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Entries in law school (17)

You are not alone

Presented at the Iowa State Bar Association “Bridging the Gap” continuing legal education conference on May 15, 2015.

I have had my coffee this morning, I hope you have too. 

Because I am here to talk (at 8am) about depression, anxiety, panic, sadness, fear, anger, and hopelessness.

But I am also here to talk about hope, life, laughter, peace and perseverance.

I can talk about hope because I am Hope.

My name is Hope Wood, I am an attorney and this is my story.

You are the first group of attorneys to hear my story.  I hope there will be more.  I believe it can make a difference. 

Specifically in our legal community. 

I’m telling you my story because I want you to know that you are not alone.  Your feelings of anxiousness, sadness and panic – you are not alone.

Being an attorney is a tough calling.  For some reason, when we all started out as 1Ls in law school, we didn’t talk about our fears – we thought it would make us vulnerable and exposed.

Here I am four and a half years after starting law school and I’m afraid.  I am standing in front of you vulnerable and exposed.

My name is Hope Wood, and I suffer from anxiety and depression.

I stand before you with two years of legal experience.  I’m not well known by other lawyers.  I haven’t had enough cases to earn an opinion from my peers about my ability as a jurist.

Here I am, telling you that I am an attorney who suffers from depression and anxiety.

And it is because I care.  I care about you.  Each and every one of you. You are a human being.  You have accomplished great things in your life, but the cards are stacked against you. 

Lawyers have the highest rate of depression of any profession and one of the highest rates of suicide. 

I drew the depression heredity card at my birth.  My mom has depression, my grandma, my great-grandma.

There is a job where I will most certainly suffer from depression – sign me up!

Seriously though, why didn’t I avoid high stress, high conflict jobs?

It is for the same reason you didn’t – we know we can make a difference.

I am lucky that I knew I was susceptible to depression.  Most people don’t and that is what Hugh’s presentation is all about. (Iowa Lawyer Assistance Program).

I have had situational depression off and on for 15 years; it is usually a combination of something happening in my personal life and pressures of my job.

But in the summer of 2012, I got a full dose of anxiety.

The bar examination. 

Two weeks into BarBri, I found myself, on a Tuesday morning, in the middle of the floor, in the fetal position (obviously) sobbing hysterically.  It was a melt down – for sure; but I felt such loss of control and hopelessness that I knew it was more than just stress.

I made it through the next two years, June 2012 to June 2014 and there were a lot of bumps in the road.  After my “meltdown” I had found a good psychotherapist and good psychiatrist.  I was on anti-depressant medication during that time and struggled like baby lawyers do.

In August of 2014, I had a follow-up with my psychiatrist (a head doctor or shrink).  A few weeks before my appointment, I started noticing I had a hard time catching my breath and relaxing.  I would feel this sense of panic for no reason.

And at my appointment, I told the doctor, my medication is good and I wasn’t having any problems. I was in and out in 5 minutes.

Well, I lied. 

I am great with letting people know I am ok; I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.

But I knew I should go back… so a few days later I called to make another appointment and I promised myself I would tell the truth.

And I did.  I told her I was starting to wake up at 3am for no reason.  Nothing on my mind but a lot of tightness in my chest.  The only way to fall back asleep was by taking a muscle relaxer I had for my back. She started me on anti-anxiety medication.  I wasn’t jazzed about it, but I needed to sleep and I didn’t want to use prescription medication for something it wasn’t prescribed.

The month went on and I was doing about 10 percent better and we were making adjustments to my medications as I went. I called it, “getting the cocktail right”. 

I felt like a failure needing all these pills to function as a normal person, but pride aside, I needed help.

I would have to leave work because I couldn’t breathe.  I’d cancel appointments stating I was sick and I really was – sick with a mental illness. Every task I needed to do for work seemed like a huge mountain to climb.  Then I would chastise myself for being ridiculous – there were attorneys who had it a lot worse than me.

The anxiety continued.  There was a wedding reception in Cedar Rapids on a Saturday afternoon in September and I could hardly breathe the whole drive there.  I didn’t want to be around people.  I put on a happy face but after a few hours I high tailed it back to the hotel.  Again that night – 3am – wide awake.  Pain on the right side of my breast bone.

I wasn’t in a very good place.  It felt like progress with my mental health was not improving fast enough. 

