How Lawyers Can Find Silver Linings In Dark Times

Dr. Beau A. Nelson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Chief Clinical Officer at FHEHealth in Florida. He specializes in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Integrated Behavioral Healthcare, maximizing medical, psychiatric, Neuroscience, and clinical interventions.

The philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” There’s some debate over the truth of that statement.  Obviously, some life experiences are so traumatic they leave little room for silver linings.  At the same time, emerging therapies like “Post-Traumatic Growth” look to capitalize on the process of healing from trauma or apply a strengths-based perspective that builds on successes and positive efforts to get better.

Listening to Depression: What It Might Be Trying to Tell Lawyers Who Suffer From It

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.

True Stories: Depression Sucks & It’s Lonely, Too

“True Stories” is a series of guest blogs I am running. Below, Michael Herman, a lawyer and partner at the Toronto offices of the global law firm of Gowling WLG, shares his experiences with the loneliness that comes with his depression.

“There’s a reason we feel lonely even though we’re not alone. It’s because loneliness is not about how many friends we have or how many people there are in the room with us … it’s a disconnection from other human beings.” – Ranata Suzucki

It’s about 9:30 at night, and I am sitting in the living room watching TV and trying to unwind from a long and stressful day at work, filled with meetings, responding to emails, and dealing with various problems. Just another day at the office. Out of nowhere, I start to feel it – an overwhelming sense of loneliness, as if there is no one in my life to whom I can turn for sustenance.

It’s a Saturday night, and I’m at a party surrounded by friends and family. People gather in small groups, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I scan the room and think that I don’t belong. The only thing I want to do is leave and escape from the pain of the loneliness I’m experiencing in the midst of this group of happy people.

I am very familiar with these feelings; they’ve been my companions on and off since I was a young child. It’s as if no one can see me or hear me, as if I don’t really exist and, worse, have no reason to exist.

True Stories: A Woman Lawyer Speaks Up About Her Anxiety

“True Stories” is a series of guest blogs I am running. Below, a woman gives her anonymous account of developing clinical anxiety during law school and how she finally decided to get help and take care of herself.

I am a woman, an attorney, and someone who happens to struggle with clinical anxiety.

It started in law school. At first, I thought it was just the jitters from being in a fishbowl of super-competitive overachievers like me. This was Cornell Law School, after all. What did I expect?

But as my first year of law school progressed, my anxiety when from background noise to the forefront in my life.  I had panic attacks, I often couldn’t sleep, and I just felt wired all the time. It seemed to fuel my drive to succeed, and I over-prepared for everything, often reading a case note four or five times.  I never talked about my struggles with anyone that first year.

True Stories: A Lawyer With Depression Journey from Pain to Mental Health Advocacy

 

“True Stories” is a series of guest blogs I am running. Below, Gavin Alexander bravely tells his story of a journey from Harvard and Biglaw to becoming a champion for mental health and well-being in the legal profession.  

I felt comfortable enough to come out as bisexual when I was 16.  I didn’t feel comfortable enough to come out as suffering from depression until I was 30.  As a result, while I was pretty darn sure from around age 12 that the symptoms I was experiencing were tied to mental illness, I did not seek or receive any kind of treatment or mental health support until I was 5 years into my practice as a lawyer.  I was petrified that leaving any sort of “paper trail” of having received mental health treatment would place a cap on my ambitions, limit my career prospects, or even cause me to lose the support of my family and friends.

During my time in law school, I thought about killing myself nearly every day of every exam and study period. I believed, based on messaging I received from law school career services offices, law professors, and the legal media, that anything short of massive success would result in abject poverty and an inability to repay my over $200,000 of student loans.  I wound up finishing my 1L year at Boston University School of Law with the number 1 GPA in my section of over 80 students, transferring to Harvard Law School, graduating from Harvard in the top 10% of my class with a GPA of 4.02, and securing a clerkship with former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the “SJC”) Ralph Gants.  I provide these details not to brag, but to illustrate that depression and suicidal ideation can affect even those who show all external indicia of success.

