By Pooja Shah • April 22, 2014•Law School, Pre-Law
Editor's Note: This post is published as part of a series of works submitted by applicants to Ms. JD's 2014 Public Interest Scholarship Program. Each applicant was asked to describe the best advice they never got when it came to law school, lawyering, or public interest law. Applications are open until May 23, 2014. For more information, click here.
I’ve always heard that “law school is an entirely different monster to tackle.” As I sit here writing this, days before completing my first year, I can say I actually understand the implications of that statement. When I first started law school, I was fresh out of college, where I had minored in Chemistry and had taken a plethora of hard sciences to satisfy my forsaken desire to go to medical school. Feeling a little over-confident, or perhaps even arrogant, I figured that if I was able to succeed in my vigorous science courses, than I was fully prepared to take on law school.
Very quickly that confidence was shattered; in fact, within the first few days I was drowning in dense reading and realized that I was utterly wrong.
Law school is made of a sea of ambitious individuals, of various backgrounds and walks of life, determined, just like myself, to earn their Jurist Doctoral degree. I was simply another person trying to run this marathon to make it to the finish line. Everyone told me that law school would be strenuous, exhaustive, never-ending, and physically taxing, but no one ever revealed to me the effects it has on one’s mental health.
My first month of school, I felt isolated, lonely, and over-whelmed. I lived by myself in a single room on campus, and unlike undergrad, I didn’t have the comfort or the familiarity of my roommates to support me during stressful circumstances. My family was also far, and I didn’t have the time or the capacity (due to physical distance) to go home to visit them when I was overcome with homesickness. Further, I began experiencing excruciating cramps and nausea that would keep me up at nights, numb in pain, and unable to focus on my schoolwork. Assuming it was a stress ulcer, I ignored my health and delayed seeking advice from a medical professional. When the pain was no longer bearable, I finally went to see a doctor, to learn that I had a serious reproductive condition. At the end of my first semester, I received the lowest grades up to date. It felt like my entire world was collapsing.
It was clear to me that my mental health was suffering and that I was currently not capable of taking care of myself. I knew I had to do something to change the situation I was in, but I didn’t know where to start. After some time, I finally garnered the courage to contact University Counseling Services and I made an appointment. I started seeing a therapist weekly to work on myself from inside out. I needed a forum to vent and to face the reality of my situation. Slowly, after several months of individual and group therapy, I was able to finally see the silver lining in my life. I surrounded myself with individuals who brought optimistic and refreshing perspectives. I made new friends who could empathize with the struggle of law school and who supported me because we were all in the same endeavor. On the side, I began taking kickboxing classes, to release some of the pent up anger and frustration in me. I made some outward physical changes to accompany the inward changes I was working on. I lost 10 pounds, began to eat healthier, and slept for at least 6-8 hours a night. I began to reconnect with my religion, trying to strengthen my religious and spiritual beliefs. Born and raised as a Hindu, I made it a habit to go to the temple weekly, where I would sit and meditate in Lord Ganesh’s graces. I felt a new sense of serenity flood over me. Sure, my external circumstances didn’t necessarily improve, but I was equipped with a new ability to deal and make meaningful progress. I reminded myself that my goal was to become an Intellectual Property lawyer, and I had to focus on this ambition because I will one day be successful. Deep inside, however, I knew that the first step towards that attainment would be to improve my mind.
To anyone who is about to start law school or is already there, the best advice I can offer is to focus on your mental health because that is an equally important, if not more crucial factor necessary to your success in the legal field. Psychological studies have long reported that lawyers are twice as likely than other professional to suffer from depression and unhappiness. Our minds are our greatest weapons- do not be a prisoner of your thoughts, and do not let your circumstances distract you from your goals. There are many outlets and resources available to help you improve your mental health, and do not fear taking advantage of those options. Talk to a therapist, counselor, friend or family member. Engage in activities that challenge you both physically and mentally, and push yourself to limits you did not know existed. If you cannot change the situation you are in, change your approach towards it. Trust me, this will be worth it.