Tags: depression, depression in law students, depression in lawyers
I’m so grateful for everyone who left comments or sent emails — from family members and friends to readers I have not even met — after my last post. I felt nervous about writing about feeling depressed, but even after simply sending the post out into the ether I felt a bit better. I had sorted out my thoughts somewhat, and now at least someone (“Someone” with a capital “S”) knew how I felt.
Interestingly (though perhaps not a total coincidence), I am working on a freelance magazine article about depression in law students. Many of the sources I interviewed have repeated that one of the most debilitating aspects of depression is feeling that you are alone. They have told me that, especially for lawyers (arguably competitive by nature), admitting depression is like an admission of failure. One person told me he hopes that eventually people’s discomfort with discussing depression and the even more taboo topic of suicide will turn to rallies of support, as happened for cancer (indeed, cancer used to be the “c-word,” right? Whispered in hushed tones as if someone’s cancer were his or her own fault…). Let’s do three-day walks and bike rides and wear ribbons in support of depression.
So, anyway, thank you for reaching out. For telling me your own stories. For letting me know you’re there for me. For suggesting ways to approach both rationally and indulgently (thank you, Pam, for the mani-pedi/Pinot suggestion!) the very real emotions I’m feeling.
At the very least, I know that I’m not alone. That knowledge enables me to sit with this and trust that the roller coaster will go back up.
Sometimes, the most mundane of tasks – walking down the hall to make a photocopy, checking a voicemail, even going to the restroom – are impossible. I sit glued to my chair, frantically flipping through web pages looking for a solution, frenetically refreshing my Gmail in the hopes that an email from someone, somewhere, will pop up to save me. I am heavy and limp and tired. I do not want to eat, nor do I want to talk to anyone, especially a colleague who, for whatever reason (mostly imagined), might make me feel worse about myself than I already do.
Depression is the rocks in the pocket of your raincoat, weighing you down, tempting you to dip your toe in the ocean, perhaps walking out further. There are no solutions because you are trapped. Well-meaning suggestions are futile. In the past, I have literally leapt out over this wall: moving to the mountains, ending a relationship, changing jobs (again). The first two are no longer feasible, so of course I am currently fixated on the third.
But, now, I am older and wiser, and despite my outward protestations, I do know that the job is an easy excuse. It’s an immediate target for all of the usual self-doubt, blame, and uncertainty that seem to bubble up from time to time: I’m not smart enough, dedicated enough, focused enough. (Enough, enough, enough… it’s never enough.) It is also all too easy to let the mommy wars suck me in: why am I paying someone else (a great deal of money) to take care of my children? Why can’t my 3-year-old read (if I were home, sounding out letters with her, she would be reading, right)? How can I live with the fact that I see my sweet baby boy but one waking hour of each work day?
Why am I not happy? Why am I not satisfied with what I do have – which is so much? Why am I so negative? And, thus, the spiral of self-hatred begins.
For 30 years – since I was old enough to realize that life can bring prolonged periods when nothing seems to go right – I have been visualizing a roller coaster. A metaphor of life’s sines and cosines. I picture a car inching up a rickety incline, and I tell myself to hold on, even though I know that once I’m back on top, at some point in the near or distant future there will be another drop. It’s physics and calculus – unassailable, hard science. I have difficulty waiting out the troughs, of course. I want to jump start my life. This time, however, I just have to trust that things will get better. Not that they will change, necessarily, but that they will get better.
My internet wanderings recently led me to this post about Bhakti, or self-love. “This is me,” I thought. And I’ve been trying, I really have, to stifle the constant self-hate of whatever chemical, seasonal, external, situational trough in which I find myself as of late. But to turn on some mythical switch and love oneself? I find this almost impossible to comprehend. So I just have to trust.
When I dropped off Little Bug at preschool this morning, her teacher came rushing up to me to inform me about circle time yesterday. It is “community helpers” week at school, and at circle time, the children stood up and talked about community helpers they knew. William’s dad is a firefighter; Mary Kate’s mom is a nurse; Emerson’s mom is a doctor; and so on. Apparently, when it was Buggy’s turn she jumped up and said, “My mommy is a FANTASTIC LAWYER!”
Let’s not get all semantic about whether or not I actually qualify as a “community helper.” Anyone who talks to me regularly knows that I am feeling low, low, low about my job as of late (mostly my ability to do it well and what the hell am I doing with my life). Sometimes, a boost of confidence can come from the unlikeliest of sources — such as one’s three-year-old.
Of course, I too am the daughter of a FANTASTIC LAWYER. So it is no small thrill that my daughter gave me a circle time shout out.
