I first noticed my mental health issues at a young age. As a child, I would frequently have trouble falling asleep due to racing thoughts consisting of worst case scenarios and fake conversations that were unlikely ever to arise.
When I entered my teenage years, other thoughts began to materialize. These thoughts were much darker and would predominantly form in the winter months when sunlight was scarce. It was in high school when the rare suicidal thought began to arise. Although they were fleeting, their intensity in the moment should have forced me to seek help. However, as a male and a teenager, the stigma of mental health issues and the stigma of seeking help deterred me. At that time, I believed that the fleeting depression did not warrant therapy or medication. However, if I knew what I would feel just a few years later, I would have made every effort to receive the help I needed.
I graduated high school with the promise of freedom and independence that would come with college. Loneliness was rare when constantly surrounded by people in the dorms and the classroom. Although the occasional passing thought would cross my mind, it was quickly suppressed by the excitement of friends and parties. The experience of college was a natural repellent for the symptoms that would lead to my depression. Near the end of my college and without knowing exactly the path I wished to take, I decided to move home and take the LSATS thinking that the life of a lawyer may be my right path. I believed the mental health issues were far in the past and looked forward to what lay ahead.
The summer following my college graduation, I moved back into my parent’s house and began studying for the LSATs. Studying gave me a sole focus and a forward-looking goal. The LSATs came and I performed well enough for admission into decent law schools with employment statistics that promised a better life. However, law school was not to begin until the following August. It was during this period in which I experienced the worst of my mental health. I picked up a temporary job in retail to earn enough money to provide some financial stability as I moved. The job was part-time and not particularly challenging. Without the challenges that enthralled me, I slowly fell into an unwell mental state. Looking back, I realize it didn’t come upon me at once. It was slower and subtler. If I had sought help in my teenage years, I may have noticed the signs of my disintegrating mental health. Maybe I would have noticed the racing thoughts and the fabricated internal conversations.
Without the tools that could have protected me from myself, my thoughts continued to worsen. The anxiety compressed itself and doubled over into depression. Now, the depression was not fleeting but constant and crushing. Days would pass in which it was nearly impossible to leave my bed. My friends seemed distant and my life pointless. I was incapable of seeing my ability or the promising life ahead of me even with law school acceptance letters being delivered into my parents’ mailbox with scholarships included. The entire idea of law school seemed distant. A plan made by a different man whose shell I was still wearing.
It was during this time when my suicidal thoughts grew more frequent and more intense. At the bottom of this pit, I somehow found the strength to admit to my mother I needed help. Not knowing where to turn, she made me an appointment with a Primary Care Physician. After describing my symptoms, the doctor put me on an antidepressant. I was hoping this would provide the relief I desperately needed. My mother also scheduled an appointment with a therapist. It was only by reaching my darkest moment was I ready to admit my need for therapy. Although I only met with this therapist a handful of times, it opened the option of therapy in my mind. In these limited sessions, the therapist introduced me to a form of meditation known as mindfulness to train my mind and guide me to remain in the moment. As spring turned to summer and I prepared to move to Baltimore for the start of law school, I determined the few months of depression were just a blip in my life and was excited to leave it behind once again.
The beginning of law school brought with it a new set of challenges to overcome. The challenges of making friends, adapting to a new city, and handling the demanding course load of a first-year law student. At first, these challenges distracted my mind and forced me to focus on the moment effectively suppressing any negative thought. However, as my second semester started, my depression sprung up out of the abyss and mentally and emotionally entrapped me. For weeks, I tried to ignore it thinking it would pass. I was in disbelief that I could feel depression again while accomplishing so much. Finally, I acknowledged I needed help. At first, I began talking to a therapist and seeing a psychiatrist provided by the university. They helped me once again control my thoughts. I continued regularly seeing this therapist until the summer before my third year of law school. Understanding I would continue to need help after I graduated, he recommended transferring my care to Lisa Caplan at the Maryland Bar Association’s Lawyers’ Assistance Program.
I was still in a dark place when I first visited Lisa, encumbered with depression and anxiety. With Lisa’s assistance, I was able to gain better control of my thoughts and mind. My meetings with Lisa proved she was not only a talented and caring therapist, but a life coach willing to help with any issue that I brought to her. She guided my mindfulness practice and provided accountability for when I strayed from the lifestyle that ensured a healthy mind, and I attribute my improvement to her guidance.
As I look back upon the relationship I built with Lisa, I realize the help she has provided and the life I am able to live with her assistance. The Maryland Lawyer Assistance Program is an invaluable program provided to law students and attorneys in need of help. I would recommend anybody in the Maryland legal community that needs help to reach out to this Program for assistance.
If you have a story that you want to share anonymously, please contact Lisa Caplan, Director of the Lawyer Assistance Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.