By Lindsey White • March 05, 2018•Writers in Residence
Buffalo, New York is a surprisingly charming city. Victorian row houses converted into cute, hipstery bars, antique shops, and competing claims to the original Buffalo wing abound. I’ve also been introduced to Timbits, showing up just over the border from their Canadian homeland. Right on time to provide the perfect stress induced sugar high as the clock ticktocks a little bit closer to game time.
So this is the bar. The Everest-worthy achievement that comes wrapped in a bow as the world’s worst graduation present. The dreaded, the feared, an awe-inspiring, mind-numbing endeavor that tends to bring out the ugly on the inside in droves.
Honestly, I’m not terribly impressed.
There was no wailing and gnashing of teeth. There was no blood sacrifice or signatory of souls offered in exchange for a passing test score. Just a bunch of twitchy test takers trying to recite the rule against perpetuities and hearsay exceptions.
The truth of the matter asserted, if you’ll forgive the joke, is that the bar is just like any other time honored tradition in the legal community - it’s one more hazing ritual that exists purely to terrorize the uninitiated.
It’s a test. A standardized test. And as an American who was once an elementary and secondary school student, we’ve all been standardly tested to death. In reality, this is nothing new. And as a former law student, the bar looks a lot more manageable when you realize it’s broken down into two three hour chunks each day. A three hour exam? That’s an appetizer. Let’s have at it.
It’s not a truth that can be fully conveyed or accepted until you’ve reached the other side of the hurdle, but I promise it is real. And at the risk of indulging in a phrase that once demanded an eye roll from me personally, this too shall pass. And so shall I.
I offer this account in a column dedicated to the specific experience of mental illness in law school for a few reasons. Namely, that in the February of two years ago, I suffered a major a depressive episode and made the decision to leave school for awhile. I write this now and it’s just a fact. A neutral one. I was sick, I needed to care for myself, I did that. No more, no less. But I believe in honoring that memory.
And this memory has staying power. I look back to where I was, to where I’ve journeyed, to where I am now. Not just for my own sense of healing, but in the hope that it might resonate with anyone else reading these words. Anyone feeling scraped out by stress and fear. Anyone laying awake at night, paralyzed by future worries or caught up in the bleakness of any past struggles.
To any such person, know that I see you. So do many others, even if it doesn’t feel like it. The specific weight of law school expectations are not easy ones to carry. No one is weaker, or has somehow failed, by not doing it all alone. None of what you are asked to do, or become, is simple or easy.
Know that I have been where you are. So have many others, especially when it seems like you’re the only one who feels this way. Investing in your mental, physical, or spiritual health can be a process. It takes time and patience and integrity, none of which can be called forth quickly or even conveniently, but they will find their way to you. Trust in the slow work of bettering yourself. You’ll be stronger for it, even on the days where it feels like time pours slowly.
Know that it gets better. That you can accomplish things you never thought possible in the wake of mental illness. This was the realization that took my breath away walking out of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center this past February. My depression and anxiety had me convinced I would never graduate, never take the bar, never get a job, never write well again. My fear lied to me. That’s what it does. And that’s okay. Looking back, I can forgive the voice in my head created out of my fear.
I can offer myself courage instead. So have many others.
So can you.