To Die For

June 15, 2018 § 10 Comments

The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week are a reminder that the pain and agony that torment some to death often lie hidden beneath layers of camouflage that give the appearance of happiness, health, and well-being. We see celebrity and fame, and we imagine joy. We see success and wealth, and we infer inner peace. We see physical beauty and we assume health and healthy lifestyle. Appearances, as they say, do deceive.

It’s no secret that the law is a corrosive profession. The pressures and stress imposed by duty to client and court are enormous. Deadlines carry grievous consequences. Add to that the heavy responsibilities of family, overhead, and finances, and you have a toxic stew that can eat away at and destroy happiness.

Members of the legal profession (lawyers and judges) have a suicide rate 1.36 times greater than the general population.

When the stresses of the profession become overwhelming, it’s easy to feel isolated, to be haunted by the thoughts of failure, and to want an easy out before your weakness is exposed.

But here are three thoughts:

  1. Everyone is struggling; we just don’t see all that is beneath the surface. You are not the only one.
  2. Just because you are struggling does not make you a failure. And even if you do fail, that does not make you worthless.
  3. Silence, secrecy, and shame are seductive, but are destructive over time. Talk about what you are feeling with someone who cares and who will listen. Empathy is a powerful, healing balm. A kind word may enable you to take a first step toward the light.

Depression is a widespread phenomenon. No one is immune. There is effective treatment available for it.

And, finally, let me state the obvious: Suicide is never a tidy exit; it leaves in its wake a tidal wave of hurt, pain, sorrow, regret, and questions that can never be answered. I speak from experience.

Yes, the law is a corrosive profession. But it is not one to die for. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek help. Get help. Step back from the brink.

LAWYERS AND VICARIOUS TRAUMATIZATION

January 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Lawyers who represent people see almost every conceivable form of mankind’s capacity to be inhuman. We see violence and its physical and emotional scars, financial coercion, verbal cruelty, sexual abuse, use of children and other family members as weapons, defamation, and on and on in a breathtaking, seemingly inexhaustable panorama of brutality that seems almost limitless in the scope of its imaginative cunning.

Over time the exposure takes its toll. Some lawyers develop a defensive cynicism that effectively shields them from their clients’ pain, but also prevents them from empathizing. Other lawyers experience burnout that makes them ineffective. Still others experience sleeplessness, irritability, sadness, loss of concentration, difficulty in intimacy, depression, and a panoply of other symptoms. Your clients’ problems too often intrude into your own life and can come perilously close to becoming your own problems.

All attorneys who represent people experience stress. Even extreme stress. Some deal with it in a healthy way. Too many others self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or toxic behavior.

There is research that dubs this phenomenon “Vicarious Traumatization.” It is the process by which a lawyer who comes into contact with the client’s traumatization can become traumatized himself or herself.

Here is a link to a paper published by the American Bar Association entitled Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Attorneys: Effects of Work with Clients Who are Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse, by Andrew P. Levin, MD.

A lawyer is quoted in the article:

“It actually feels good to hear that I am not the only one who feels depressed and helpless and that these issues are worth studying. Fortunately, the stress has decreased with experience and time for me, but I still have vivid memories of quite traumatic experiences representing victims of domestic violence who were so betrayed that it was difficult to continue to have faith in humankind.”

Read the paper and see whether you recognize yourself there.

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