Someone told me that pain starts as a feather and ends with a brick.

In October 2014, I went to suicide survivor workshop.  And I will never forget the words of a beautiful and caring wife who had lost her husband.  She was a panelist and someone asked her if she was mad at her husband for taking his life.  She said that she was not mad but sad, because she couldn’t imagine how much pain he must have been in to end his life.  I could hardly help myself from inconsolable sobbing.  I knew the wife through my son’s school and she is one of the sweetest and most caring people I had ever met. And at that workshop, I learned that her husband killed himself within months of my son starting school in the fall of 2012.

She had an amazing amount of courage to be on a panel and talk about her devastating loss.  She does it to help others cope.

I am here to let you know that you are not alone.

The Monday after the September wedding reception, my uncle hung himself.  He was a lawyer.  There were no signs.  He was dealing with his pain alone and in destructive ways.  He died believing there was no way out.   

You are not alone.  It is never too late.  There is a way out.

*************************************************Please share this post with others.  1 in 4 people will deal with depression at some point in their life.  

Free online resource for mental health: National Association of Mental Illness (www.nami.org)

For Iowa law students, lawyers and spouses of lawyers: Iowa Lawyer Assistance Program (http://www.iowalap.org/index.html) - most states in the country have similar programs

Six months after law school

Image by Thomas J. Dooley available at mobypicture.com


Six months after my last final exam and I feel as if I am on the brink of recovering from law school. Three years of law school equalled a slow decomposition of my confidence, self-esteem, physical fitness, appearance and my ability to always get sh** done.  Parenting had something to do with this too; the lack of time available to devote to the aforementioned was a contributing factor.

The hardest thing to recover from was the blow that law school gives to your confidence.  This applies to everyone.  There isn’t enough spots for even the best students to get everything they set their mind to.  There is only one top spot in the class, only one law review editor, only one or two moot court teams.  Those were not of my concern, but it helped to know that every student is on somewhat of a level playing field.  Perhaps different leagues, but the same field.  See my post "Disappointment is a part of law school."

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There is no normal, only school


What was my life like before law school?  The same as it was before I had my first child.  Wake up, work out, go to work, come home from work, watch TV, check Facebook, go to bed and repeat.  Having a baby changes everything.  You don’t get to wake up when you want and watching TV becomes a luxury.  Typically, when someone has their first child, they don’t concurrently embark on something extraordinarily unfamiliar and challenging.  

I decided to do just that - I started law school when my newborn son Graham was  7-weeks old.  It was a whirlwind for sure, but when I think about it, if I waited another year I may have chosen not to go.  An infant doesn’t let you sleep or give you time to take care of yourself and neither does law school.  You can read a more in-depth version of why I decided to go to law school when I did in my book, but in short, I decided if law school became too much to handle I would take a break (from school, not parenting).  I ended up doing ok my first semester.  Not outstanding by any stretch of the imagination, but well enough to keep moving forward.

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God only knows


Today I woke up melancholy.  Lately it is hard to pin down why I no longer bound out of bed.  Maybe it is because I don’t have to respond to a baby’s cry over a monitor in the early morn.  Maybe it is because my toddler no longer wakes me up by staring me down until I hear him breathing.  Maybe it is because I am 4.5 months post operation and still have pain everyday.  Maybe it is because I just recovered from strep throat followed by a horrible head cold.

But it finally occurred to me -- October 8, 2012 was the day I planned to “soft launch” my solo practice - as a licensed attorney.

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My style of learning 

This image is from 1L first semester finals taken by Geoff and blogged at www.geoffreyhwood.com

“All you have to do is pass”

“It is pass/fail”

“You just have to get a D”

“It is minimal competency”

“You will pass”

“You will be fine”

These are a few phrases I have heard the last year regarding the bar exam.  That should make a person who is being tested over sixteen subjects worth of material (from memory) feel better.  If the real questions are as hard as the BarBri questions (which I am told they are not), I will be tested on an average of five concepts for one substantive area of law in a single question. 

It isn’t a Contract question of “is it an offer”?  It starts with a possible offer (disguised in an invitation including a specific request to a designated offeree) with detailed terms that may or may not be included in the contract, subject to a condition by the offeror, requesting acceptance by mail (Mailbox Rule applicable?), but has a deadline. 

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