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.

Real Men Cry: Men & Depression

“A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed. It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes a lot of depression to get tumbleweeds moving.”  – Robert Bly, Morning Poems

Growing up the son of a WWII vet, my dad’s parenting style could best be described as minimalist: punishment at his leisure as alcoholics are prone to do; hard, physical labor built character; and praise came from athletic accomplishments like football which prized hitting.

Crying? Only once as a young child. Dad’s reaction? “I’ll give you something to really cry about if you don’t knock it off. Only girls cry!” Looking at him through the eyes of a child, the message was clear: Crying (or any display of sadness) was never to be done again if I wanted his approval (In essence, his love which never came).  As I grew older, he added this maxim: Pain, physical or emotional, was to be endured, if not conquered.

Lawyers Helping Lawyers: How to Start a Depression Support Group in Your Bar Community

I started a lawyer depression support group ten years ago. It’s one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. We started out with ten people.  It met once a month. Over time, it evolved into every other week.  We now gather once a week.  I’ve been asked many times about how to start a group.  Here are a few pointers to help you get going. They’re in no particular order of importance.

  1.   Be clear about what a support group is

A peer support group is a regular gathering of folks suffering from depression who share their struggles with fellow sufferers to gain insight, strength and hope. These meetings are less structured and more open-ended and the content doesn’t come from a mental health professional. In contrast, group therapy is more structured, focused on teaching, and has a clear outcome that the group is trying to reach. They’re led by a therapist. Since about 60% percent of those with depression also struggle with anxiety, it is likely that members will like to discuss both issues amongst themselves.

High Pressure Law Jobs Linked to Depression

In a presentation at the Action Group on Access To Justice’s Access to Justice Week, University of Toronto sociology professor Ronit Dinovitzer and PhD candidate Jonathan Koltai discussed their recent work and the imperative for the legal community to meet challenges it faces in mental health. Read about their findings here.

Dan’s Top 10 Video Picks on Depression

Films can teach us a lot about depression.  Not only can they provide information.  They can also move us emotionally by drawing us into the subject with interviews, animations, and other techniques that aren’t amenable to books.  Here are my favorite videos that address the topic of depression.

Living with Depression

I came across this short video recently.  And was very moved.  It captures, with sublime music and moving images of a young woman, her struggles with clinical depression and the loneliness she endures. Powerful. Over four million people have viewed it. Running time is 3 minutes and 22 seconds

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