I graduated from Dalhousie Law School at the age of 22 and the following summer I was called to the Nova Scotia Bar. I understood “academics” well, but “life”, not so much. I had a lot to learn.
One source for that learning was the practice of law.
Lawyers work in an adversarial system. We are obligated to represent a client to the best of our abilities. We regularly “knock heads” with other lawyers to do our job effectively. We look for advantages to destabilize the other lawyer, often seeking a weakness we can exploit. There may also be a certain level of gamesmanship involved at times. It is a slippery slope that can lead to treating other lawyers and clients poorly. Words such as empathy, kindness, and even respect don’t exist in this theater of law.
A short story: I was in the middle of an 8 day trial – numerous witnesses, lots of documents. It was my turn to cross-examine one particular witness. I knew that a certain set of questions would make this witness emotional. But, I had to ask. Half an hour into my questioning, the witness broke down and cried to the point where the trial had to be adjourned for the day. I thought I was doing my job.
The courtroom was perhaps not the best place to learn healthy life lessons.
But circumstances do change.
I had a horrible empty life for many years, although I never considered I had depression.
The notion of a lawyer seeking help or speaking about personal difficulties was incomprehensible. Then, add into the equation that I am a man and my silence was sealed.
I help people, I don’t look for help. I am a “fixer”, I don’t need “fixing”. So I thought, until my life came undone.
I was diagnosed with depression on Friday, March 7, 2003. By the following Tuesday, my career was gone and I had a mental breakdown. Not my best week.
My family – my mother, sister – and I decided that we would address my depression as one would with any illness. We spoke about it openly within our family, even to my then teenaged niece and nephew. We acknowledged it beyond our family too.
As I slowly began to understand depression and the impact it had had on me, I thought that if I could get healthy, perhaps I could have another chance to enjoy life. Part of my recovery was to seek my own voice. I had this deep need to explain to people what had happened to me, how mental illness played such a powerful role in my life.
I would soon discover that very few men were speaking to anyone about their mental illnesses.
Most of the people I have met since I surfaced after years of darkness are involved in mental health work. Thus most knew that I had depression or learned shortly after we met.
But there was one person who I met and I wondered what to tell. I took a breath and simply told all about my depression. The response was almost a non response, there was no concern. No stigma at all.
I have found that when I discuss my depression in public, others approach me with their own journeys. They know I will understand and not judge them.
Writing or speaking in public are akin to therapy for me. I have found that voice.
I have evolved. The world will evolve. Let’s be #StrongerThanStigma.