Stories of Recovery: Finding a path to joyful practice

Editor’s note: This is the ninth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program “Stories of Recovery” series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they overcame 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 TLAP at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.

When I started practicing law, I was anxious, petrified, depressed, terrified — you name it.

After a couple of years, I decided I needed some help, so I sought out a business coach. She taught me to improve my performance, but more than that she taught me to eat right, exercise, meditate, and take care of myself for the long haul of a career.

I plunged back into law practice, working on eating better, losing weight, exercising, and meditating, and somehow, I managed to survive it. After a couple more years, the work really started to click. Issues began to be more familiar; cases became more routine. I didn’t have to think so hard for each document or appearance.
 

 

It was the pain and fear I felt from law practice that opened me up to a path of self-care. This, in turn, opened me up to other benefits. I have more energy and more focus than ever before, and I am more present in my life than I was previously.

In work, this manifests in networking, mentoring younger lawyers, giving presentations, and taking on pro bono work, and it gives me the perspective to provide my clients guidance and wisdom. In life, I am happier, fitter, a better family member, a more helpful person, and I can better appreciate the wonder of the world.

In sports or music or meditation, you practice and make mistakes before you go out and perform. Law practice is not supposed to be that way: You need to start at a level that meets your ethical obligations. But it is not possible to know everything when you start. The first time you step into court or draft a client document, you are going to make mistakes.

The key is to accept this, to learn from your mistakes. That is how you improve. As you improve, your worry lessens, and a path opens up to joyful practice. We hear so much about how draining and deadening law practice is, but I have found just the opposite: that it can be a source of energy and awakening.

 

Stories of Recovery: On the brink of suicide, I found new hope

Editor’s note: This is the fifth 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.

I could not open my eyes. I could hear someone calling my name but I didn’t recognize the voice. I let myself drift back into unconsciousness.

The next time I woke up, I was alone except for the machines that whirred and beeped around me. I tried to take a deep breath but couldn’t. Tubes pumped oxygen into my lungs and my arms were strapped down to the bed. The instinct to panic was overwhelming. Then, a nurse appeared at my side. Smiling, she informed me that my family was in the waiting room. I didn’t want to see them because I was so ashamed. How could I have wound up like this?

At 12, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression by a psychiatrist who was happy to fill out a prescription for Prozac and send me on my way. During my senior year of college, I found myself once again battling the anxiety and depression. I went to the school infirmary and requested a prescription. It didn’t help so I began to drink on days that the anxiety was particularly intense. I looked forward to it. It seemed like a reward for all my hard work.

The first year of law school was dizzying. I drank on weekends to excess, which was the only thing that seemed to help. It also made things worse. I did dumb things while drinking that I couldn’t explain, things that made me ashamed. But I didn’t stop drinking. I thought I just needed to learn how to drink better.

When I began my first job after law school, I had no idea what I was doing. I constantly felt incompetent and afraid. My anxiety skyrocketed. I spent my weekdays looking forward to the weekend when I could hang out, drink, and relax. So many other people seemed to feel the same way that I never considered for a moment that my behavior wasn’t normal.

My anxiety and depression got worse and worse, leading me to miss work. Then I would feel worse for missing work. Then I would feel more anxious, more depressed. And then I would drink.

After a while, I started losing hope. I began to think of all the ways that the world would be better without me. I just couldn’t see any way out of the darkness.

One night I decided to end my life. It wasn’t a decision the way people imagine. It was a moment of sobbing desperation. I had been drinking all day, working myself into a wretched state. I didn’t want my life to go on the way it was going. Very simply, I couldn’t stand another day like this one. I took a whole bottle of sleeping pills. There wasn’t a lot of forethought, and I certainly did not consider the long-term consequences of this decision. I just wanted the pain to stop. Suddenly, with the finality of my decision staring me in the face, I panicked. I cried out to God that I didn’t want to die.

While I was in the hospital a doctor came in to speak to me. The doctor informed me that I needed to agree to seek treatment or he was going to recommend inpatient treatment, with or without my consent. He handed me a list of outpatient treatment facilities.

That first phone call was the hardest. I thought surely I would lose everything that I had worked for, but I didn’t. God had not saved my life to deliver me into continued misery.

The road to recovery was not easy. I admitted my drinking problem and sought treatment. I underwent therapy and counseling for my anxiety and depression and have learned positive ways to deal with their symptoms. I have found God.

Through my faith, I have learned not to trust in my own understanding of things, and to relinquish the delusion of control. I deal with what I have power over, and I try not to obsess over the things that I do not. I am still practicing law. I have a family and friends and I am happy. I hope that by sharing my story, I encourage another attorney to seek help, restoring value to the years I lost.