March 2014 Dicta
by Meyling Ly and Drew Crownover

Q.  Lawyers have the highest rate of depression among any professional group. A recent study estimates that 20% of lawyers currently suffer from depression. But how do you know when you’re depressed?
Drew: I knew it was different from normal stress or anxiety when I began isolating myself, avoiding friends, family, and groups like DAYL for several months in a row. I spent all of my non-work time alone, and although I’ve always enjoyed solitude, this time I didn’t. I didn’t enjoy work, I didn’t enjoy being with others, and I didn’t enjoy being alone. Nothing brought me pleasure anymore.

Mey: For me, depression also manifested itself in isolation – especially from those whose opinions mattered the most to me: my family and close friends. I think it was because I was afraid I couldn’t “fake” normality around them. I faked it during the day until I could make it home, to cry and then to cry some more.

Q. People who have never suffered from depression often assume that it’s easy to spot a depressed person: just look for someone who’s sad all the time. Is this true?
Drew: No. When I was depressed, everyone saw me as normal, but this was because I made a conscious effort to appear normal. I didn’t feel anything inside, not even sadness. I had to fake my emotions, which drained me and added to my stress.

Mey: Never underestimate a person’s ability to cope in public. Some of us get quite good at it. And when you think about it, it makes sense. Generally, we are intelligent individuals who are adept at reading social cues and providing appropriate responses. Depression does not necessarily have a “look” and can be masked. Also for me, depression wasn’t nothingness, but immense sadness and a lack of self-worth.

Q. What was the lowest point for you during your depression?
Drew: During a pre-trial hearing, I completely blanked and didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. This scared me. I started sobbing, and my opposing counsel came over to me and hugged me. The Judge reset the trial and sent me home, where I stayed for about two months, not going to work, not leaving my house, and not doing anything all day, wanting only to go to sleep and not wake up.

Mey: Being so sad that I did not want to get out of bed – which made me feel even more worthless because I couldn’t do all things that I felt like I needed to do to make me feel worthy.

Q. Lawyers often don’t seek help because they feel embarrassed about admitting that they’re suffering. After all, we are the people the public turns to when they need problems solved. How do lawyers get help?
Drew: When I realized I needed help, I turned to my company’s confidential EAP (Employee Assistance Program). They referred me to a psychologist who I saw on a regular basis.
Mey: I was in my first year of law school at the time so I sought the available services at my law school. Now, I would suggest colleagues contact TLAP, which is 100% anonymous – they can help find suitable professionals. Drew’s suggestion – your firm or company’s EAP – is also a great resource.

Q. How did your friends and family help?
Drew: For months, I didn’t let them. I continued to pretend that I was ok, even though it was obvious that I wasn’t. Once I finally started talking, the most helpful thing that anyone did was simply to listen. Not to offer advice, not to cheer me up, not to tell me how good my life is, but just to listen.
Mey: My family still doesn’t know, but my closest friends and two 3L mentors were lifesavers. They listened without judging and for me, their reassurance that I was not “crazy” helped immensely.

Q. Was there a moment when you realized you were getting better?
Drew: I’ve always written as a hobby. While depressed, I didn’t attempt to write at all. One day, I forced myself to start writing a story for the Texas Bar Journal’s short story contest. I went to SMU and sat in a plush chair with a laptop in my lap, students studying all around me. I decided on the basic story and began fleshing it out. When I entered the protagonist’s world, all of my dormant emotions flooded out at once – happy, sad, angry, excited. I started laughing and crying and made a scene. That’s when I felt optimistic for the first time.

Mey: For me, I knew I was getting better when I found true enjoyment in people’s company again. I wasn’t feigning a short conversation just to excuse myself lest I be “found out” as a fraud.