One Trial Lawyer’s Journey From Severe Depression to Greater Fulfillment

I do not consider myself a lawyer. I am a human being who took on the role and career of a lawyer for 25 years. Unlike some people who entered law school with a burning passion to practice law, I ended up there because I was confused about my career direction and had no career counseling. Stop here. If you don’t feel excitement and joy when thinking about a career my hindsight advice is don’t enter it!

After a couple of years in NYC working for a small firm I quit because I hated following orders due to my anti-authoritarian streak dating back to early childhood. When I left for California I passed the CA bar exam, worked briefly for a solo practitioner, and then opened up my own solo practice. During my first few years I took whatever I could get including cases involving wrongful employment termination, wrongful eviction, workers compensation, and personal injury. I gradually steered my practice completely into plaintiff’s personal injury because I come from a family of physicians and I was truly fascinated by the medical aspects of these cases.

After I while I became rather successful as a lawyer, especially because I had a nose for what made a good case, I enjoyed investigating the facts, I cared about my clients (most of them anyway), and I frequently knew more about the medical/psychological aspects of the client’s injury than the defense. My Achilles heel was my biological tendency toward anxiety and depression which, to my mind, are two sides of the same coin.

Although I got excellent results in my cases I was plagued by fears of failure and so I worked myself to the bone when it came to preparing for depositions, hearings, and trials or opposing motions to compel discovery or obtain summary judgment. Although I was never sued by a client in 25 years I always worried that the innately disgruntled ones who complained about everything in their lives might sue me. So I worked extra hard to make sure their cases turned out well. To put in all these hours I gave up on exercise, sat more, and ate unhealthy, high salt, high sugar foods to give me some compensatory pleasure. Stop. If you are doing these things you will damage your physical and mental health. Our bodies crave outdoor exercise in the fresh air and they crave real food, not the processed crap made in factories.

At the beginning of the 1990s I took on some new challenges. I moved to a larger, more expensive office. I became a homeowner. And, my wife became pregnant with our first child. In the mid-1990s, I developed a bridge phobia, a phobia involving the fear I would fall out of the window of a tall office building, and panicky dread over crime in our neighborhood which seemed to be getting worse every day. To help myself through these irrational fears I became a good friend of Jack Daniels. This nearly led my wife to divorce me. The threat of divorce woke me up like a cold shower. I went to see a psychiatrist who put me on Zoloft and I stopped drinking. Things got better. We had a second child, a son. In the coming years I became a very good father. I adore my kids. They adore me. Both kids are flourishing. This is something I am very proud of.

In the decade between 1995-2005 I handled an increasing number of cases involving traumatic brain injury and made significant income. Initially these cases were very exciting. Over time they became a drag. Why? The defense, which had paid up relatively quickly in the early days, now used scorched earth tactics by hiring experts in human factors, biomechanics, neurology, psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, neuroradiology, etc. I had to hire counter experts in each field and I had to pay to depose every over-priced, hostile defense expert who gave me all their specious reasons why each client was a neurotic, a hysteric or a malingerer.

I felt like Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a steep hill every day. The litigation costs drained my coffers to the point where I was late on my rent, my copier machine rental, my records fees, and witness fees every month. In the midst of these depressing circumstances my mother suddenly died of a brain virus. And then, one day, my wife noticed we were completely out of money and our home equity lines were maxed out. I instantly plunged into what my psychiatrist called a psychotic depression in which I heard a voice from within me tell me to die over and over again, relentlessly 24/7 until after 4 days of it, I went to a hospital emergency room.

The psychiatrists who cared for me in the hospital told me I had snapped as a result of an inborn vulnerability to depression, years of stress from legal practice, and the trauma of my mother’s death and insolvency. They told me never to return to legal practice. My past 8 years have been a journey back from severe depression and into a new, more fulfilling life. Thanks to a private, own-occupation disability policy I was able to pay my family’s living expenses while recovering.

upward-spiral

I researched and wrote my book for lawyers, The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing, on stress and depression while studying and practicing Buddhist meditation. I became ordained as an interfaith chaplain and sat with dying patients at a local hospital. More recently I entered an MS program in mental health counseling at Capella University. I anticipate becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at the beginning of 2017. I am finding my studies, practicums, and internships in mental health graduate school to be very meaningful and fulfilling.

Law is a very stressful profession which produces severe depression in one out of every five lawyers. What is my message to my colleagues in the law who suffer depression?

First, face the depression. Do not deny it and self-medicate it with unhealthy substance or behavioral addictions.

Second, try medication. For a depression with obsessive, suicidal rumination (like mine) it can be life-saving.

