“Lawyers make wonderful (psychiatric) patients: they have excellent health insurance and they never get better.” Niles Crane on Frasier
As a completely unqualified, amateur mental health consultant, I have diagnosed myself with post-professional stress syndrome which I believe results from my forty-year legal career. My symptoms are not sleeping well and worrying too much, even in retirement when on any rational basis I have very little to worry about.
My ‘condition’ was recently triggered by some legal matters that I have to address in my personal life. Suddenly I find myself not sleeping well and obsessing about things that are not within my control, just as I often did when I was practicing law. The only difference is that this time I am not getting paid to worry. Believe me, that takes all of the fun out of it.
The love of my life suggested that since incoming emails and texts concerning the legal matter were causing me anxiety, the solution was to turn off the notifications on my phone. I feigned ignorance about how to do this so she took my phone and turned them off for me.
By the next day I had turned them back on. I explained to her that with the notifications turned off I had to check my phone thirty times a day because I had no other way of knowing whether new messages had come in. Constantly needing to check my phone was more stressful than reacting to the notifications.
You may have come across the comedian Ron White who made famous the expression, “You can’t fix stupid.” He went on to say, “Stupid is forever.”
Well, in my case I have concluded that you also can’t fix crazy.
If I have that right, then my advice to those lawyers who have not yet retired is to try your best to avoid becoming crazy in the first place. I have absolutely no qualifications in the medical field to be offering advice, but that is not going to stop me, so here goes:
Do not accept constant anxiety as a lifestyle. None of the following are acceptable:
- working every evening and weekend for months on end;
- relying on substances to sleep or to cope;
- not being able to eat due to stress;
- not being able to stop eating due to stress;
- being unable to find time to exercise, stretch, meditate, or do anything else to preserve your physical or mental health;
- working to the point that you desperately need a vacation;
- working through that vacation;
- putting up with abusive supervisors; or
- sacrificing your relationships.
And for those of you who think that the suffering is worth it to achieve the reward, whether that be a partnership, professional recognition, or money, you are wrong.
Nobody explained any of this to me when I started practicing law and before long it was too late. You, on the other hand can’t say that because I just told you.
If you screw it up, it’s on you.
This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.