Statistically Weeping: Having the Harder Conversations

Written experiences of depression and anxiety in law school are arguably few and far between. For me, that means being given a space and a platform from which to recount my own story is very important. As I’ve said before, once I began asking, so many smart, strong and successful people came forward to share with me their stories of mental illness. These stories made it easier to tell myself every day that I wasn’t alone. And over time, knowing that made it easier to let other people in. It gave me the confidence to be a little more honest. Since then, I’ve learned that such an honesty about my own mental health can be valuable. Even though it is scary and vulnerable, I’ve found that this type of honesty can serve me well in a professional setting.

I understand that this is an incredibly privileged thing to say. To be clear, I am not advocating for immediate and brutally honest disclosure of any and all mental illness. No supervisor is owed a view into anyone’s health that painfully detailed. I also recognize that the advice I’m offering came about because I was lucky enough to have employers and supervisors who genuinely cared about me, not just as an employee or a student, but as a person. Unfortunately, not everyone can say the same.

However, I think it is worthwhile to consider honesty as a type of policy. It is a terribly kept secret that law students and freshly minted attorneys are struggling. As much as I love seeing more attention being paid to this issue, I would like to see more on how those who are struggling can keep moving forward and succeed in spite of a diagnosis. I think it can be done.

This is my version of trying to answer that question. From the very beginning, this is the installment of Statistically Weeping I knew I wanted to write.

It started out with fairly small things. Asking the same question just one more time, or insisting on more feedback. My insecurity managed to make itself known pretty quickly, and my insistence on everything being fine probably came off as a little too forced. I felt so lucky to have this internship, and I had been there for a month when my supervisor finally sat me down and asked if I was okay. Certainly, I thought, this must be a trick question.

She smiled at me. She asked if there was anything she could do to assure me that everything really was going just fine. She asked me if I understood that I was doing a good job. She made me promise to try and see things more positively, and to give myself a little more credit.

Hearing that was almost worse than getting yelled for doing a terrible job, and the strength of that particular reaction made it clear to me how much I needed to change. We normally accept the fear of not performing well enough in a professional setting as a good thing, as it can drive us to do better. I was dealing with the extreme at the other end of the spectrum - the fear of not performing well enough was completely clouding my judgment and eroding any confidence I had in performing at all.

Thankfully, I’ve come to a better understanding with myself. Acknowledging my anxiety is not a way of handing complete control over to it. More importantly, I have the option of speaking truthfully about it with any future supervisor, not for sympathy or the hope that I’ll be treated with kid gloves, but because it’s a way of explaining where I’m coming from and what I need to be a better employee. It’s a chance to be more authentic. A little vulnerability has carried me a long way, and I truly believe it will make me a better advocate at the end of the day. I’m fortunate enough to have been told so by other supervisors past. Women who treated me with respect and concern after voicing my fears to them.

Truth be told, I understand this is not an approach that can be applied to every situation. The pressure to remain an unfeeling, totally efficient, legal machine is very real. And sometimes, it really is just easier to keep playing along. But nothing changes if we don’t. Honesty, and mind you, not radical or revolutionary or brutal honesty, but a more authentic honesty, is my attempt at necessary change.

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