On the subject of side-projects, I've struggled with that as well, until I realized that many projects my friends do are X-with-a-twist. Sometimes the twist is re-implementing in a different lang to understand the thing better, sometimes it's minor stuff.
Otherwise I have little advice outside of keep trucking and try to find sympathetic recruiters who might be willing to give you genuine feedback.
I will say that it takes a ton of character and bravery to post this, respect to you man. Countless people are in your situation but would be unwilling to post about it, I think it shows that you are light on ego and willing to try new approaches. Good luck!
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