Editor’s note: This story is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s “Stories of Recovery” series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at (800) 343-8527 and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.
Over the past 15 years, a toxic combination of the general slowing-down of litigation (especially the near disappearance of my life’s work, jury trials) and a major health setback involving chemotherapy sent me into what the psychiatrists call a major depressive disorder. In everyday parlance, I was suffering from Depression, with a capital “D.”
As a senior partner in a national firm, and the father of several children, mostly in college or graduate school, my world was badly shaken. In some respects, my depression was worse than the cancer. It was hard to get out of bed. My eating habits were abysmal. I lost interest in staying in shape. I got sick a lot.
Poor sleep, too much or too little, left me exhausted most days. I had no interest in social activities, charities, hobbies, movies, books, travel, sex, or anything else once considered “fun” or rewarding. Most clients stopped sending cases. It felt like I was a burden on my family. I could see no real way out of the black box. Assumed I would die soon.
My wise and immensely supportive wife found a top-notch psychiatrist for me. He leveled out my ups and downs with medication and some talk therapy. Then I found out about a State Bar program (Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP) for lawyers, judges, or law students suffering from mental health issues such as depression or bipolar illness.
I began attending confidential meetings, which consisted of an hourlong presentation by a health care professional with experience dealing with these illnesses and an hour of supportive group discussion/therapy. Several in the group had suffered symptoms much more serious than mine; e.g., electro-shock therapy, suicide attempts, hospitalizations. Or they suffered far more devastating consequences than I did, such as losing law licenses, broken relationships and families, or attempts at self-medication through alcohol or controlled substances.
TLAP was a great source for finding medical professionals who could offer alternative therapies and for finding the literature on depression, which helped me understand what I was up against. TLAP encouraged finding a good physician, managing the illness with proper medications, and joining a group for support.
I soon found a role as someone senior with enough home, law firm, and medical support to be in position to offer suggestions to others in the group—focusing on someone other than yourself is very important depression therapy. I offered book recommendations, met with others from the group outside of the regular meeting, went to some meetings of the Depression and Bi-Polar Alliance for counselor training, and implemented a series of exercise and diet changes that I was able to recommend to others in my group and community.
Lastly, I began to study and practice meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, the latter being well recognized in medical literature as highly beneficial to those suffering from depression. Armed with this battery of defenses, I focused my attention on rebuilding my law practice.
It took many months, but I’m back. I’ve been back for several years now. I’m not seeing my psychiatrist or taking any medications. While I still find serious jury trials few and far between, my practice is humming and my life is in as much order as it was before the depression hit.
If you can relate to any of this, please seek help from TLAP.