Trapped…or so I Thought

I entered law school at the age of 21, graduated at 23 and at 25 had an office overlooking Stanley Park as an associate with a well known downtown law firm. My performance evaluations as and articled student were excellent. Immediately after being called to the bar, I was fortunate to find myself the junior of a well-known and respected senior lawyer practicing in an area of law of great interest to me. I was provided with an opportunity to work on high-profile cases and was exposed to the type of work and client base that most young lawyers only dream of.

During the course of the year following my call, I was consistently acknowledged for the quality of my work. I was permitted to participate in just about any case that was of interest to me. I was praised for my ability to effectively deal with clients and was directly responsible for a large number of significant files. In addition, I was well liked by my coworkers at the firm and in general. Upon reflection, my career at that time could be described as nothing other than promising. It was, however, a house of cards.

I can see now that as my career progressed, it was doomed to fail for a number of reasons:

  1. I was unable to say “no” when work was offered to me and felt that the work ethic of my coworkers (unhealthy as it was) had to be copied. This was a deadly character flaw in an environment flush with work and workaholics.
  2. I lived for the praise and express acknowledgement of a job well done, while secretly feeling that I was a failure at the slightest criticism. My self-worth was linked to my performance at work.
  3. My life focused on and was dominated by work alone. This included frequenting the office on weekends.
  4. I was not eating properly or exercising, resulting in fatigue and exhaustion. Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol provided little relief.
  5. Most importantly, I had no interests of friends outside of work. My life was completely unbalanced.

As a consequence of these factors, I became completely depressed.

As time went on, I found it more difficult to consistently live up to the self-imposed standards I believed that I had set as a benchmark. In my obsession to become the perfect associate, I lost all perspective and saw myself as trapped; unable to continue on my present course and yet unable to do anything about it. At the same time, and almost to my complete demise, I became blinded by my own pride and the fear of being seen as incapable of dealing with the pressures of practice. I was unwilling and/or unable to clearly tell my employer that I was falling apart and that changes needed to be made in order for me to practice effectively. I foolishly continued on a doomed path, telling myself that things would get better. In retrospect, this lie and my fear of being seen as someone who couldn’t cope with a downtown practice continued my slide.

Finally, after drinking heavily one long weekend, I came to the decision that rather than expose my unhappy situation to my employer or family, it would be best to end my life. If is only by circumstances beyond my control that I ended up calling LAP in an effort to get help. That call saved my life. After meeting with the LAP, I was immediately referred to a physician who assessed me and placed me on short-term disability benefits. I remained off work for several months – during which time I underwent and participated in various forms of recovery and support treatment. The recovery work that I have done (and continue to do) centres on teaching me healthy ways to cope with the stresses of work and every day life. It has provided me with the tools to make healthy decisions and to set necessary limits. Most importantly, however, it has taught me that there are always viable options.

As I write this, my life is better than I could have ever imagined four years ago. After much personal work, I now have a satisfying and rewarding career as in house counsel (a former client of the firm’s), great friends, a wonderful spouse, exciting outside interests, and most importantly, the time and financial resources to develop and enjoy them. Gratefully, I am no longer trapped.

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If you would like to speak to LAPBC counsellor on a strictly confidential basis, contact us at 604.685.2171 or 1.888.685.2171 or (info@lapbc.com) info (at) lapbc (dot) com.