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Utterly overwhelmed by the idea of looking for work

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So I have been unemployed for over three years. I need a job and have some plans to move forward but I'd like some feedback and/or advice about my situation. I'll give some background to explain how I got to where I am now, so this will be a bit long. I'd like to start a conversation here to help me gain some alternative perspectives and bounce some ideas around. I hope you stick around. :)

Previously, I had a job I felt mostly good about but I was depressed about where I was living and I could never feel satisfied. It was the first job that treated me like a competent adult and I got it when I was 32 after finally finishing my Bachelor's degree. I struggled with imposter syndrome but was excited to be doing something I enjoyed. Why leave this job if it was mostly ok? Well, I had a long distance relationship that was progressing which gave me the opportunity to move out of the US to Canada in 2019. I figured I would be able to take some time off and then get back to work in my new city once I felt settled. I had hope that I would be able to find a job that would be equally fulfilling. I had a good deal of money from my brother's life insurance and some additional savings and stocks. Super privileged and secure at that point.

Of course, I knew that just moving wasn't going to cure all my woes but at first I felt refreshed and excited to take on some projects. When the pandemic started, I actually felt like it would be a good excuse to take some additional time and build some skills that I had always been interested in. Namely, doing some digital art and other creative pursuits, as well as learning more programming and building a portfolio of projects. Guess what actually happened? I did very little. I have always struggled to maintain motivation. My self hatred and inner critic have consistently had the upper hand in telling me that it's just not worth it to do anything other than numb myself with passive consumption. I did, however, do things like get married, apply for permanent residency, and work on a small programming project with my partner. I spent time learning new perspectives on how our world works, as well. Though this learning was also mostly passive, watching videos and reading a couple books. What I learned continued to solidify my growing distaste for the silent systems that govern our lives and made me want to not just find any job, but a job that aligned with values that are not yet very common. My partner did not understand, and was not really into discussing these concerns with me, which triggered the feeling of being dismissed. I still had some hope I'd eventually find a job but I was doing absolutely nothing to look for one. Then, in October 2020, my partner had an incredibly intense manic episode. He had been stressed by work and it threw him over an edge I had never seen, spending tens of thousands of dollars in a couple months and becoming incredibly hurtful and unstable. In the end, I had to move out and rent a room with some new people that I thought could be friends. My partner left the country for most of 2021 although we were able to maintain our relationship and we are doing ok now, though not living together.

Back to the people I moved in with, this story follows a familiar pattern of my interactions with people. I lived with them from November 2020 to September 2021. For the first few months, It was very intense and felt like I really 'found my people', but my tendency towards avoidance and shutting myself in my room probably sabotaged any meaningful connection I could make. They were very social people with large friend groups so, as I retreated, I think there was no drive for them to take the time to look in on me, this new person who seemed to want to be alone. I had started therapy again in October 2020 and was trying to work up the motivation to pursue the things I was interested in. I wanted to find meaningful work but felt so overwhelmed by my life situation and continued to find myself just numbing out rather than taking action. In the summer of 2021 I started having health issues. I had a series of abscesses and weeks of diarrhea which sent me into ever increasing avoidance and numbing. By the time September rolled around I had mostly healed but I had to go into survival 'tunnel vision' mode in order to make the move back to the apartment my partner and I had been living in, only this time alone. I started to resent the people I had lived with and it was consuming me. I couldn't understand why they had 'abandoned' me to my room while I was dealing with so much. While I did exert some efforts, I was still maintaining the cycle of numbing and self hatred while ruminating on all the dangers posed by other people. And that's how I spent my winter.

In April 2022, I snapped. I had a moment of manic optimism that led me to do a small programming project, sign up for job counseling, and reach out to my old colleagues for some advice. I told myself and my partner that I wanted to find a job by July. I felt committed. But again, as is typical for me whenever I find myself making progress, I faltered. I don't even remember exactly why. Self doubt crept in or a few minor setbacks were enough to derail my motivation. I was despondent and exhausted so I just gave up on my previously stated goals. I switched focus for the summer and decided to just enjoy myself as much as I could. I told myself it was distraction with a purpose. Numbing myself with the intent that I learn how to use it to actually relax. There was some mild success as I had some bursts of motivation and actually applied to a couple jobs, but nothing near the effort it would take to actually land a job.

And so it continues with ups and downs that ultimately feel like I'm just running in place. I am overwhelmed but I feel like I've actually done very little. I know I've been through a lot, but putting myself out there into the job market triggers my fear of judgement so intensely that I find myself having panic attacks just by looking at my CV. I know if I were to find myself in a position that mostly aligns with my values I would rise to the occasion, but the search itself is too activating and erodes the progress I make in my behavior. I feel like no matter what I do, I always find myself desperately clinging to the safety of oblivion. But it's not what I want. I want to make a life and put myself out into the world without feeling like I don't deserve to be here. But when I think about how long it has been since I've worked, and how 'unprofessional' it would be to explain it with mental health, I realize I'm not up for sending the hundreds of CVs it would take to finally find someone to take a chance on me. Last week, I decided that one way to get around some of this job search anxiety is to take a coding bootcamp for Data Science, something I have wanted to do for years. These programs could help me prove that I'm capable and have job services that seem to be pretty effective. But I'm always suspicious. Will this work or will I continue to find ways to self-sabotage and deny myself a meaningful career? I'm also not sure these programs are actually worth the money. Things are now getting quite tight financially and this will be a last ditch effort on getting back into a job that feels right. In the end, I'm afaid I'll have to end up doing something I hate in an environment that makes me feel sub-human. I'm so tired of failing at trying. I don't really like the world we live in, but I know I can find my place in it if I can only muster the confidence to make it happen.

So what are your thoughts? I'm curious what you have to say about my situation. And thank you for making it this far. <3
i have been in similar positions several times. i opted for smaller steps by taking temporary jobs for which i was "over-qualified" in the interest of easing myself back into the work-a-day rhythms with a lower stress levels than the higher paying jobs i was fully qualified for. this way i was able to pay closer attention to my recurring patterns of self-sabotage, etc. getting a handle on those patterns made me better able to handle the stress of the higher paying jobs. when it came time for the next step, i discovered it is easier to find a job if you already have a job. even a menial job shows you can show up on time and keeps you distracted while you wait on responses.

steadying support while you find the path which works best for you.
I definitely have thought about that. Sadly, looking for those jobs I'm over qualified for is still a source of stress. I'll keep a look out and try to keep an open mind.
@ElectricMammal Job hunting is stressful! When I was looking, a friend suggested I put up a LinkedIn profile. I was very, very hesitant, but WOW. She was right. Once I did, I was surprised at how many quality employers reached out to set up discovery calls or interviews based on the very minimal amount of information I had posted. Literally had up only my most recent position, education, skills, photo, and a blurb, as I’m not comfortable openly sharing my broader CV. I only provided it after I messaged/talked with them, if I was interested in pursuing the opportunity further. Perhaps this would be an option for you?

If you’re contacted by a recruiter or recruiting firm, consider working with them. Some will help you refine and shape your resume or CV, which is of value even if they don’t find you a position.

Regarding the lapse, I found mine wasn’t the barrier I thought it would be.
My suggestion would be to explain it only if asked. State the truth, that it was to manage family and health issues. In this day and age, people enter and exit the workforce with frequency due to caring for children or aging parents, or addressing medical issues - especially since the advent of Covid. A good employer will take your answer at face value.

For what it’s worth, the current job market is completely different than it was a few years ago. Many firms are absolutely desperate to fill positions. I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that you’re far more in demand than you think!
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