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.

When we look at the dark times that most people will suffer in their lives—the end of a relationship, job loss, financial stress, a life-changing diagnosis, or the death of a loved one—we might do well to take the view that what we do with these events can, in fact, grow us as people.  We might benefit from telling ourselves that we can take comfort in overcoming obstacles and maybe even develop confidence in challenging times in the future.

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.

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.

Law Firm Well-Being: A Discussion with a Law Firm Leader

Mackenzie C. Monaco is a partner in the law firm of Monaco Cooper Lamme & Carr, PLLC in Albany, New York, where she represents a wide range of clients, from individuals and local businesses to national corporations, in state and federal courts throughout New York.

She is a summa cum laude graduate of the Albany Law School of Union University. We chatted about the law firm she founded with others and its commitment to a healthy workplace environment for everyone.

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 Lawyer With Depression’s 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: An Attorney Shares His Journey Through Depression Before COVID and Now

“True Stories” is a new series of guest blogs I am running. Here’s an anonymous account by one small firm attorney who shares his story about his depression both before and after COVID-19. 

The practice of law is difficult even at the best of times.

Lawyers require a certain psychological stability. Attorneys in medium-sized and larger firms face the added pressures to bill significant hours and compete with colleagues. Advocates in smaller firms can experience social isolation and are often weighed down by administrative burdens.

As a small firm practitioner, I have found the time since Friday, March 13, 2020, when lockdowns began, particularly difficult. It was on that date that the world changed forever. I am, of course, speaking about the pandemic. There have now been approximately 3 million people who have died, and over 100 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide since that fateful day. I write mindful that the pandemic is improving in some jurisdictions and that it remains a dire and daily threat in others.

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.

Can We Undo Lawyer Depression? A Psychologist Weighs In

This blog is by Dr. Richard O’Connor, a psychologist in NYC who has treated patients with depression for almost 40 years. He is the author of the best-selling book “Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You” and appears in the documentary, “A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession.”

There’s some interesting research to suggest that happy people view the world through certain comforting illusions, while depressed people see things more realistically. For instance, the illusion of control. You can take a random sample of people and sit them in front of a video monitor with a joy stick, and tell them their joy stick is controlling the action of the game on the screen. (But the point of experiment is that it actually doesn’t). Depressed people will soon turn to the lab assistant and complain that their joy stick isn’t hooked up correctly. Normal people, on the other hand, will go on happily playing the game for quite some time.

The Elephant in the Room at Law Firms? Lawyer Depression

I was 40 years old when depression first struck.

I was a trial lawyer and managing partner at my firm. From the outside, I was successful: a high-paying career, interesting work, a great family, and lots of friends.

From the inside, however, something was terribly wrong.

There was a deep sadness that wouldn’t go away. Before this time, I had gone to therapists for stress-related issues. Therapy always worked. After a few months talking things through, I always felt better and stopped going.

But this time, it was different. Things didn’t get better.

Too Much Depression, Too Little Sleep: 3 Things You Can Do to Get a Better Night’s Slumber

The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

When first diagnosed with depression, my sleep became fragmented in a way I had never experienced before.

Before this time, I, like most frenzied lawyers, had periods of restless sleep tinged by stress and anxiety. But my sleep would return to normal after a lengthy trial or round of contentious depositions.

But this was different.

Lots of Depression, Little Sleep

I was always tired, but couldn’t sleep through the night. I went to bed early, exhausted from trying to make it through another day with depression. Trouble sleeping is a symptom of major depression.  Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., a psychiatrist, writes:

The body is bone-weary; there is no will; nothing is that is not an effort, and nothing at all seems worth it. Sleep is fragmented, elusive, or all-consuming. Like an unstable, gas, an irritable exhaustion seeps into every crevice of thought and action.”

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