True Stories: A Lawyer Tells All About His Traumatic Childhood, Drinking, Depression, and Recovery

“True Stories” is a new series of guest blogs I am running. Too often, lawyers don’t know the burdens other lawyers carry both outside and inside the office. Here’s an unvarnished and anonymous account by one BigLaw lawyer who shares his powerful story. 

I am an attorney with major depression. Understanding this recovery story from mental disease requires a trip back to my childhood, where depression first took root.

When I was nine months old, my mother left me alone with my father, an unpredictable, violent alcoholic. She returned to find a pile of blankets on the living room floor. Underneath, she found me, covered with welts. My father told her that I wouldn’t stop crying, so he hit me until I stopped crying. The physical (and later verbal) abuse continued for several years, as did my ability to accept it without responsive emotion.

At the age of four, I began going to the next-door neighbor’s house for before and after school care. There, the neighbor’s oldest son repeatedly sexually abused me.  He warned me not to tell anyone, so I didn’t.

Growing up in constant fear, I learned to hide all feelings, both good and bad, and keep secrets.

A Lawyer’s Tough Tale: Depression at a BigLaw Firm

This a guest blog by a lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, and his difficult journey with bipolar depression and his BigLaw firm.  

Once upon a time, I was a trial attorney at a personal injury defense firm. I was good at it.  I always pushed hard; always did the best job possible.  I won a good share of cases, and, of course, lost a few as well.  I was valued highly enough to be made a partner shortly after joining the firm.

But I had a dirty little secret.  I had bipolar disorder, which was well-controlled through a close partnership with a good psychiatrist.  Still, in my mind, if word ever got out, my employers would see me as weak, a liability.  To a degree, I understood.  If the insurance companies that paid the bills learned that one of the firm’s trial attorneys had such a condition, their mandate would be clear: if you want our business, get rid of him. That is what I assumed.

Throughout my career, colleagues would make offhanded remarks about someone “not taking his medication.” I would grit my teeth and ignore it.

Instead, I was able to construct an alter-ego, the “happy warrior.”  I had a smile on my face and a sardonic remark ready on cue. But I went about my daily business feeling like a secret agent in a Cold War spy movie.  If my cover was ever blown, I was certain that my career would be at an end.

One Trial Lawyer’s Tale: What Happens When Law Firms Don’t Talk About Mental Illness

The following blog was submitted by an anonymous lawyer.

Once upon a time, I was a trial attorney at a personal injury defense firm. I was good at it.  I always pushed hard; always did the best job possible.  I won a good share of cases, and, of course, lost a few as well.  I was valued highly enough to be made a partner shortly after joining the firm.

But I had a dirty little secret.  I had bipolar disorder, which was well-controlled through a close partnership with a good psychiatrist.  Still, in my mind, if word ever got out, my employers would see me as weak, a liability.  To a degree, I understood.  If the insurance companies that paid the bills learned that one of the firm’s trial attorneys had such a condition, their mandate would be clear: if you want our business, get rid of him. That is what I assumed.

Throughout my career, colleagues would make offhanded remarks about someone “not taking his medication.” I would grit my teeth and ignore it.

My New Book On Depression and Anxiety in the Law and How a Lawyer Life Coach Can Help

I’ve written a new book about depression and anxiety in the legal profession.

And it’s free.

You can get an immediate, free download of “Overcoming Stress, Burnout, Anxiety, and Depression in the Legal Profession: How a Lawyer Life Coach Can Help” here.

The first part of my short book outlines the causes of too much stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression in the law.

The second part provides an overview of how my lawyer life coach practice, created specifically for lawyers and law students with mental health problems, can help someone recover and stay well.

The third part is a list of my favorite books for (1) depression, (2) stress and anxiety, and (3) lawyer wellness.

Big Law Tackles Mental Health Crisis Issues With On-Site Programs; Is Its Business Model at Fault?

The ABA Journal report that Big firms have long been reticent to openly address addiction and other mental-health problems, despite research showing lawyers face higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide than the wider population,” the article says. “Law firm leaders say the need to keep up appearances in a competitive industry has contributed to the resistance. That attitude, however, is slowly changing. Read the article.

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