibilities might be possible with an inside reference.
  • Homeless shelter volunteer is another one. They usually will take any volunteers and find something that fits the skills of the people volunteering. There is some labor involved which might not work, but there are lots of needs there and I'm sure there is something they can find. They are also used to finding jobs for people and might be a great reference when the time came for a paid position.

If you're in pain everyday then maybe you should be working on improving your health instead of finding a job that you will leave after a few weeks or months. Your inability to concentrate is likely due to your health problems. Talk to your doctors about physical therapy. Back pains are often due to lack of core strength, assuming no specific causes.

  • Hi doomsday, thanks for your input. I had 1 year of physio and have had 22 years of monthly massage following being hit by a car when I was just 19 which caused my spine injury and while the massage is a temporary relief it does nothing long term. Same with acupuncture reiki etc. I am of average weight as well but could get a bit fitter and get a stronger core to help my back. So dont know what else to do in that regard. Cheers.
    – user69264
    Apr 27 '17 at 7:37
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    This doesn't really answer the question at hand. The question wasn't should I look for work, but how do I represent myself for a possible interview
    – Draken
    Apr 27 '17 at 7:40
  • 2
    Not only does it not answer the question, I find it rather ridiculous to give someone unwanted medical advice as trivial as "Back pains are often due to lack of core strength" when they clearly have a lot of health issues and are in contact with doctors. -1
    – dirkk
    Apr 28 '17 at 8:51

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