Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program "Stories of Recovery" series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome mental health or substance abuse problems. The State Bar's TLAP program offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call us at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.
Even as a kid I identified with that cartoon character who walked around with a little black cloud over his head. I was depressed and life was depressing. So much so that I clearly needed help—and was lucky enough to be sent for counseling early in my life.
I learned that it was not my life circumstances, but my ability to cope with life. And that I had to take responsibility for dealing with the depression. So, I have for most of my life since I was in college had a counselor, a paid counselor. You can’t talk about this stuff just to friends. They’re not equipped. Every counselor has been wise—a reality check—and loving.
I have had long periods when depression has not been a problem, when I have been happy, competent, and productive. And I have had all too brief periods when I was wildly happy, super competent, and amazingly productive—being a little manic once in a while can help you get a lot done.
It was not until early in my law practice that I had a major depressive episode characterized by utterly crippling panic. I had to get out of my head—literally—and made a serious suicide attempt. Even after a month of hospitalization I thought my mind would never work again. But I had read enough while there to diagnose myself as manic-depressive and begged for lithium, and it worked.
With the knowledge that it was a “chemical imbalance,” I knew I not only needed medication, but had to keep taking it. I refused to let the MDs tell me how I was supposed to be feeling and insisted on changes when new meds didn’t work.
After Prozac came along, I had decided it was party time—I could drink again. That, of course, quickly required more medication. The anxiety side of my depression worsened. The procrastination became deadly. I started falling down, physically and professionally.
It was not until I quit drinking that I got sane. I have been blessed for many years with a psychiatrist who is also a loving therapist. She suggested I might not be ready to quit my hourlong biweekly sessions until I quit drinking. Through the grace of God and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am grateful to say I have now been sober for 11 years.
It wasn’t just quitting drinking—although that’s absolutely necessary—that got me sane. I had to quit my profoundly negative way of thinking.* I had gotten in the habit of expecting the worst of other people, and getting it. Of expecting the best of myself, and hating myself for not becoming the lawyer I thought I should have been. I was miserable.
Beyond the support of medication and the healing of wise counsel, changing my thinking has been the third solid leg of real sanity and peace. I have had to learn to recognize when it is just the depression talking, i.e. when my brain is lying to me, or when it is just “stinkin’ thinkin’,” as the program calls it. Is it depression or just plain old self-pity? Either way the cure is the same—changing my perception—recognizing that the trouble I am seeing is not necessarily real.
I have learned to forget about the “parade of horribles” and to just be grateful. To be compassionate, especially to myself. To be patient. Kind. Strong. To be here now. And I have become the lawyer I have always wanted to be.
*Science has gone a long way in explaining exactly how and why our thinking creates our emotions and well-being. Highly recommended: the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?,” neuropharmacologist Candace Pert’s “Molecules of Emotion, “ and cell biologist Bruce Lipton’s “The Biology of Belief.”