Helplessness and hopelessness.
Two pillars of depression. And they’re tough to topple.
Lawyers, when in the vise-like grip of depression, feel helpless. Despite their best efforts to pull out of it, they still feel depressed and all endure the consequences that flow from their chronic melancholy: a lack of productivity, chronic fatigue, falling behind on work projects because of procrastination and a pervasive sadness or feeling dead inside.
This sense of helplessness, if not addressed, often leads to a profound sense of hopelessness about the future. Sufferers’ conclude that they doomed to feel depressed for the rest of their lives. They just can’t envision good things happening to them in the future. They have a type of tunnel vision: they only see a crummy future ahead of them and on-again, off-again skirmishes or battles with depression.
Lawyers breaking the bonds of depression
But many lawyers not only survive depression; they pull themselves out of it. They break the bonds of the depression that have shackled them to a life sucked dry of joy, wonder and vitality. If you’re a lawyer who struggles with depression and can’t see any light down the road ahead of you, remember that you too can not only survive it – you come out the other side, thrive and grow.
To do so, you’ll have to leave some negative things behind and grab onto some positive ones. Here are some kernels of wisdom that I’ve learned over my decade-long journey of helping depressed attorneys recover:
1. Learn to let go. Depressed lawyers tend to nurture wounds inflicted by clients, judges and other lawyers. The wounds can be the result of an opponent’s downright nasty behavior, a cold and unsympathetic judge or a badgering client. Lawyers take all of this too seriously and personally by magnifying these exchanges. They churn infractions and insults over and over in their head. This type of ruminative thinking not only wears them out, but feeds their depression. The truth is that a lot of the bad behavior we see in the law really isn’t really about you. It’s usually the product of the ignorance and unconsciousness of others. Remember this. AND LET IT GO.
2. Let go of hanging around other negative lawyers. It’s easy to gravitate to other attorneys who, while that might not be clinically depressed, are extremely negative about law and life. Hanging around these folks will only feed your negative view of your law practice and life. It fosters a corrosive and cynical view of the world. You have a choice to make. LEAVE THESE PEOPLE BEHIND.
3. Let go of surfing the net. I know many lawyers that are on the web for big chunks of time during their workday. It’s a maladaptive stress, anxiety or depression management behavior and, in the short or long term, destructive. They surf for everything under the sun during work: music, porn, Facebook, YouTube, etcetera. Deep down, they feel like they “deserve” these breaks because law takes so much out of them. In their minds, these surfs are something pleasurable they crave because it distracts them from the pain of too much stress, unhappiness or depression. But it comes at a cost. They waste precious time, procrastinate and then beat themselves up for it for being unproductive. Beating one’s self up only leads to low self-esteem, which chips away at self-worth. They don’t make positive changes. They just don’t think we’re worth it. But, you are worth it and you need to start acting as if you are. LET GO OF THIS TIME WASTER.
4. Embrace a sense of hanging around more positive lawyers. Yes, they are out there! And there are more of them than you think. I know because I’ve met and developed friendships with them. Finding others, who are doing more than just complaining about the law and are trying to do something constructive about it, will help you gain some sense of hope about the future and a more positive direction. IT’S IMPORTANT TO LET NEGATIVE PEOPLE GO.
5. Find silence wherever you can. There’s something profoundly healing about silence, wherever you may find it. The practice of mindfulness meditation to cope with the stresses and strains of modern life has become widely popular. It has found a powerful foothold in the law. Mindfulness has been studied and found to be a powerful antidote to everyday unhappiness, too much stress, anxiety and depression. What makes it so powerful? The practice of unhitching our wagons from the constant stream destructive thoughts and feelings that batters our brains that are accomplished by following one’s breath and not buying into troublesome thoughts or emotions. Basically, we get “out of our heads” and drop back down into our bodies and short-circuit the negative rumination that fuels depression. An excellent book on this topic is The Mindful Way Through Depression. If mindfulness mediation isn’t your cup of tea, I know many who find solace in their local church or synagogue. There’s lots of research to support the theory that people who have a regular spiritual practice cope better with their anxiety and depression than those who don’t. FIND SOMEPLACE TO DRINK IN SILENCE.
6. Find a way to be more organized. Researchers have found that chronic stress is a powerful trigger for depression. Realistically, there are some things we’ll never be able to change about the demanding nature of the legal profession. But, it’s equally true that there are many steps we can do that significantly lower our stress load. One of the most powerful things you can do to help yourself is to be better organized. If you have trouble with this issue, and most depressed lawyers that I know do, delegate it to someone else to help you with this. It may be your secretary or even an outside consultant who are pros.
7. If you can’t go to the gym, walk. I’ve resolved so many times to go to the gym, but often don’t. I have come to accept that sometimes I will and sometimes I won’t. Even when I know it would really help my mood. Sometimes it’s because my day is full of too many commitments, I’m feeling lazy or I’m unable to find the one-hour block of time to do it.