The legal profession is ripe with stress, depression, substance abuse and other mental health issues. Add a pandemic to that mix, and the result can be intense. While the Florida Bar has had the Florida Lawyers Assistance program, it wasn’t until a few years ago that they, with the lead of the Young Lawyers Division, has made mental health a priority. Their Stigma Free YLD, with resources and testimonials from lawyers throughout the state, has made mental health a priority.
The hardest thing for people to understand about depression (even those that suffer from it) is that is goes beyond being sad. Your entire outlook on life is affected. You often feel hopeless and worthless. You don’t enjoy things you usually do. You think people don’t care about you. You often can’t see any good if your life because the depression is coloring everything with its lens. I have not been without my share of depression throughout my legal career but it wasn’t until a former professor and mentor, who was an incredible attorney and well loved by all, died by suicide in 2017. This made me and every other attorney in Florida realize that depression is a vile and often hidden disease that affects so many that we know.
I’ve never talked openly about my depression before but it’s been there most of my life. I’ve taken antidepressants for two different periods: early in my career and at the end of the time I was practicing law. It was tough for me to reach out for that help but it was essential for me to function at the level I needed to. Unfortunately I had an extremely difficult time coming off the antidepressants the last time, to the point that it felt like torture some days, so when I started to experience depression at the beginning of 2020, I was hesitant to go down that road again.
As you can imagine, starting 2020 with some depression did not set me up for success! A series of events coupled by the pandemic and the isolation made things extremely difficult. In the last year, I’ve suffered many major triggering points: a toxic workplace, a huge salary cut, getting laid off, and a period of unemployment. The pandemic had me worrying about my family members with Type 1 Diabetes, my elderly parents and in-laws and even myself, who has been susceptible to respiratory infections throughout my life. I rarely sleep through the night, often waking to take care of my daughter’s blood sugar or my elderly dog, and then struggle to get back to sleep because of racing thoughts. For months, I muddled through and just tried to ignore how I was feeling but sometimes your actions to mask the pain actually make it worse.
A few months ago, I realized I needed to get help. I had been trying to run away from my life because I couldn’t recognize the signs that I had slipped into depression again. My first step was to start therapy. Through this process, I was able to be introspective and dig down to what I was actually feeling. What I thought my problems were was what I had created to mask my actual feelings.
Was it an instant cure? Absolutely not but it was a good start. With my past experience with antidepressants, this time I looked to more holistic methods to help. I cut way back on drinking alcohol, I did the 21 Day Refresh eating organic and vegan foods and doing yoga every day. I joined a yoga book club discussing a year of self-care with a group of amazing yoga instructors and their students. After I finished the Refresh, I tried to keep 80% or more of my diet organic and plant based, keeping room for the occasional restaurant food. Although on the days I just can’t muster exercise, I allow myself the rest.
I just turned 50 and that really weighed heavy on my depression. I didn’t even realize how depressed I was until my therapist remarked on my sullen demeanor in our session right before my birthday. Luckily I was able to finally spend some time with my parents (yay for vaccinations!) and that helped. My husband, daughter and parents made a big deal about it with decorations and cake and it brought me a lot of joy. Everyone that reached out to wish me a happy birthday reminded me that I have a full life. I think birthdays are one day that Facebook is actually positive!
I used to tell my clients that it was like being on the airplane: you need to put your own mask on before you can help someone else. So my advice to those that are feeling down: seek help in whatever form you can and feel comfortable with. I think therapy is great but you have to find the right therapist. You may need to try a few but don’t give up. Surround yourself with those that love you at your best and your worst. If you need medication to help, get it. Remember that alcohol is not medicine and can make you feel worse (and mess with your sleep). It’s important to remember that there is no one antidote for depression so you have to figure out what works for you.
You may feel alone, but you would be surprised how many people have suffered. I am just one lawyer to tell my story, but there are many stories on the YLD website. You can also find the stories of celebrities like Kristen Bell, Chris Evans, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Harrison Ford, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton , Michael Phelps and more.
MOST OF ALL, IF YOU ARE FEELING LIKE YOU MAY HARM YOURSELF. GET IMMEDIATE HELP. THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE IS 800-273-8255. HELP IS OUT THERE.