My psychologist said something remarkable months ago: “You’re a real loner Dan.” I really never thought about myself that way – and I’m 48 years old! But after reflecting on it awhile, I found what he’d said to be profoundly true. It didn’t mean that I didn’t have people in my life that I love and who love me. I have the best wife, a beautiful daughter and great friends. Yet, I often didn’t see just often I isolated myself by choosing solitary activities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s a question of balance. For me, the scales are tipping in the direction of reaching out and enjoying the fruits that only happen when really sharing with others.
And it’s not just lawyers that feel lonely. In a recent edition of the national publication for judges, Judicature, it was estimated that 70% of judges feel lonely. While there haven’t been any depression studies on judges, as there have been for law students and lawyers, one can only imagine their high depression levels.
I know that when I went through the worst of my depression, it was a very lonely experience. Not because people didn’t try to be there for me and help. Rather, it was because depression short circuits something in our brains that makes us essentially human: our capacity to engage with and feel connected to people. I’ve often said that being a lawyer can be a lonely job and believe that most lawyers, at least in their private thoughts, feel this way. When this loneliness in our jobs is compounded by the isolation we feel during a depression, it has a crushing effect. Oxygen disappears from the room only to be replaced by the vapor of melancholy. It feels like there is no escape and we are pounded into submission; a submission that on one level makes no sense because we are still carrying on with our lives – but just barely.
Lately, I’ve felt the desire to end my isolation. I have begun to recognize that what is most important in life, really, is family, friendship and community. It may sound trite and simplistic to offer this up, but such a simple truth has long eluded me in my life. My best friend, my wife, has seen me reach out to her more and it has only deepened our marriage. How many of us who have dealt with depression don’t reach out to the most precious person that we live with everyday? For some of you, it may not be your spouse. It could be anyone that you feel close to. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, it’s critical to develop one because a hour of therapy per week and a trip to the psychiatrist once a month simply is not enough support, love and encouragement to recover from and stay out of depression.
Think hard about your life. How much time do you spend with friends that you really connect with? What is your relationship life with your spouse and children? As lawyers, we often think and say, “Time is money.” However, the span of our lives is short and none of us is guaranteed even another day on this earth. If you are spending all of your time at the office and neglecting your need to connect with others, the cost is simply too high.