Tags: Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, preschool report cards
Little Buggy got her first preschool report card. She was evaluated in areas such as gross motor development (“catches a large ball” or “claps and stomps to a rhythm”), fine motor development (“holds crayon with thumb and fingers”), self help skills (“cleans up own spills”), cognitive development (“is able to sit during whole group time” or “recognizes written name”), language development (“uses I, you, me, he, and she correctly”), and social/emotional development (“initiates activity during play,” “shares,” and, my favorite, “tolerates reasonable delays”). She received a “P” (for proficient!) in all areas except for “uses scissors” (“needs a little help with form,” her teacher wrote) and “puts on jacket, hat, mittens, and shoes.” Apparently she “has a little trouble with the second mitten.”
I find the whole concept of a three-year-old report card incredibly cute. Of course there is value in understanding your child’s age-appropriate development. I suppose there are children who would not get a “P” in “is able to sit during whole group time.” I would also be concerned if my child were having trouble “Pointing to and naming basic colors.” Certainly, I would work on that.
I shared her report card with our nanny, a former pre-school Montessori teacher who went all Amy Chua.* “She puts on both her mittens at home,” she huffed. (And, indeed, just that morning our nanny had told me how good Buggy was getting at getting herself dressed for snow play — a big endeavor when you are 3, what with all the snowpants and boots and mittens.) And then she said she would go out and buy children’s scissors today. “I noticed that you don’t have any,” she said, rather accusingly.
Ah, well. So it begins.
*Speaking of which, I just finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I really like Amy Chua after reading the entire story. I think she got a very bad rap in the press coverage by people who did not actually read the book. Or, if people did read the book, those people have no sense of humor. She is bitingly funny, self-deprecating, and a sharp observer. Obviously the Wall Street Journal excerpt was carefully selected and edited to sell books. And obviously it worked. But the entirely of the story is a unique entry into the field of parenting tomes. It is a quick, light read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Part of me thinks she is insane in the way that all super-over achievers are insane. But her love for her daughters is at the heart of the book and, in the end, that is what resonates.
Tags: law firm stress, making a mistake at work
I made a mistake at work last week. Not a proofing error, but a process error. A mistake in judgment. I didn’t do anything illegal, nor did I lose the client any money, and it was ultimately corrected. I have spoken with both the senior associate and the partner involved, owned up to my error, and assured them it would be a profound learning experience. The associate told me, “No harm, no foul.”
Nevertheless, I have been in a deep, deep funk since then. I dread being in the office, and my stomach is in knots when I’m there. I literally cannot eat. I feel as if I let down two people whose opinions I value, with whom I want to continue working. I know, I know: what matters is how I handle the mistake, what I learn from it, that I pick myself up. Outwardly, I’m trying to do that. Inwardly, however, I’m still cringing. I want to hide under my desk. Better yet, I want to stay in bed.
Friends have helpfully shared their work blunders: sending a prospective off to the printers with an error, disclosing too much information in a negotiation. My law school friends have, as usual, been particularly supportive. One told me of a tongue-lashing she was given by the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. Another of sending documents to the wrong client. The most helpful piece of wisdom was provided by my friend Jill, who pointed me to this blog post. I have been trying to figure out why I remain so depressed, and this piece distills it perfectly. For inherent pleasers, such as I am, law school is awesome. You learn things, you are tested on them, and then you are given feedback in the form of a letter grade. If you do well in law school, as I did, these grades are the signs of approval that we pleaser-types so crave. In a law firm, you may be given feedback twice a year in your review. Otherwise, you spend your long days fielding assignments and completing them with absolutely no idea if you are doing the right thing or, more important for someone like me, doing a good job. I realized that I have spent the majority of my days at the firm feeling like I am on the brink of disaster — that I’m about to screw something up. In some very small way, it was a relief that I finally did make a major mistake, one that I and the people I work for had to acknowledge.
Dear readers, I do not write this for praise — I swear! But just to articulate the anxiety that perhaps so many of us are afraid to voice. As my friend Monique wrote me, “My fellow associates at work rarely admit to being anything less than perfect, so I often feel very alone, and very much like I missed the day in law school when they dipped students in the golden patina of accuracy and imperviousness.”
What is the most difficult thing for me is that I disappointed someone I respect and generally enjoy working for. Most likely, this partner has made mistakes and hopefully will give me a second chance. But what just gnaws at me is that I won’t get that chance and that, really, I’m not very good at what I do (which snowballs into all the reasons why not: I’m not detail oriented? I have no attention span? I rush things so that I can get home to my children?)
I don’t know how to get out of this funk. I did go to the office gym for the first time since I joined almost four weeks ago and ran the fastest three miles I have in months (which admittedly isn’t saying much). Has this happened to you? Were you depressed? How did you get your groove back?
