From Doldrums to Doing Good
January blew a cold breeze into my life for the first time in a long time. Usually, the holiday season is filled will joy and festivities. This past year was quite different.
For some reason, my mental health took a nose-dive into the world of disappointment. I hit the holiday doldrums and found myself arbitrarily going about the motions of “holiday cheer.” Sure, I perked up when the occasion called for it, but each day became a futile exercise in survival. Even my wife commented on my lack of energy, motivation and general cheerfulness.
Many small firm and solo lawyers know the stress of running a law practice. Between meeting deadlines and client demands, there’s also the dreadfully frightening prospect of payroll, office costs, and marketing. I wonder how many solo and small firm lawyers participate in the multitude of alcohol and drug-induced “therapies” that occur each year.
It’s not easy to feel alone in the world, trying to cope with home and work pressures. I’m certainly not the qualified “expert” in therapy, but I can give some guidance as to what exactly helped me shower off “the funk.”
First, we must understand that our bodies, and mental acumen, go through periodic shifts in positivism. I didn’t believe this until I sat and discussed the phenomena with a mentor. He posited the idea that we all go through regular shifts in mental happiness, from positive to negative outlooks, on an almost monthly basis. He suggested that you can calendar the declines, and therefore prepare for, these mental shifts.
Sounds crazy, but in my experience, the shifts did occur. Having an understanding of when our bodies will start to decline in happiness can help us prepare and handle the slides.
Sometimes though, such as my holiday funkiness, we can’t fully stop the tailspin course. We need to employ more active efforts. I suggest the following as ways to curb the disastrous mental collision course:
A physical exercise regimen releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural “high maker.” A regular regimen also helps cleanse the body of harmful, albeit invisible, toxins. I was skeptical of the power of exercise until I really committed to a regular routine. You don’t have to become one of those guys on Venice Beach, a simple 30 minute walk can do wonders to clear one’s mind.
There is nothing more demoralizing than to stuff yourself full of harmful, processed foods, and regret the remainder of the day. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables promotes a healthy attitude and gives the body nutritional energy to create “good vibes” for your brain. That’s the scientific term too, you can Google it.
Many people will scoff at these first two suggestions, claiming I’m some “health nut.” I am not. Although I like to claim the title of “specimen of perfect health,” the scale and my HDL count disagree.
Make Some Quick Cash.
If you’re offended by that concept, move on to the next bold heading.
This sounds like a selfish concept, especially if you buy into the “doing good for the world” concept of being an attorney. However, I’ve learned that practicing law, and perhaps sticking with it for a time, is more about personal survival than about the good of the world. I can’t justify doing good for others if I can’t do good for myself. Therefore, I don’t feel bad about taking an easy case just because I can make some good money, quick.
Unless you’re a salaried employee, one of the biggest let downs about running a solo or small firm practice is not having a steady flow of income. Sometimes, taking an easy case for some quick money gives me the motivation I need to work harder and be happier. There’s nothing like a “fat paycheck” to perk up an attitude, especially if you’re struggling to find happiness in the midst of debt.
Get Some Help.
One reason I moved onto Doldrums Place was because I didn’t have the office staff or support I really needed. My practice grew too quickly, I lost some good help, failed to properly train a new assistant and I struggled to meet the demands of clients and courts. I reluctantly invested time and money into getting the assistance I needed to better manage expectations, and my time. While the office is not perfect, yet, I’m seeing improvements and can feel the noose loosening.
Sadly, getting help may also entail actually getting mental help from a licensed therapist. Sometimes, the best help is to be able to talk through our troubles with someone capable of listening, offering supportive commentary, and, most importantly, not involved. This could include a spouse or significant other. Don’t forget, many state bar associations offer mental health services as a benefit of bar membership.
Your law practice will not fail if you take a vacation. I stressed heavily the first time I took a longer-than-a-weekend break from my office. I learned that the world didn’t end, and my cases were still there, safe.
Your opposing counsel will understand that you have to step away, so don’t feel anxious about asking for some concessions. If counsel does not agree, take it up with the judge. I guarantee that they’ll change their opinion when you flash buzz words that make him/her sound like they work 100 hours per week, are heavily alcoholic and probably won’t see their children more than the obligatory Christmas and Easter holidays. Your mental health will thank you.
Have a Hobby.
Forgetting about those activities I once liked was another factor in my mental decline. My wife commented that, “I didn’t do anything, anymore.” Of course, I didn’t feel like it, but I also realized that I quickly neglected my hobbies, in lieu of my early onset depression. Re-engaging those hobbies brought a new clarity. I no longer feel I’m “working,” when I’m working.
Let me assure you though, no matter how deep and seemingly dreadful your funk, there are ways out. The important thing is to talk about them, express concerns, and recognize the signs that you’re plummeting into destructive depression.