“O full of scorpions is my mind”

I came into the Lawyers Assistance Program many years ago. It is painful to remember the worst parts of my depression, but I hope my story of depression and accepting the help that lawyers offered to me may be helpful to someone else. I didn’t accept help from the NC Lawyer Assistance Program to help my practice or improve my life, I accepted their help to save my life.

I had been anxious and scared, felt inadequate, and lacked money, family and friends but had trudged on for many years. I could do it and I was the only one that could do it. If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. I wasn’t happy or thrilled with the life that I had, but I didn’t know anything different. I was insecure, but at the same time, pretty arrogant. The summer that I reached out for help, life happened to me in a way that I couldn’t deal with on my own. I had to remake my life.

My personal and family life had crashed. The ideal life (the house, the wife, the kids, the cars) that I thought I had put in motion was suddenly nonexistent. The career that I borrowed thousands of dollars to make possible was something I felt trapped in. I saw clients make mistakes and commit crimes and came to believe their punishment was less severe than my own. I felt that their life was better than mine.

At work, I froze up during a probable cause hearing. The facts were very much in my client’s favor, and I was petrified knowing that I should win this case but terrified that I could lose. I was scared to try the case and scared to hand the case over to another attorney. Even when the case resolved itself favorably I knew there was a problem.

Looking back and with some recovery I see that the arrogant attorney in me became the helpless child that wanted to run away from everything that was wrong with his life, but I had nowhere to run. I felt trapped in a place that I didn’t belong. I was scared to pick up the mail, the phone didn’t ring much but when it did I dreaded it. I once had a bill collector give the name of my dead father to get me on the line.

Depression lends itself to morbid and distorted self-reflection and it showed up in my life in several ways. I had a health scare where it looked like I might have cancer. My father died of cancer when he was very young and I assumed the worst and diagnosed myself with terminal cancer.

Sleeping became more and more difficult as I isolated myself. I laid on the couch at night watching the World War II channel over and over again and saw myself in Hitler as the Red Army and the Allies converged on him.

Macbeth has always been my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays and I got stuck on it. I put myself in this story in a delusional and grandiose way. I didn’t have a frame of reference to face up to the problems I had. The line “O full of scorpions is my mind” stood out. I can’t describe how I felt at the time any more accurately. That phrase repeated itself over and over in my mind. I couldn’t shake it. I saw myself inexorably heading to some final act in hopeless defeat. I was completely wrapped up in myself and indulged in shame, self-pity and pride and I shut down.

I saw an article with Ed Ward’s telephone number and called him. It was the most important decision I’ve ever made. We talked and met and he gave me the name of a psychologist. I had never thought about talking to a psychologist. I saw the psychologist and he confirmed that I was dealing with some very difficult things. I wasn’t delusional about having these problems. There was no magic cure. I started attending LAP group meetings with other lawyers that were dealing with some of the same things.

The meetings weren’t a magic cure either. I had a difficult time accepting that I had a problem. I didn’t want to talk about it and make myself more vulnerable than I already felt. It took some time but I learned enough to know that depression is something that I likely inherited. It wasn’t a choice I had made. It wasn’t a mistake I was being punished for. I didn’t deserve to be punished for this problem. Later I learned that I suffered from hypothyroidism. I have a medical problem that I need to take medicine to treat. I wasn’t a bad person for having this problem and I didn’t need to be ashamed.

Learning how to deal with depression has been an ongoing process. As a depressive I don’t need to take drugs to alter my mood and I definitely don’t need to take depressants such as alcohol. I learned to trust people and to trust myself. I needed people and needed to care for myself. I owe it to myself and the people, like clients, that count on me. Admitting that I had this problem is not the problem and didn’t create the problem.

I could see improvement in myself. I could see improvement in the other lawyers in recovery that were dealing with diverse problems such as addiction. Something bigger than us had overpowered us and we needed to change.

Even though I am not an alcoholic, I approached my recovery from depression within a 12 step framework. The 12 steps are known for being simple , but not easy. They helped me even when I was far from perfect in living up to them. They gave me a framework for how to look at myself and introduced me to honesty and acceptance.

With the friends I made at the LAP meetings, I was able to be present for other attorneys in their recovery process and in so doing, it reinforced the truth that I was not alone. I have seen attorneys make incredible recovery and go on to great things in their lives by making that first step to accept help. I have seen attorneys that didn’t reach out for help and their escape was to commit professional suicide. We have had attorneys that we weren’t able to reach actually commit suicide. It reminds me that my depression is serious and that my coping techniques of dark humor and sarcasm can’t get me through depression.

I still have some of the same problems. Family, financial, and work problems are still there. I have gone through a divorce and separation from my only child. I have gone through failed relationships where I have been hurt and where I have hurt people. I have gone through the loss of a job. All these things have been difficult but I haven’t gone through these things on my own. I know now that I don’t have to be ashamed of my problems.

I have attended meetings for many years now for lawyers in recovery based on the principles of the 12 steps but I want to be clear that we don’t use religion in our meetings and that shouldn’t be a barrier to anyone seeking help. I am not a religious person and that has not been a problem. Many people find religion helpful to them and I respect what works for them. In my experience, I only had to accept that I wasn’t God.

In contrast to other types of meetings, in LAP meetings, we often seek to hold each other accountable. Feedback is encouraged. It can be difficult. As a person with the inclination to manipulate and control, this is still muddy water for me. As lawyers all of us want to be problem solvers and are ready to make judgments about what is right.

Thankfully I learned I didn’t have to live out a tragedy. I had a choice to take care of myself. We owe that to ourselves and the people around us. We are not alone. We can find help.