Tags: first birthday
(For a comparison shot of his sister on her first birthday, click here.)
This baby boy makes me want to stop time.
Today he is one year old. At every stage of babyhood I think, “Now this is my favorite age,” and then as I get to know my child better the next phase becomes my favorite. So I trust that as he learns to walk and talk and his little personality emerges more and more, what comes next will be my favorite, too. (OK, so ages 2.5 – 3 were not my favorite, but we’re past that with one child and have a ways to go until the next gets there!) Still, this one-year anniversary is different: not only because they change and grow at a biologically astounding rate, but this kid is truly a joy right now.
When I walk in the door in the evenings he bounces up and down and claps his hands, or, if his nanny is holding him, he throws himself out of her arms (literally) and crawls over to me, lickety-split, for a hug and a big open-mouthed kiss on my cheek. In general, he can walk if he chooses to, but he gets so excited that he tries to run and then tends to topple forward.
Here’s what else he is up to on his birthday: He loves to be held in your arms while you dance around. He waves his hands up in the air like he’s in an eating club tap room circa 1995. He has recently developed a fondness for books. For a long time he had no interest in them other than eating them. Now he at least is engaged in turning the pages, but he seems to like them for this singular purpose. He doesn’t really like to sit still and let you actually, like, read them to him. Also, when I say he can sing I am not exaggerating with any false parental pride. Last week I noticed him yelling loudly in long, drawn-out syllables. After few days of this I noticed they had a tune: “Doe-a-deer” (which his sister and I often sing in the car). He yells, “A, a aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” right on tune. Then, if you sing “Ray” he sings “AaaaaAhhhhh.” (It’s hilarious, and he does this all day long.) He can say a few words, sort of: ba-ba (for his bottle, but this can also mean “sippy cup of water”). “Hi!” he says very clearly, often while holding a toy plastic phone or even just his hand up to his ear (yikes, talk about imitation…). He waves bye-bye and says, “Buh!” and puts his hand to his mouth and says, “Mmmmmmm!” to blow you a kiss. He turns his palms up and says, “Aw uuuh” for “all done.” Otherwise, there is a lot of “Dada da da da da dadada da da” going on. He loves to point up at the sky, especially at airplanes.
But his favorite thing to do these days is climb and explore. He will crawl up on his sister’s Stokke chair (a wooden high chair that’s just like an elevated seat you pull right up to the table) and then crawl on to the table. It is impossible to get anything done in the kitchen, as you have to walk over and pull him off the table about every two minutes. Then he will crawl over to the stairs and crawl right up them and then slide down — really fast! — backwards. In the mornings he wakes up about a half hour before his sister, and his father and I like to bring him into our bed to snuggle. Except this kid doesn’t want to snuggle. He wants to jump into the pillows, or slide down off the bed and pull the cords on the shade, or pull things off our night stands (e.g., water glasses), or pull things out of the garbage can (the kitchen garbage can is also a favorite exploration area – ew). If he’s in our bathroom while we are getting ready for work he wants to stand up on the shower door and bang on it, or go pull some toilet paper off the roll. Now he can reach up on to the bathroom counter, and if we’re not careful we’ll find him with a tube of toothpaste in his mouth.
His other favorite thing to do is follow his sister. If he can catch her, he does one of two things: pats her with love smacks to the face, while trying to pull her hair, or go in for a hug. You know he is in hug mode because his thumb goes in his mouth and his head tries to snuggle on anything soft: a couch cushion, the (faux, Ikea) lamb-skin rug in his room, your shoulder.
Here’s my favorite thing: when he wakes up in the morning he plays in his crib for awhile: singing, reading books, cuddling his animals. Then he decides he wants to get up and he yells for you, “Aaaaaaaaaa!” Like, “OK, come get me!” You walk in his room and he is standing up in the crib and he sees you and starts to jump. You bring him over to the changing table and he points at everything in the room: the lamp, the shade, “Da! Da! Da!” Then, after he’s changed and nice and dry, he gives you a big snuggle. That’s the kind of guy he is: he is an explorer (there is no crack or crevice in the house in which he has not tried to get his little hands — if there are Cheerios or other small things to put in his mouth, so much the better); a mover (crawling, climbing, scooting); an observer (the sky! the other cars on the road! the grocery cart!). But he is also a sweet, sweet soul who loves his sister and his grandparents and his aunts and cousins and his incredible nanny. We know this because his hugs and kisses are many and often — in the midst of an adventure under the kitchen table he’ll take a time out to crawl up your leg for a snuggle. After he’s had his fill, he’ll leap out of your arms to get back to work.
We, of course, cannot imagine our world with out him. Happy birthday, baby boy. You light up my life.