Advice re Getting Help Forum

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Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 1:47 am

While I have tried to fight or deny it for the past year, it seems clear that I am struggling with depression, largely because of my work (although the strain of the pandemic and overall reduced quality of life has not helped). I don’t specifically hate my firm or my colleagues, but I am utterly miserable in my job and really in biglaw generally and weigh whether to take a leave of absence or quit outright almost daily. I lateraled last year from an even more toxic situation and took some time off in between, but now find myself burnt out again and have no non-firm options available (despite plenty of applications and having attended top schools). I’m what I would colloquially call “breaking down” a couple times a week, at times drinking heavily and usually alone to self medicate, increasingly suffering from insomnia, and generally feeling dejected, useless, and awful about myself. I exercise regularly but it barely helps anymore. I have taken to sitting in my car in the middle of the day and crying because my S/O also works from home in our apartment and I’m trying to keep it together. Sometimes in weaker moments I daydream about blocking the exhaust and letting the carbon monoxide do it’s work, but that’s just a bit of melodrama; I’ve never acted on those thoughts and I know I would quit and move abroad first. I wouldn’t do it to my spouse. It’s just the sensation of being completely trapped that takes over—wanting to do anything, literally anything, but go back to my computer and get on the next Teams call.

In any event, recently several family members and my spouse have suggested that I see a therapist. No shit, right? I’ve done a smidgen of couples counseling but never individual except free through school a long time ago. Frankly it is difficult for me to imagine how someone who doesn’t work in my industry and has no background could relate or help me deal with despising my work (as many do) and the hopelessness that comes with not feeling like I have other options or any career or professional achievements; and I’m not excited about paying minimum $200/hour out of pocket for zoom sessions. This person can’t get me a new more satisfying and less soul crushing job. However, at this point I’m open to anything that will help me feel better about my life, and I am interested in hearing about the experiences of others (especially in biglaw, but also lawyers generally) who have tried it. Any success stories? Any recommendations on the type or qualities of therapist / therapy I should look for? What have you been told and what has worked or not worked? It sounds cynical to say, but if I am paying significant hourly rates, how do I ensure I am actually making it worthwhile?

Thanks in advance.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 2:22 am

Hey, I don't have a lot of great advice, but I have a lot of sympathy for a lot of reasons I won't get into. I'm not a great expert on getting the most out of therapy (it's something I struggle with myself), but I'd suggest maybe seeing someone with a doctorate rather than a MA or licensing credential. Not because the latter aren't great at what they do, but I think the PhD/PsyD background is a little more comparable to the JD and the kind of intensive identification with our brains/intellectual ability that you tend to get in lawyers, and therefore therapists with doctorates have maybe a little better insight into some of the things that have influenced us a lot around work.

(If you get, say, glowing recs for someone who doesn't have a doctorate who's helped people in your situation, then definitely go with the recs. Or if your visceral reaction to this is UGH NO, that's cool too. Just a suggestion if you're picking in a vacuum.)

I do find it tough, though, b/c I feel like if you eliminated my job, you'd eliminate like 80% of my unhappiness, but on a practical level, that's not just realistic right now, so I'm in therapy mostly to fix my anxiety around my job while ignoring the most direct solution, which would be not to do this job, which feels kind of bass ackwards. That said, I'm also fairly confident that some - not all, but some - of the problems I have with my job are problems I'd have with any job, because no matter where you go, there you are. It's just hard to know that for certain, or which problems, without actually quitting this job, but I like being able to pay my mortgage.

None of this is helpful to you, I'm afraid - I will say that I think being in therapy is better than not. And one other big thing is not to worry about firing a therapist who doesn't work for you after a few sessions - people often have to try multiple and not every professional works for everyone. I think therapy that's really working can make you feel worse before it makes you feel better (you have to dig through some crap which is never fun), but if the therapist just doesn't seem to get you, or you don't feel like anything is changing, or it feels actively harmful, you can ditch them and try someone new.

Best wishes to you.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 3:27 am

Definitely see a therapist. I'm a new second year in a very, very busy M&A practice. Last year I had several points where the work was just getting soul crushing, and seeing a therapist really helped. In larger cities, you would be surprised how many therapists there are that cater specifically to individuals with demanding careers. I would look around online for therapists with that specialty, and if you are comfortable, it doesn't hurt to ask someone you trust at another Big Law firm if they have heard of anyone that they could recommend. It's a lot more common than you think.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 9:50 am

This is not really advice, but I can assure you that you are not alone. This part really hit close to home for me: "I don’t specifically hate my firm or my colleagues, but I am utterly miserable in my job and really in biglaw generally and weigh whether to take a leave of absence or quit outright almost daily." I had an especially rough day this week where I was very close to calling it quits, and it really had nothing to do with anyone I work for. The work just feels so grueling and constant, with competing demands for perfection all on tight deadlines and then very little reward other than the paycheck every two weeks. With the pandemic on top of that, it is hard to ask what the point of all this is.

