Work Issues: Job Searching with PTSD

Q: Dear Angie, A survivor asked about her frustration with job searching with PTSD. What advice do you have for her and others in this situation?

For so long, I have struggled with who I am now (PTSD) vs. who I was then (no PTSD). I will be 30 years old in May and trauma has unraveled my ability to find and maintain work. Before PTSD, I worked all of the time. There wasn’t much of a thought process. I needed a job, I got a job. Case closed. It was easy for me.

Now, I seem to have a sense of a foreshortened future. I feel so much fear in just making my resume because my job history is so unstable in the sense of having so many different types of jobs. There is so much fear in so many things having to do with work since PTSD. The two experiences I have had with having a job post-trauma were a nightmare. I went straight into toxic environments and freaked out. I had no coping tools back then, right out of trauma though either.

Searching for a job is so difficult for me. I get really motivated, put myself out there a lot and get turned down and then I crumble with very little rejection. Rejection never used to bother me. It used to motivate me.

Other times, I will get responses and I won’t follow up on them. I start to feel almost like apathy toward it because my good days are not as consistent as I’d like them to be. I’m finally to a place in recovery where I don’t feel like the gal in the movie “50 First Dates” anymore. I used to wake up every day and forget what happened to me.
It’s like something happened when I went to sleep and I would forget that I had PTSD the next day. I would completely freak out. I am now consistently reminded that I have PTSD and that there is a way to recover so that’s a good thing.

I am in school right now so I am keeping myself somewhat busy a couple days a week as well as doing stuff around the house.

My ideal job would be a non-toxic environment, something where I don’t have to be around people too much (which is so heart wrenching because I used to be an extravert), or if I am around people, a job that allows me to just be my PTSD self although I will be growing, not just staying in my PTSD all of the time. It’s also difficult because in Los Angeles, they want a resume even for food service or janitorial work.

My issue is: I know the steps to find a job. I know how to write a resume. I know how to do everything required to get a job. I am physically capable of doing it. I can’t seem to reconcile who I am now with who I was then. It hinders me as does the sense of a foreshortened future.

For anyone who struggled with this and got through it, what do you suggest? Is this something that will go away or does the job search have to become a mindful process like everything else after trauma? I feel like I’m kind of all over the place in my thoughts on this. I will be gentle with myself through this, but I also really want to have a job again. Thanks for listening.

A: Dear reader, I would recommend that this person gets at least a part-time job in something that seems enjoyable. Often working with the elderly can be healing, such as a senior center, because everything is done at a slower pace. Working in environments with animals can be healing as well. I have seen a number of clients with PTSD that worked in creative environments (as long as they could deal with some deadlines on projects) and seemed to deal well with it too.

I think being in school is excellent and I would recommend that to continue. Learning to create a healthy daily routine and utilizing breaks and lunch well can go a long way to assisting someone in being more consistent. I knew someone with severe PTSD that created a routine that worked so well she did not miss a day of full time work for over 20 years. She consistently came to therapy appointments after work. She would exercise and nap on her lunch hour. She would do meditation, yoga and relaxation on her breaks. She avoided gluten, toxins, caffeine and nicotine which would increase anxiety symptoms. She looked at her job as part of her “therapeutic” activities for healing. Her boss was aware of her PTSD, but she required no special accommodations, because luckily she had a quiet work area that allowed her to focus.

Just don’t give up- the right match for a job in a healthy environment is out there. Make health (not salary) the priority when trying to find something.

Dr. Angie Panos is a psychologist and a board certified expert in traumatic stress with 25 years of experience. She is on the Board of Directors of Gift From Within.