A Lawyer, a Father, a Friend: One Lawyer’s Experiences with Depression & Recovery

This interview is part of the ongoing podcast series “True Stories,” where I have conversations with lawyers about their journeys through mental health challenges and well-being triumphs.

In this podcast interview, I speak with Jim Warner about his struggles with major depression as a lawyer. Jim obtained his undergraduate degree at Harvard and his law degree from Boston College of Law in 1992. Since 2020, he has served as General Counsel for Oracle Elevator. Previously Jim was engaged in the private practice of law for Hemenway & Barnes in Boston and Deborah Mills & Associates in London. He lives in Tampa with his wife, three boys, and two dogs. On the weekends, Jim pretends he still knows how to play ice hockey with a bunch of similarly deluded old guys. You can read more about her incredible journey by reading the blog he wrote for his law school alma mater’s website, BC Impact.

Podcast Interview With Mary Cregan, Author of “The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery”

Dan:

I’m Dan Lukasik. Today’s guest is Mary Cregan, author of the book The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery. Mary received her PhD from Columbia University and is a lecturer in English literature at Barnard College in New York City, where she lives with her husband and son. Welcome to the show, Mary.

Mary:

Thank you, Dan.

Dan: Mary, where does the title of the book come from?

Mary:

The title is the origin of the story, really. I have a scar from a suicide attempt I made in the very intense depressive episode that followed the death of my first child. That was when I was first diagnosed with major depression. The story that I tell in the book goes back to that scar which, of course, is with me always and is a kind of memory on my body of that experience. Because of the scar I try to return to that time to tell the story of my depression and the larger history of depression.

The Other Country: Depression

My life has been a journey.  Much of it spent in wonderful places, with awesome people I deeply love, and transcendent experiences. I’ve also had my share of the topsy-turvy curveballs of life’s tribulations that happen to everyone: loved ones dying, friendships fizzling, and adult children leaving home.

But depression doesn’t happen to everyone.

A Dream

I’m in a dream of driving my car through a countryside landscape.  My window’s open and the fresh air is blowing in. It’s sunny, and the road is sharply winding.  I arrive at a border crossing and drive from the land of a healthy life into one of darkness that is depression.  The air is stale and lifeless, hanging down like a musty drape.  I close my car window.  Looking through my windshield, I see only murky clouds. The landscape is barren and absent of people.  I turn to make a U-turn to make it back across the border, but something blocks my path.  I’m lost in this place.  I don’t have a map. All signs and traffic signals make no sense.  It’s hard to think straight. I drive around for hours, maybe days, and eventually make cross back into this sweet land of the living where I hope, live, and love.

Recovery from Depression: The Power of Expectation

Recovery from depression depends in part on what you believe is possible for the future. If you are to recover at all, you have to take action at some point. It could be a series of small steps about your daily routine – eating breakfast, walking out the door to get fresh air and natural light, making a point of talking to someone each day.

Or it could be much larger, like going to a psychiatrist and starting treatment, regularly meditating, exercising frequently, taking long walks. Whatever it is, you need to feel motivated to overcome the inertia, to stop the loss of warming energy to the cold stillness of depression.

To feel motivation, you need to believe, however tentatively, that you can change for the better, to expect recovery from the worst symptoms. You’re likely to hit a lot of barriers, though, that make it hard to keep up positive expectations.

When you expect to fail, it often happens that you stop taking action to help yourself recover. The deeply ingrained habits of depressive thinking and belief can quickly take over. You might start making rules and setting goals.

If recovery is not total and permanent, it’s not recovery. Treatments can’t fail, depression relapse can’t happen. You can’t be recovered if you’re still on medication. You have to get better in six months or a year, or some fixed period of time.

Of course, the rules and goals are entirely your invention, but they’re part of the expectations you feel in your gut. If you can’t meet them, the disappointment confirms your deepest conviction that you can never succeed.

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.

Rediscovering Who You Are After a Severe Depressive Episode

Blogger Joy Biddell writes, “But what I’m finding even harder than mundane tasks is rediscovering who I am. Depression stole my identity and my joy. Trying to find myself again while still feeling exhausted, low and riddled with anxiety is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Everything I knew and enjoyed feels like a distant memory and building myself back up feels like an impossible task. I can’t remember what genuine happiness feels like. I’ve had glimpses of it, but the feeling doesn’t stick around. I can’t remember how to socialize, even texting friends is difficult. I used to enjoy coloring, church, volunteering, reading, driving with tunes blasting and singing at the top of my voice (even in traffic), going out with friends, going for meals out, long walks with the dogs, my partner and seeing family. All these things are incredibly hard to do now. I either can’t remember how to do them, get too anxious and overwhelmed to do them or physically can’t do them.” Read her full blog here.

Here’s Some Surprisingly Upbeat News About Depression

A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto found nearly 40 percent of Canadians who previously had depression reported feeling happiness or satisfaction almost daily. Although the study cannot predict future relapse, its lead author, Esme Fuller-Thomson, said a year without symptoms and a month feeling happy or satisfied every day is a very encouraging sign. Read the story.

Two in Five Formerly Depressed Adults are Happy, Flourishing

A new study reports that approximately two in five adults (39%) who have experienced major depression are able to achieve complete mental health. “This research provides a hopeful message to patients struggling with depression, their families and health professionals. A large number of formerly depressed individuals recover and go on to reach optimal well-being” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study. Read the News

Making Decisions When Depressed

Blogger John Folk-Williams writes, “Like so many, I experience depression in various forms, yet each in its own way knocks out the decision control center in my mind. At times, I scramble in anxiety and can’t focus enough to pick out one among many possibilities. At other times, I don’t care about choosing – or anything else for that matter – and I let the alternatives fall where they may. Or I make all kinds of decisions, even life changing ones, but none of them seems like a choice. Each one is do-or-die. If I fail to do it, I’ll go right over the edge.” Read the Blog

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