I am not seeing a therapist though I have considered it. My reasoning for not doing so is similar to yours, i.e. unless the person is not a former biglaw attorney what can they say to make me feel better? I also feel like I have so little time for myself and things I enjoy (i.e. reading, watching TV and movies, exercising, being with my SO), that having another Zoom call to attend feels horrifying. That being said, I know that I have read others' stories and experiences where they reported positive outcomes from sessions. Sometimes it just feels good to vent to someone who isn't a spouse or a friend or a family member. It isn't that hard for me, but I know some people might feel more comfortable telling a therapist they are struggling than someone close, because of cultural stigmas around appearing weak etc. Therapists also speak to people of all different stripes and colors dealing with different issues, and presumably have an arsenal of small things that can help (reframing things emotionally/psychologically, little exercises or routines that can help in micro moments of stress).

Again, I'm not in a good position to pass on wisdom, but hopefully this helps just a bit.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 10:18 am

I get why you’d say the above, but I think that therapists can do a lot more than just offer “small” things to help. While a lot of the issues people are talking about are a result of being in a soul-crushing job, there are reasons why people took the paths to these jobs in the first place and looking into those reasons can be pretty beneficial. The whole point of therapy as a field is that they are professionally trained to help all people deal with the circumstances of their life, so they don’t have to be a former biglaw attorney to help you deal with the stresses of that job - especially if you can find a therapist like one described above who regularly works with people in high-stress professional jobs.

So I get why you personally feel the way you do about therapy (and I’m certainly not saying you have to go), but I want to say that I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what therapists can do. One of the problems with depression/anxiety, even when job-induced, is that it distorts your thinking, and what you think is real based on how you feel isn’t always real. Our brains lie to us all the time.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 10:43 am

I had a breakdown after dealing with anxiety for years. I had previously dealt with it through diet and exercise along with the occasional use of (prescribed) sleep medication, but then the pandemic hit and some personal life stuff added to the stress of the job, and it spiraled out of control, eventually resulting in periods of depression and physical anxiety symptoms beyond just insomnia.

I had previously tried seeing a therapist through a program my firm offers, but the kinds of therapists who participate in those programs (e.g., cheap ones with availability) aren't necessarily uhh good at their jobs and have little to no experience treating white collar professionals. Maybe that sounds elitist, but realistically a therapist needs to have some understanding of the underlying causes of your stress/anxiety/depression before they can treat it, and good therapists are mostly going to be expensive - you get what you pay for.

Ultimately, I got a recommendation from a good friend and got in to see someone who specializes in anxiety and depression with a mostly white collar client base. Did seeing her cure me? No. Did it help? Hell yeah. She got me through a rough time by, at the very least, making me feel like I was literally doing everything I could to get right, in addition to providing some strategies to deal with the stress. She also just made me feel like somebody who understood was listening to me, which mattered more than I would have guessed given how open I am about this stuff to my family and friends - none of whom really seemed to fully "get" what I was going through. The strategies themselves were things I already knew in theory - eat right, exercise, take some time every day to get outside, etc. - but having instructions from a professional somehow psychologically helped to DO it, like having homework. It also helped to have a professional remind me that my mental health is more important than my work; rationally, duh, we all know that, but it can take an extra push to actually put that into practice and ignore some emails (scary!) long enough to go outside for a 20-minute walk.

And (talk about burying the lede...) I also started taking medication and that was life-changing. Meds aren't for everybody but they can literally save your life, and I encourage you to consider trying them because it sounds like you've arrived at a place where they could help. It can take a few kinds (I had previously tried a couple of meds for anxiety that didn't really work back when my only issue was sleep) and even what works can take weeks or months to fully kick in, but if you're patient enough those chemicals can get you back to who you thought you were.

Finally, just so you know - you're not alone. I have confided in a number of my close friends as well as some of my colleagues about this. My friends outside Biglaw are about 50/50 in terms of their experience with mental health. Inside Biglaw, though, we're closer to 100/0. Every partner I spoke to was supportive, and they have all continued to give me interesting work and express confidence in my professional abilities. YMMV, but this isn't the Biglaw world of 30 years ago. Also, I've spoken to... maybe 8 associates at my firm about my issues? And every. Single. One. Has responded with either "Oh yeah, my therapist says..." or "Yeah, I take [insert my anxiety/depression med or another in that family] too."

