Editor’s note: TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance use or mental health issues. Call or text TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) or find more information at tlaphelps.org.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was six years old. During my first year of law school, I experienced a significant depressive episode that culminated in a suicide attempt.
Like most law students, school had always been easy for me. When I got to law school, I suddenly went from being a big fish in a small pond, to being in a tank full of sharks. I found it difficult to relate to my peers socially; I had trouble grasping the material, but I was afraid to say anything because I didn’t want to look dumb in front of them or feel like I didn’t belong there. I was so tired and felt so defeated that I didn’t want to do anything but sleep after class. In my mind, there was nobody at school I could comfortably call a friend. I felt completely inadequate, inferior, overwhelmed, and alone. My torts professor, without hyperbole, terrified me. Before long, I couldn’t get myself out of bed. I didn’t do any of the reading. Nothing brought me any semblance of happiness. I lived in constant fear of being rejected, being a disappointment, being a failure. Soon I began to think it would be better if I wasn’t living at all.
In November of the fall semester, three weeks from our first final exam, I tried to take my own life. I spent the following two weeks in an in-patient psychiatric hospital, without access to my phone, the internet, my textbooks, or anything but the incomplete jigsaw puzzles and blunt crayons in the hospital. I notified the school before I was admitted, but I didn’t tell any of my classmates, because I assumed they didn’t care.
When I was released and was able to access my phone again, it had exploded with messages from my classmates asking where I was, if I needed notes, if I was okay—that they missed having their friend in class and hoped I would return. When I finished crying, I could not think of any better reply than to say what I wish I’d said months before: “I am not okay. I need help. Can you help me?” These men and women who I am still proud to call friends could not have been more supportive. With the help of therapy, medication, and what was suddenly an incredible support system, the rain started to clear and light slowly crept back into my life.
That summer, I received a letter from the law school: “I am very sorry to inform you that as of the end of the spring term, your GPA dropped below the required minimum. Pursuant to our academic standards, you are being academically dismissed from the law school program.” That letter is hanging framed above my desk next to my law degree as I type this.
Given my hospitalization, the school gave me the greatest opportunity of my life: I was allowed to restart as a 1L with a clean slate.
As I sat in my second 1L orientation, I looked around and saw myself from a year ago in all of my new classmates. I resolved that I was going to be for them the person I needed the year prior—to make sure they each knew that they belonged and that at least one person was their friend. The three years that followed were the greatest three years of my life, culminating in my graduating magna cum laude as president of our student bar association.
The most valuable thing that we as attorneys and law students can be for one another is compassionate. Ours is a competitive, antagonistic profession, but our lives can be made so much better by being able to be vulnerable with one another, be compassionate to our peers, and show one another love.