Please help me determine what the best route is for me given my circumstances to become a chartered accountant (ACA). I would hugely appreciate any advice given as I am at a truly desperate point in life.
My degree was not in the UK but North America (though I am a British citizen). I did not do well overall (2:2 equivalent) and it took me six years in total, due to mental health issues that caused me to drop out and rejoin as well as change my subject (which you can do in North American universities) several times. So I was 24 when I graduated. The 2:2 equivalent rules out master's degrees at top universities (though I was told a master's would not be useful for accounting anyway) and many graduate trainee contracts.
2 years after graduating, I only really have one very short office-based 'internship' outside the UK. I have started studying for the first level of ACA exams which I plan to take by myself to try to give myself some edge and save costs for graduate trainee employers, because I don't know what else I can do. Since graduating I have applied to hundreds of accounts assistant, graduate trainee, clerk, even temp admin office roles with a grand total of one phone call (not even an interview) for a graduate trainee position (I haven't heard back since). I have even heard that most of the jobs advertised online are fake jobs put out by recruiters (is this true?). It doesn't help that I am stuck in the experience paradox wherein you need experience to get a job, but you need a job for any experience (the vast majority of all these roles require specific experience in similar roles), so I am even more screwed since I have zero work experience at 26 years old.
I have suffered from crippling social anxiety and low-level depression for years but I have been trying to help myself with things like CBT and meditation, and have improved considerably since then.
With that said, the problem is that you can't tell employers you have battled mental illness and improved yourself, because you become a liability. So I have huge gaps in my CV over 2 years, an unusually long degree, and no way to explain this. My dad did suggest putting fake internships on my CV as though he mentored me at his previous employers (as he has a different last name), but I don't know if this would even help much since the gaps are so huge.
My question is what route should I take? Should I do these 6 exams and just keep applying? Where can I find a list of accounting firms that accept a 2:2? What roles should I apply for, since I'm literally getting nothing even with the most basic roles? Should I find a way to "retroactively" fill the gaps in my CV (if you know what I mean)? How do I even get a role while stuck in the experience paradox? Should I go back to uni and get a bachelor's in accounting? Is it even realistic to think I have any shot at this career?