You've taken a great step by seeking advice, now take the next steps. Reach out to a therapist and consider medication. Ultimately, the time and expense you invest in 2022 getting this taken care of will seem minor compared to the QoL changes you can achieve.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 12:14 pm

It can be difficult to find a therapist you click with -- it's a little like dating -- and you do need to have some connection with them for the therapeutic relationship to work. I shared your skepticism -- how can someone who doesn't know me or my life help at all? - but I found that this allowed for objectivity that was helpful. If I just wanted to commiserate about how shit the job is, I could talk to a co-worker - an outsider helped me put things in perspective. As for the mechanics, for me, I started with my PCP who got me started on some medication, which helped while I looked for a therapist I could work with. It took a couple of false starts to find someone, but I did, and they had a relationship with a psychiatrist who eventually took over and tweaked my medications. I will say that the therapist I ended up working with was an MSW, not a PhD. I get what the earlier poster was saying, but there are a lot of sophisticated MSWs out there, so I wouldn't rule them out just yet. A good place to start is to ask friends if they have recommendations. A lot of times if your friend's therapist is too busy to take you on, they can provide referrals to like-minded colleagues. Just know that it can get better, and each step toward seeking out help is a step in the right direction.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 13, 2022 2:40 pm

Original OP here. I just want to say thank you to all of you who posted so far, not only for the empathy (which I appreciate) but also the surprisingly substantive suggestions. It seems like I am not the only person who has had some skepticism given the nature of my issues and work, and that others have overcome that, or like me are still finding the way to overcoming.

Damn, even just posting and reading here helped me today. I’m dealing with a particularly awful counsel right now and it’s so emotionally draining.

calripkenjrjr

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by calripkenjrjr » Thu Jan 13, 2022 10:05 pm

Just wanna chime in here and say that my therapist is a former biglaw attorney -- people like this are out there. So for what it's worth, I feel like all my problems/frustration with biglaw are well understood when I bring them up in therapy. Might take some digging, but you can find therapists that have legal backgrounds. (After all, lawyers and therapists share some overlap in that both professions basically attract people-pleasers, right?)

Hope that helps in some small way, and know you aren't remotely alone in any of this.

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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 14, 2022 1:50 pm

No advice - just wanted to say this sentiment resonated with me and is exactly how I feel as well.
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 13, 2022 1:47 am
While I have tried to fight or deny it for the past year, it seems clear that I am struggling with depression, largely because of my work (although the strain of the pandemic and overall reduced quality of life has not helped). I don’t specifically hate my firm or my colleagues, but I am utterly miserable in my job and really in biglaw generally and weigh whether to take a leave of absence or quit outright almost daily.

Anonymous User
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Re: Advice re Getting Help

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 14, 2022 3:51 pm

Please get help. I'm a sixth year at a V10 and was in a similar situation last year - completely burned out, severe anxiety with panic attacks, self-medicating to manage insomnia and not really functioning any more. I went on 3 months of medical leave (fully paid via FMLA) and started therapy. I was a bit frustrated with therapy because it felt like there was little tangible advice and a lot of talking about feelings but in retrospect I now see the benefits. My firm has "in-house" therapists and one of them used to be in big law. She was decidedly more helpful than the other therapists (one of whom suggested I should take half an hour to do yoga and half an hour to eat instead of taking a full hour lunch break - no idea how she works at my firm full time and still thinks anyone there can afford to take an hour off for lunch ...) The in-house therapists are not meant for long term care so I had to find someone else through my insurance company but just to let you know there are a few therapists out there who have big law / white collar experience. I ultimately found a therapist I liked and my co-pay was $25 per session. Agreed that $200 out of pocket would be a lot but check if your insurance company covers therapy if you haven't yet.

I went back to work after 3 months and still found it hard. I ended up taking it slow for the first month back but am now working normal hours again. I wouldn't say I like my job as much as I did pre-pandemic / pre-mental breakdown but it has become bearable again. I am in a better place mentally because of therapy and also because I have re-prioritized and learned to focus more on things that help me cope. I was also lucky to have had a senior associate mentor who advocated for me and communicated to my group that I was a good associate, they wanted to keep me around and I needed the time off / to take it slow immediately after coming back to work. Oddly enough, I now have more open communications with partners in my group about what I need, it's easier for me to get junior staffing on my matters when I was previously told that all juniors are busy and I just need to deal with it etc. Ultimately, my experience has been that firms are worried about associates leaving in this market so they're willing to support you. Plus, if you're not planning on making partner, who cares - just do what you need to do to feel like yourself again and try to get paid as long as possible along the way.

The only piece of practical advice I would give if you're interested in the FMLA route is to find a therapist who is willing to sign the paperwork - insurance companies will want to see that a medical professional recommended that you take leave and my therapist was really reluctant for a long time which was super annoying. Like a prior poster said, finding a therapist is a bit like dating but even if you have to try a few people, there's a good chance you'll find someone you like.

Good luck and hang in there!

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