the practice of law and depression, in three parts.

Along with many others, I’ve written about lawyer depression, most recently here.

I just came across a series of three posts written by a law professor (who also has extensive practice experience) about his experience with depression, and being a law student, lawyer, and law professor.

In this series, the author lays out the cold, hard facts. And he calls on lawyers and law professors to act.

However, as lawyers and law professors, we must to do more. It is clear that our students need us to do more. When you are depressed, you feel so terribly alone. You feel different. You feel ashamed. You feel weak. You feel like you will never feel better and that you can never be the person you want to be.

If 40% of our students feel this way, we must do more. They look up to us. They see us as role models and mentors. They see us as strong and successful and confident. They need to see that suffering from depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder will not curse them for all time and destroy their lives. These are treatable diseases, not character flaws. They need us to be brave and be honest.

-Professor Brian Clarke

Not every lawyer struggles with these issues. But most I know do, to some degree. Some of them sit in my office and cry. (I am not exaggerating. More than once, a lawyer seeking my help ended up crying in our initial consultation.)

In my humble opinion, the failure of our profession to grapple meaningfully with these endemic issues is tragic. And unacceptable.

The law professor who speaks out so openly in these posts is a shining example of exactly what we all need to do: TALK ABOUT IT. Bravely and honestly.

Acknowledging what most of us view as “weakness” will not be easy, or popular. But it’s absolutely necessary.

I’ve spent many of my 16+ years as a lawyer seeking a way to be really good at my work while simultaneously not losing my mind, my family, my friends. It’s not easy, folks. It takes brutal honesty to reflect and act in a way that goes against the grain for our profession.

The law part is not that hard (that was the fun part for me), but the business side of law is a bear. Finding clients, billing time, and collecting money, are just a few aspects of the business of law of which I was not a big fan. Keeping tasks and deadlines in dozens (or hundreds) of cases straight and getting everything done well and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying, especially for the type A perfectionist who is always terrified of making a mistake or doing a less than perfect job. Forget work-life balance. Forget vacations. Every day out of the office is another day you are behind.

Professor Brian Clark

And it’s why I want to help other lawyers do it. It’s really the only reason I haven’t left the profession completely. Because really, when you pencil in the pros vs. cons, why would anyone stay? (I welcome challenges to this statement, by the way.)

As I wrote in a recent post, every lawyer I know as friend or client acknowledges the very same challenges and frustrations. I wager that every single one of them would leave the profession if the right opportunity presented itself.

Granted, my group of lawyer friends and clients is very self-selected. We are of a like mind. But I don’t think we’re the minority. Not anywhere close.

While I do not remember all of the details of my decent into the hole, it was certainly rooted in trying to do it all – perfectly. After my second child was born, I was trying to be all things to all people at all times. Superstar lawyer. Superstar citizen. Superstar husband. Superstar father. Of course, this was impossible. The feeling that began to dominate my life was guilt. A constant, crushing guilt. Guilt that I was not in the office enough because I was spending too much time with my family. Guilt that I was letting my family down because I was spending too much time at work. Guilt that I was letting my bosses down because I was not being the perfect lawyer to which they had become accustomed. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. The deeper I sunk into the hole, the more energy I put into maintaining my façade of super-ness and the less energy was left for either my family or my clients. And the guiltier I felt. It was a brutal downward spiral. Eventually, it took every ounce of energy I had to maintain the façade and go through the motions of the day.

Professor Brian Clark

Does this sound familiar???

I recommend this series of posts highly to anyone who cares about our profession and the people in it.

Law Professors, Law Students and Depression … A Story of Coming Out:

Part I

Part II

Part III

If you feel, even the slightest bit, that you need help — seek it NOW.*

Know someone who you feel, even the slightest bit, may need help? Help them NOW.

Accept Brian Clarke’s challenge. Be brave and honest.

*I searched for a really good national mental health resource for lawyers. I see a gap.

an antidote.

Throw a stone online and you’ll hit an article discussing how unhappy and depressed lawyers are. I’ve written about it here, as well.

What’s the antidote? There likely are many. Sleep more. Eat better. Exercise. Meditate. Stop being a lawyer.

One I’ve been practicing for awhile now is gratitude. If you’ve read many of my posts you may note I tend to write only about those things that really excite me. The practice of gratitude is one of those things.

Interested in exploring gratitude and what it can bring to your life? Try these exercises from Martin Seligman (psychologist in the study of happiness and author of Flourish – a recommended read).

THE GRATITUDE VISIT.

Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face?

Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless. In this exercise … you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.

Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.

I did this with a former teacher of mine. It was by far one of the most amazing and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. It’s an incredible gift to both people involved.

THE THREE GRATITUDES. 

This one is perhaps less daunting. Commonly called the “three blessings,” I call it the “three gratitudes.”

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause … “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”

Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier.

I practice the three gratitudes somewhat religiously. I used to blog about them, and now keep a written journal. My family and I often do it together at the dinner table. No money-back guarantees offered, but I can attest that this is a powerful way to retrain your brain to focus first on the positive.

And not to state the obvious, but we lawyers are paid to focus on the negative. We spend our days mired in it. The reason I left litigation? Because, always and every time, and even after getting the client exactly what she wanted at the outset, everyone involved was miserable from the experience. Including me. The negative was overwhelming.

In my experience, it requires thoughtful, intentional, and consistent effort to combat the negative. One antidote: the regular practice of gratitude. Give it a go. Let me know what you think.