I have been a civil litigation attorney for 26 years. I am married with two children. For a number of years I had been struggling with depression, although never formally diagnosed. Over time I began to isolate and my ability to function at work diminished significantly. I tried very hard to hide my insides and simply put on a happy, easy-going facade. Sharing my feelings was simply not something I did, with anyone. The pressure continued to build until I felt the walls closing in around me.
I woke up one morning and after everyone left the house I simply drove off. I packed a few things, purchased some supplies at an outdoor store and disappeared into the woods about 150 miles from my home. No note, no message, no warning. While it was my intention at the time to never return, I did ultimately return home about one month later (the details of my journey are a whole other story for another day).
Upon my return, aside from dealing with the intense emotional and financial strain I caused my family, I finally sought out the help I so desperately needed. I spent five nights in an in-patient facility and then another eight weeks in an outpatient program. I presently see a therapist weekly and a psychologist on a bimonthly basis, mainly for medication management. I was also directed to the state lawyers’ assistance program.
Hearing the statistics about attorney depression at my initial meeting at LAP was both comforting and distressing. Even hearing the statistics, however, did not make it any easier for me to grasp that this was not just a personal weakness on my part. Others seem to handle the stress so well. Obtaining the proper medication, learning to accept my depression as a disease and not a weakness, and learning to express my feelings to others was a difficult process.
Over time, I found that my feelings do matter. It is not selfish to put my needs ahead of the needs of others at times. Yes, I needed to become a little selfish, but that is ok.
About a year into my “recovery” things really began to take a positive turn. I overcame the shame I felt around others (my disappearance was in the news papers, law journal and on the local TV news). I had to overcome the sense that others were constantly judging me.
A strong support system at home, a close friend, and a willingness to be open and honest have me on the proper road. I have begun to work on a per diem basis with a law firm that has a complete understanding of my history. A firm that has allowed me to transition back into the law at my own pace. A firm that understands that despite my depression, I have a valuable set of skills and can be an asset to the firm.
My hope is that I can use what I have learned to help others. As my relationship with my wife and children is more meaningful than at any other time in my life, I would like to share in my sense of well-being. If I can help just one other person, through my experience (strength and hope), it will give my journey a sense of purpose.