I was born with a lot of advantages, living in a good location, in an upper income family. I also went to good schools and had access to many extracurricular activities such as sports, music, theatre, travel and whatever else was “in”. There were disadvantages however, both parents had illnesses, were unavailable and sometimes hostile. I learned the best thing to do was to stay out of the way. I got good grades, played all the sports, spent time with friends and mostly I stayed away from home.
How I looked, how successful I was, whom I hung around with all began to matter and came to matter a great deal. I would do whatever I needed to fit in. I kept busy, very busy. I was almost always doing something or hanging out with friends.
When I wasn’t busy I felt very lonely, and restless. Now I can admit that I was also afraid. This way of being continued through University and I know it was a major reason I went to Law School. I wanted to “be somebody”. I thought that if I just worked hard and did the right things I would be ok.
I graduated from Law School ready to take on the world. The first six months of articling were great. I worked hard, got lots done, seemed to be able to do the work.
Suddenly, I began to feel overwhelmed.
This came on without warning. I wondered what I was doing and why I was doing it. I thought about doing the same thing for the rest of my life and I couldn’t imagine that. I began to become tired just thinking about work. It began to become difficult even going to work.
Then, I lost confidence in my ability to do the work. This made it even more difficult to do the work. My principal and the other partners began to wonder what had happened and exhorted me to work harder. They soon lost confidence in me and assumed that I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer. Needless to say, I wasn’t kept on after articles. This was fine with me because I knew that the kind of work I was doing wasn’t what I wanted to do anyway.
I got a job with the government and that turned out to be a good move for me. There were experienced lawyers around and they were willing to help me learn how to do the work. It was also a collegial and friendly environment and helped fulfill my need to interact with people on a regular basis. I liked working there, I did a good job and the sense of being overwhelmed by life was mostly “disappeared”. However, I became restless and didn’t stay there long. I longed to be a “success”, make lots of money, and more importantly make a “name’ for myself.
I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing. I didn’t think about what was important to me or about how I wanted to live my life. I did not know about getting guidance in examining these questions, actually I didn’t even know to ask the questions.
I pressed on to the next stage of my career and associated with some friends from law school. This was a fun and challenging adventure. I began to succeed, make money and to have some exciting and interesting cases. The anxiety I had lived with all my life began to increase, or at least became more noticeable. I often felt afraid going to court, not just nervous, but really afraid, afraid I would break down.
I was afraid of doing simple tasks, a conveyance was cause for hours of worry and tension. Whatever I was doing I would think about it over and over imagining every possible problem that could arise. In small doses this might be a good trait for lawyer but I began to worry 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
I didn’t take days off because I would worry even more if I wasn’t at the office. My work habits deteriorated. My ability to concentrate suffered. Because I was at work all the time, I could say, “I would get the work done later”.
It became too stressful to pull my own weight; I didn’t want to admit I had a problem so I left the partnership. Of course, once on my own, things got worse, to the point I would often sit most of the day without doing any work. My life was a mess, my finances were bad, and my marriage had ended long ago. I had little good work and I saw little or no way out.
Eventually it got so bad I did let a friend know how bad it was and they offered help. Some of my friends, who were lawyers, helped with my practice. They took care of my files and paid my rent for a couple months. This allowed me to take time off and begin a healing process. I went to support groups and personal growth seminars as well as for counseling.
I learned how to ask for help and how to get support as I made changes in my life. I learned about what I really wanted from life and how to get it. I was able to start up with a new firm and I began to enjoy the practice of law. I no longer practiced law to impress people or to prove myself but I did it because I like to help people and to work with people.
I received a lot of help and support from other lawyers that I think was essential and for which I am forever grateful. Now, thankfully there is an organized peer support program of lawyers helping lawyers. If you find yourself in any kind of situation like I was in I do recommend that you call the Lawyers Assistance Program and ask for help.