I’m a Lawyer. I’m Depressed.

04Jan07

That’s really all you need to know here. I’m not talking bummed about life, I’m talking big honkin’ major clinical depression requiring daily medication to keep me a functional member of the human race.

This is not actually the law’s fault. They say that 1/3 of lawyers are depressed or having problems with addiction, mostly because of the law (compared to 1/10 of the general population). I was actually depressed long before I got to the law, diagnosed in my teens. But I did really well, on and off medication, until I got to law school.

I have not been off medication since.

I went to law school straight from college, which was probably an error in judgment, but I had a liberal arts degree. What else was I going to do?

So here I am, in my late 20s, married (no kids, yes pets), homeowner, practicing lawyer, and I’m so depressed I can barely get out of bed in the morning. Days I can work from home I don’t even bother to shower. I have no immune system because of the depression; a kid sneezes down the block and I catch a cold.

I live a block from an elementary school, so a lot of kids sneeze down the block.

I am constantly under the weather with some bug or another. I throw up from stress. I haven’t slept unmedicated in several months. I have pain in my teeth with no physical cause. I have recurrent infections that flare up every time I have to go to court, meaning I don’t think I’ve ever actually been to court without an earache. I am 60 pounds overweight, almost all of it since I started practicing law.

I can’t get out.

I practice in what’s called a “secondary market.” My husband and I are both graduates of a top-10 law school (that’s where we met), so this was a lifestyle choice for us after a couple years in an primary east-coast market. If we hadn’t moved to a secondary market, we’d probably be divorced, and I would probably be dead. I mean that literally. I like my secondary market — lawyers are more collegial, work knocks off at 5 unless you have major litigation, people leave early or schedule court around kids’ baseball games.

But the downside of my secondary market is that there aren’t a lot of options for getting OUT of the law. I have a mortgage and together we have over $100,000 in student loans, on a secondary market salary. There’s a lot of engineering, computer science, and medicine jobs to be had around here, but, again, liberal arts degree. I’ve searched desperately. Now I’m working half-time and freelancing at not-law things half-time, which helps, but I still lie there awake at night and think things like, “What kind of accident would get me a big enough tort settlement that I wouldn’t have to work as a lawyer, but wouldn’t be permanently debilitating?” or “Maybe if I got pregnant, I could quit.” I think the second thought is more normal.

I’m writing into the void because I have got to do something. Therapy, drugs, reduced work schedule is all very nice, but I’m still ridiculously depressed, and if I don’t vent this somewhere I’m going to go postal.

There are not a lot of resources out there for professionals with depression, and I think in a lot of ways it’s the expectations of the profession that traps me. If I’m open about my depression, will I still be able to get clients? Will employers want me? Do people trust a lawyer who goes home every night and sobs? If I called my local mental health agency which helps find employment for the mentally ill, would they laugh their asses off? I bet they would.

So here it is, a way for me to vent and think and suffer out loud. Don’t care if you read or not. Just gotta get it out.



4 Responses to “I’m a Lawyer. I’m Depressed.”

  1. hi, i’m a law student who struggles with the same issues as well: medication, depression, hiding it. I live in Canada, and not the States. But law’s the same everywhere, it seems.
    Thanks for being honest. And yeah, when I tried litigation I had to lie down in a dark room for a few hours after a trial. Stressful.

  2. 2 mark51douglass

    I have been in a similar condition several times throughout my legal career. I suffered from dysthymia, punctuated by major depression every several years.

    About twelve years ago, things were so desperate for me, I sat down with my legal pad and drew several “T” charts listing an issue, pros on one side and cons on the other. The issues were: Divorce my wife. Declare bankruptcy. Commit suicide. Transition out of private practice. Somehow, with tears in my eyes, I worked through an irrational situation with rational thought. I was lucky. Too often when we are depressed, our minds are not rational. Our thoughts are warped. But we don’t know it. To often, we make the decision to end our pain with suicide. But that is a permanent solution to the temporary problem of our pain.

    In my case, I finally chose to quit my solo practice and get a job which contained legal elements, but did not involve the practice of law. After several years, I chose to stay home as a house-husband for a few years. Today, I am developing a business as a professional speaker—something I really, really love. I am still licensed as an attorney, but no longer need to go down a career path that was killing me—-the practice of law.

    I hope you will get some additional help. Your state bar association must have a lawyer assistance program. See Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (Minnesota) at http://www.mnlcl.org.
    Also take a look at my own website at http://www.help-overcoming-adversity.com.

    Also look at http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/julyaug2001/greiner1.html.

    If you can still laugh consider the joke told in the movie, “Annie Hall”:

    Prospective Patient: Doctor, help me. My brother thinks he is a chicken.
    Doctor: Here. Have your brother take one of these pills every day. He will be well in no time.
    Prospective Patient: But, Doctor—–we need the eggs!

    Do you somehow need the eggs? Specifically, do you need the plush working environment, the status and the money—–even if it is slavery—-even if it is killing you?

    Try this. A client comes to you who is not without personal resources, and says she owes a great deal of money. She is working in a factory where the environment makes her physically, mentally, and spiritually ill. In tears, she asks you for your best advice.

    Would you tell her, “Keep on working, honey”?

    Mark Douglass

  3. 3 Jay

    Welcome to WordPress. I’ve often thought of my blogging as an enjoyable hobby and a bit of therapy for myself. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with depression, but like many other people, I’ve had those days where I wish I could stay in bed or have a different career, etc. I don’t mean this to be preachy or to convert anyone, but my faith in God and the spiritual renewal I find in my church have really kept me focused on living a life of purpose and meaning and recognizing that I’ve been called to minister to people in need through the practice of law. Sometimes I wonder, why me? And I have miserable days in the office sometimes. But sometimes I have a song in my heart as well. Strange, I know.

    I really wish you and your Husband the best.

  4. 4 bellkurve

    hi. Was wondering if I could link to your blog. I’m on wordpress at http://bipolarlawyer.wordpress.com


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