Lawyering, Personal

For World Mental Health Day

October 11, 2017

I missed this by a day, forgive me.  The sentiments remain the same. And as my wonderful friend Adrienne said, “every day is mental health day when you have the clinical diagnosis of ‘my brain hates me.'”

You may have read my post a few years back when I was returning to law school after a medical leave to treat my depression.  That time still ranks as the worst my illness has ever gotten, and there is definitely a strength associated with knowing the answer to “well, how bad can it get?” (this! this bad! *precisely* this bad!)

Fun fact: I am still depressed.  Over the past 4 years, I have been able to reduce the frequency of my therapy sessions, and even stop attending completely for almost a year before starting it again, but boyyyy howdy am I not “cured,” and that might never be a thing that is true.

I’m still taking medication: SNRIs have proved to be pretty generally good for me, although I had to switch from one to another because my insurance stopped carrying one and it was gonna be something in the range of two hundred dollars a month so I spent a week switching and frantically observing my body and mood to see if I was not coping well.  I lucked out and everything was fine but I also was basically fueled on phone calls and rage for 10 days or so.  My current meds are 7 dollars a month instead of roughly 7 dollars a pill, so that’s, uh, better.

I still take sleep medication sometimes: I’ve had a night or two still where I’ve slept maybe 90 minutes and then headed into work which does not come highly recommended. Ambien will make me a bit groggy the next day, and it’s no bueno when I remember that there’s something I still need to do after I’ve taken them (walked our dog the other night and we could have gone to Narnia for all I know), and I will sometimes sort of sleep-eat when I’m taking them, but gosh darn do I love my sleep so sacrifices must be made.

I still have an incredibly supportive partner: I’m now married, and while Andrew doesn’t always totally get what’s going on in my brain (it objectively doesn’t make sense), he is so incredibly wonderful about asking me what I need and if I’m okay and telling me he doesn’t hate me.  Because that is a question I ask with disconcerting frequency.

I still am ridiculously lucky in many ways.  I am (usually) financially fine enough to attend therapy and pay for my medication through Andrew’s insurance.  I am able to schedule therapy appointments around my work schedule.  I do not have to worry about childcare or supporting another human being during my bad periods.  And, of course, I am a white, cis, heterosexual woman with an advanced degree and despite my mental illness I have a hell of a lot of privilege.  Getting help saved my life, but I was able to ignore or walk around many of the barriers others face in receiving and paying for treatment.

That being said…

Being a depressed lawyer is hell, sometimes.  Many of the aspects of the profession require you to pretend or to actually have no emotion (other than anger, maybe), and my depression is basically having emotions to the point of incapacity, so it doesn’t work super well for me.  I’m lucky in that I’ve never missed court or anything super important because of my depression, but I’ve certainly had to do some excuses the morning of a responsibility.  The choice of whether to disclose is still an incredibly challenging line to draw (will they be understanding? will they fire me?) and it requires me to read a situation while I’m mired in despair so deep that I can’t see my hand in front of my face, so I’m sure I’ve blown it at some point, but I continue to Do My Best.

There’s also this other whole element of needing to report your mental health treatment for severe disorders to several states’ bars when you’re applying to take the exam.  For Pennsylvania, I was not required to report details, but I was required to report any time away from school, which amounted to a full year of law school before I returned.  For New Jersey, I had to report my diagnosis.  The question in New Jersey asks if you have ever received treatment for a list of disorders, and major depressive disorder is one of them.  This meant that when I found out that I passed the bar in New Jersey, I was not actually listed as eligible to be sworn in, because I had to be interviewed by a member of the ethics committee about my treatment, my current status, and my ability to handle the practice of law.  We met in a restaurant.  I ate some fries while she asked me about the worst part of my life and whether I’d fuck up a client’s file because of my brain telling me I’m worthless. The fries were good.

There’s also this whole other element of my depression sometimes telling me that maybe it would be better if I wasn’t alive.  The first two minutes of this clip from Louis CK’s newest special (not ideal to link to him but this is so accurate) is exactly it, and this cartoon and its part 2 from Hyperbole and a Half are the best ways I have to describe this.  And I terrify so many people when I talk about it, and I almost wish that wasn’t the case.  Not because suicide isn’t horribly serious, because it is.  And not because the idea of “missing the signs” isn’t an enormous struggle for concerned loved ones, because it *is*. Because, actually, “I might not want to be alive” should not be the worst thing someone can say.  When I say it, it doesn’t mean I’m in imminent danger.  It doesn’t mean I’ve made any kind of plan.  It doesn’t mean I need to be taken to get sectioned or restrained or hospitalized.  All it means is “the pain of being me right now is so great that *not* being me sounds like a better deal.”

In actuality, it means telling my husband to hide my sleep medications from me and giving me a dose for sleep if I need one – not because I actually plan on doing something, but because it doesn’t benefit me to have a full bottle of Ambien next to my bed.  It means asking those close to me to tell me I have worth and have been at least somewhat a net positive in their lives so I can have proof to show my brain when it says “no one likes you, you’re a disappointment on every plane of existence.” It means walking my dog and feeding her, because then I can point to her healthy doggie body and say “here is a good thing I did recently.” And sometimes it means being in bed for an entire day with the crushing weight of the opinions of the entire world and the struggle of my own existence weighing down on my chest and limbs like a lead blanket and waiting for the next day to come because at least it won’t be today anymore.

I am depressed.  Sometimes that means I’m fine, and sometimes that means I am in a hell my brain has designed specifically for me.  And I’m doing my best to make the “fine” days outweigh the “hell” days.  If you’re here, know that I am here with you, and that you have value, and that I am so proud of you.

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