Third, see a therapist (a psychologist, MFT, counselor or social worker) so you can explore and understand the bio-psychosocial roots of your depression and choose the best form of therapy to resolve your depression.

Fourth, consider couples counseling or family therapy so your spouse and children can understand your depression and have an opportunity to educate you as to how it is affecting them. This can lead to improved understanding, communication, and cooperation at home within the family system.

Fifth, consult experts in nutrition, exercise, and sleep to develop ways for you to eat healthier, exercise more, and sleep better. A wonderful book on these topics is Go Wild by Dr. John Ratey.

Sixth, spend more time in nature because there is nothing better to quiet the mind, ease the sore psyche or restore the spirit.

Seventh, take time to actualize your potential as a unique self through whatever activity calls to you, be it photography, calligraphy, water color painting, baking, cooking, etc.

Good luck. I know you can beat depression and be happier.

Harvey Hyman, J.D. spent 25 successful yet stressful years practicing personal injury law in New York and California.  Thanks to an episode of severe depression in 2007, he found happiness and joy that had always eluded him.

 

Depression Takes the Fun Out of Life: How to Bounce Back!

You probably take life very seriously if you’re depressed. It’s probably the result of neurochemistry gone awry and a particularly dark and pessimistic take on reality that makes you feel helpless and hopeless.

Getting pleasure out of life, playing and fun are often lost in depression’s onslaught.

anchorman__120329004706

When not depressed, I have a goofy sense of humor that bursts forth without warning: just ask my family! I also love to laugh at unabashedly juvenile movies – – Blazing Saddles and Anchorman, come to mind. But when depressed? I can’t muster a simple smile, my face locked in a type of grim sadness. In fact, it seems at such times as if everyone else is effortlessly enjoying life – – except me. And that feels pretty lonely.

I can also get pretty angry. I feel that depression is cheating me out of the sweetness of life that everyone has a right to: the ability to enjoy myself.

Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. writes that the cause of our loss of joy and laughter when depressed emanates from a damaged sense of self:

“Depression is a loss of parts of the self. Instead of experiencing our inner selves as strong, vital, and joyful, we see ourselves as weak, damaged, or blameworthy. We wish that others could make us feel better, but we can’t usually express such wishes directly; instead we use various self-defeating defense mechanisms to keep our wishes out of consciousness. Play is essential to nurturing the self. The depressive, trying to hide from his own punitive ego like Adam from a wrathful Jehovah, feels that he’d better never let his guard down, always be busy, and always be productive. But play changes moods. Play can lift depression.”

But just how do we go about starting to play? Here’s Dr. O’Connor’s take on what play is and how to partake in it:

1.  Play is usually physical. Our bodies are engaged. We move, we use our large muscles, we can sweat.

2.  Play often involves a conscious abandonment of dignity, sometimes by putting us into roles or positions that are outside our usual behavior.

3.  Play usually involves others. Solitary play is okay if there is no one available, but it’s more fun with other people.

4.  Play involves being spontaneous, doing what our impulses tell us. This may require planning. Games have rules to keep our spontaneity in safe limits. Spontaneity helps us lose self-consciousness, which seems to be a major point of play.”

squirt

Grownups like you and I all too often dismiss having fun as a remedy for depression. In my experience, this is a big mistake. It should be part of everyone’s depression toolkit. It dismissive attitude is rooted in the negative, ruminative thinking that goes in our heads before even trying to participate in play. Dr. Hara Estroff Marano talks writes about the value of play:

“As welcome and wonderful as those feelings generated by play are, it’s value among adults is too often vastly underrated. We would all agree that play lifts stress from us. It refreshes us and recharges us. It restores our optimism. It changes our perspective, stimulating creativity. It renews our ability to accomplish the work of the world. By anyone’s reckoning, those are remarkably worthy achievements.”

Once you’ve jumped in feet first, the flow of pleasurable experiences takes over and the benefits sink in.

Is play missing from your daily round?

Don’t let your depression squash all the joy out of your life. Go play and have fun!

Copyright, Daniel T. Lukasik, 2015

 

 

 

Seeds of Hope

Reverand, Susan Gregg-Schroeder writes, “I now know that depression affects all aspects of life, including our spiritual well-being.  It strikes at our very soul, making us feel cut off from ourselves, from others, and from our understanding of God.”  Read the Blog

A Simple Solution to Depression? It Doesn’t Exist

Depression blogger, Therese Borchard writes about her recent visit to a holistic health fair and concludes that while holistic doctors and naturopaths offer valuable advice and treatment, it’s only part of a very complicated puzzle of what works for each individual.  Read the Blog

Built by Staple Creative