This guest blog is from Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, a clinical psychologist and author of the book, “Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life.” I also write below about what listening to depression has meant in my own own life as a lawyer.
Why are lawyers so depressed these days?
The rates of depression and substance abuse problems are skyrocketing according to recent media reports and research. Can depression be seen as a break-down in the service of offering you an opportunity for a break-through? If depression offers corrective feedback to lawyers, what might it be telling you?
We only reflect on those things that break down in our life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of life. You tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing that your life is off track.
Depression makes it tough to function as a lawyer
One of the defining features of depression is that it results in impairment in social and professional functioning. You may feel blue, begin to lose interest in some aspects of your life, but this will not be diagnosed as depression unless a marked impairment in day-to-day functioning is evident. It is this aspect of depression, by definition an impairment, that seems on the face of it most difficult to reconcile with the idea that depression is a gift.
But if you begin to open to the possibility that there was something fundamentally wrong with your level of functioning before your depression, only then does the idea of depression as a gift begin to make sense. A bread-down can become a gift when it is in the service of increasing reflection on your life which will lead to ask the fundamentally important questions:
What is wrong with my life? What can I do to correct the problem?
When you listen to your depression, you can hear your life.
What do lawyers need to hear to heal their lives? One message might be that money is no substitute for meaning. Many lawyers chose the profession as a path toward material success. Great wealth offers opportunities for great joy and liberation from financial stressors. Depression may be telling you, “Now you’ve got the money, time to go for the meaning.” The problem with the rat race is that no one tells us where the finish line is. Depression may be telling you “nothing is missing, it’s time to enjoy my wealth.”
Other lawyers may find their financial success to be the proverbial “golden handcuffs.” You may have created a lifestyle that forces you to work around the clock to sustain it. In this case depression may be telling you to find some balance. Depression may force you to gain perspective. If your professional life becomes impaired, you may be forced to see that it might be better to scale back your spending so you can put more “life” in your lifestyle.
Many lawyers may find themselves depressed simply because they are far outside of their “sweet spot.” Your sweet spot is that place where your passion meets your purpose. The quickest way to heal your life and heal your depression, is to find your sweet spot and start moving toward it.
A friend of mine learned she loved medicine after she graduated from Harvard Law School. She worked as a lawyer for the American Medical Association. Sometimes lawyers feel that by working with the underprivileged they are fulfilling their purpose. Don’t forget to put the “sweet” back in the sweet spot. This means you have to love what you do and do it because it enlivens you. If your work is a constant strain, it’s a signal that even if it’s a noble job – – it might not be for you. Depression is a call to break-through to a life of both passion and purpose.
Take it as a signal you have some soul-searching to do to get closer to your sweet spot.
By Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D.
Listening to My Depression
When depression struck me down at 40 years of age, I seemingly had everything going: a great job as the managing partner at my law firm, a good salary, friends, and family. To year left, is a picture of me at that time. In one regard, I thought, and maybe others did too, that I was at the pinnacle of success in my profession. But something terrible was brewing just below the surface of my life: depression.
For several years leading to this point when my life went into freefall, I did not listen to what my inner experiences of life where trying to tell me. I was often stress, anxious, and unhappy. Some, but not all of this, was related to my work. I had too much of it and pretended to have it all under control. The anxiety and unhappiness turned into depression.
The Turning Point: I Began to Hear What My Depression Was Saying to Me
It was an awful period of time in my life. However, what saved me was a therapist named, John. He listened deeply to me in a way that I could not, or wouldn’t, listen to myself. As I spoke of my struggles, he would rephrase them and say them back to me in a way I actually heard and could understand. He was also loving and kind and did not dismiss my feelings. Instead, he validated them at a time when I didn’t.
Over time, I began to listen more to my depression and what it had to say. It wasn’t just an “illness,” though it did make me sick. It was a messenger that my life had careened off the tracks. Whatever my coping strategies where up to that point, clearly were not working anymore. I needed to change if I was going to heal, survive and live a better life. And I did change.
If you’re a lawyer with depression, what is it trying to tell you? Listen to it. Go to a therapist and tell them your story and sift through the events that have affected you. Begin to see that you don’t have to keep treating yourself so poorly. It took me years to get to this turning point. Don’t let it be that long for you.
By Dan Lukasik, Esq.
My mindset (and that of my family and doctors) was that depression is an adversary to be defeated. If only we found the right medication or the right therapy, we could solve the problem. But that mindset ignores a positive effect of such a negative condition: depression’s ability to induce change. Depression lies to you, but it also tells you the truth. And that truth leads to change. – Quote from “How Listening to Depression Can Help Overcome It.”
Most people, when they feel upset, benefit by talking to someone who listens patiently, non judgmentally, empathically, and who shows that he/she understands at a deep level. There is something basic in the way human beings react when receiving this simple, but skillful, response to talking about their emotional pain. Depression is no different from any other emotional pain, in this sense. – Quote from “When Someone Really Listens, We Heal.”
If you’re not expressing your passion and vitality, whether in your work or love life, creative or spiritual life, then you’re probably suppressing it, or repressing it, or depressing it, which all mean the same thing: pushing it down. And whatever we refuse to express will either explode or implode, and I think depression is a form of imploding. – Quote from “Callings: Living a Passionate Life.” My interview with Gregg Levoy, author of the book “Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.”