Anyone in law school will tell you that the “Can I sue for emotional distress?” line is definitely the oldest joke in the book. Yes the rumors are true, law school is stressful and emotionally draining. For me personally, law school has been the most painful two and a half years I’ve ever endured. No exaggeration, law school messed up my mental health, and during my second year of law school I was diagnosed with anxiety and severe depression.
I’ve always loved school and if I could spend the rest of my life as a student I’d do it, but as we all know, love don’t pay the bills. From the beginning I didn’t feel like I belonged at law school and that someone had made a mistake in admitting me. I was sure that someone took pity on my application and said, “I don’t know, she sounds alright. Let’s give her a chance.” Imposter syndrome was in full effect even before my first day.
If you’re unfamiliar with imposter syndrome, it’s a chronic feeling of intellectual or personal inadequacy born of grandiose expectations about what it means to be competent. Nothing makes you doubt your intelligence quite like being cold-called by a professor and getting the answer wrong in front of a hundred people.
You can imagine my disappointment when I received my first year grades and learned that I had done very poorly. I completely shut down and refused to show myself any compassion. Until my time in law school, I thought of myself as I was a smart person but after I got my first year grades I could only see myself as a failure. That following summer was extremely dark emotionally. My friends saw very little of me, I felt ashamed, and overall I felt like I didn’t deserve to be happy. In my mind, joy was reserved only for people who accomplished their goals.
The rest of that summer was spent going back and forth between deciding to stay in law school or completely change my career path. One thought I had was, “could I make it as a standup comedian?” It’s safe to say that as a twenty-three year old, I had not lived through enough to have any sort of standup material.
Becoming a lawyer has been the only thing I have ever wanted to do and I was not ready to give that up. My parents stood by me and reminded me that that quitting was not an option. There’s something about being the child of immigrants that makes you realize that quitting isn’t a luxury we can afford.
I went back for my second year and this time I sought professional help to work through my depression and anxiety. Real talk: depression is a scary illness. In the words of the iconic Dwight Schrute, “Depression? Isn’t that just a fancy word for feeling bummed out?” There’s certainly a lot more to depression than just being sad all the time.
For me, depression isn’t just one emotion. It can either be a million agonizing feelings or it can be nothing at all. Most days it feels like a loss of identity mixed with anger. Author J.K. Rowling explains that dementors represent what depression felt like for her and I totally subscribe to this theory. My depression acts a lot like Drake, too – it goes 0 to 100 real quick.
Since I really needed to focus on school, my depression told me that I had to detach myself entirely from anyone or anything that brought me joy as any outside factors would be seen as distractions. I avoided seeing friends, I didn’t watch any television, and I didn’t go out. I was basically a nun except without the promise of eternal life in heaven and with slightly better clothes.
I’ve been in therapy for a year now and it’s been a total game changer. When I first started, my initial thought was, “How many sessions is it going to take to fix me?” But that’s the thing about depression, it doesn’t go away like the chicken pox. It’s not a one and done kind of illness. Come to think of it, my depression is a lot like a pimple – it shows up whenever it damn well pleases, it’s all up in my face (pun intended as always), and I can tell it’s there but others will say it’s not even noticeable.
Talking about my depression and going to therapy used to scare me because I didn’t want to paint myself as someone who was broken and needed help. Though this illness is my own, I’m painfully aware that it also affects the people I interact with so I need to do my part to be a decent human being, a.k.a. going to therapy.
I’m now only a semester away from graduating law school (YAAAS) and things are going better than they have been in the previous two years. I attribute this shift to both therapy and community. Being around good people is such a gift. The last two years were dark and lonely because my depression told me that no one cared about how I was feeling – after all, it’s law school and everyone feels this way. This year I’ve been surrounded by people who genuinely care about one another and, to be honest, it feels like home.