Job interviews are unpleasant at the best of times, and to me have always felt very fake. But throw mental illness into the mix, and they can be a huge obstacle. There are a number of aspects of job interviews that particularly worry me.
Answering unexpected questions
My cognitive symptoms of depression aren’t as bad now as they have been, but my brain is still pretty slow to react to anything unexpected. Even in low-pressure situations, I may be asked a question and I just can’t generate an answer. I may make light of it and brush it off as oh, brain fart, I lost my train of thought.
In a high-pressure interview, my mind would go blank. That would make me anxious, ensuring that my mind stayed blank, and I’d be left staring stupidly at the interviewer.
Having to identify positive examples
I can identify some positive things in my past and present, but put me on the spot, and my mind can only find the negatives. Throw in that my memory isn’t great, and I’d be waiting/begging for the ground to open up and swallow me.
Having to sell myself
I’ve always thought it felt rather fake trying to convince interviewers that you’re amazing and wonderful and all that crap, because it always seems like there are things you’re expected to say and not say. It’s tough even when I believe that I actually am pretty wonderful.
Now? I know that I have strengths, but the idea of trying to sell myself in job interviews makes me want to barf. I have to work hard at trying to shift focus to genuine positives, and trying to portray a prettily wrapped fake package of trite expected positives sounds pretty close to impossible.
Interpersonal questions like dealing with conflict
I hate people. I like my fellow bloggers, and I like my patients, but otherwise, I pretty much hate people in general these days. That hasn’t always been the case, but the combination of depression and having experienced workplace bullying have pretty much soured me on humanity. So there’s that.
Then there’s avoidance, the coping mechanism I’ve had to rely on far too often to extricate myself from situations I don’t have the resources available to cope with. So, when faced with the question that’s inevitably asked in job interviews about how I handle conflict, I can hardly say I run as far away as I can as fast as I can to hide out in my cave away from people, who, by the way, I hate.
Can’t talk about being bullied, either, because that’s not considered acceptable. Obviously, I would need to lie. Depression makes me good at lies like “I’m fine” or “I’m okay”, but very bad at crafting (and remembering) more elaborate lies.
Having to answer questions about gaps in my resumé
I quit a job because I was bullied. I was unemployed for 9 months due to lasting effects of the bullying. One of my current jobs, the one in mental health, I think I’m going to leave off my resumé entirely. So there are holes, and in my experience, interviewers tend to be nosy buggers; they want those holes filled in, or the application goes straight in the recycle bin.
Except neither bullying nor mental illness are “acceptable” excuses for resumé holes. So what, more lies that I’d have to pull out of my ass that is getting sorer by the minute?
Interviews are anxiety-provoking for anyone. Anxiety isn’t a huge part of my depression, but, unsurprisingly, it’s amplified in high-stress situations, and my brain runs in circles but doesn’t move forward. So then it’s a matter of figuring out a pre-medicating strategy; enough Ativan and/or Seroquel to tone it down without turning me into a drooling zombie.
Managing triggers without crying or shutting down
There was one interview I did while I was depressed, and I don’t remember if it was something the interviews said or the way they said it that triggered me, and I started crying. I couldn’t stop, so I just got up and walked out. Not surprisingly I never heard from them again.
Mental illness is hard enough without having to concoct BS stories to appease potential employers who are bursting at the seams with stigma. Even employers who are more progressive are likely to have an easy time coming up with excuses not to hire someone who has a hard time explaining away the effects of their illness on their work history.
Has your illness impacted your search for work?
There’s more on mental illness stigma on the Stop Stigma page.
The COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit page has a wide range of resources to support better mental health and wellbeing.