That is how long I have been in law school, and already, I am taking notice of the severe psychological effects that it is having on me.
When I started law school, I read multiple articles about law students being among those with the highest rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. As a person who already has several mental health issues, I wondered how bad this was going to get.
The first few weeks of law school were not as rough as I had expected. I met people who have become great friends and I really enjoyed the material that I was learning, which I still do. However, around week four was when I started to realize that law school was having an effect on me that I was not prepared for.
Since I was in high school, I have suffered from major social anxiety. I have never felt uncomfortable around females, but because I am gay and had a bad experience in both high school and my first two years of undergrad, I feel an extreme sense of nervousness around heterosexual males. I would say that my 1L class has an even split between men and women. But unlike undergrad, when teachers only called on people who volunteered, law school is cold call central, meaning that I am forced to speak in front of males all the time. In other words, my anxiety is through the roof.
The first time I was cold called, I attempted to speak but nothing came out, immediately my hands started trembling and I gripped my pen as hard as I could in attempt to stop my peers from noticing how nervous I was. With consideration of how frozen I was, and how I struggled to form a coherent sentence, I’d say there’s a good chance people could clearly tell I was scared. As soon as I got out of class that day, I went to my car and called my doctor’s office to make an appointment. I knew that with a problem like this, I was going to have to fix it with the same method that I use to fix all of my other problems; medication.
A week later, I was taking 40mg of propanolol; a medication commonly referred to as a “beta blocker.” It works by blocking my epinephrine receptors, which results in slowing down my heartbeat. Thus, when nervous, my body no longer goes into a fight or flight response, which allows me to answer cold calls without shaking uncontrollably or losing my ability to speak. The medication works, I can admit, but I find it a bit sad that I have to take a medication that slows down my heartbeat just to get through class without having a panic attack.
When I started, I did not believe that I would suffer from the “isolation” that so many articles discuss about law school. I am an only child and since 2015, I have lived by myself. I thought, “how can I become isolated when I’m already alone all the time anyway?” But I was wrong. Law school is an entirely different situation than undergrad when it comes to time management. In undergrad, I could finish my homework and still have time to communicate or hang out with my friends. Now, I am lucky if any of my friends are still awake by the time I get finished doing schoolwork. It’s not that the material in law school is challenging to learn, but rather, the amount of material one must read, annotate, brief, and memorize, each night, leaves no time for anything or anyone else.
It depresses me when I realize that friends are becoming impatient with me. I can tell that my reliability rating is falling, as they are now so used to me cancelling plans, responding to texts and calls late, and failing to check in as often as I did before. It makes me feel guilty, but sadly, if I want to survive this program, I have no other choice. Them giving me the cold shoulder certainly doesn’t help, especially when I miss them just as much as they miss me, even if it isn’t apparent to them. The way that I see it is that law school is temporary, but true friendship should be lasting. So if my friends are “true” friends, they will understand that I have made this commitment to better myself and make my goals a reality. I’ve always supported them in their decisions and endeavors, and it is unfortunate that not all of them can do the same for me. But I appreciate and feel the utmost respect for the ones who do support me. Seeing the few of them drop me so quickly is hard, but the rigorous schedule in law school is not something that I can escape.
That’s not all. So far, I have seen my family once since I started in late August. This was a very short visit, as the earlier half of the day was taken by service hours . . . for law school of course. I am not used to that. I have never went over a month without seeing my family, when they live just over an hour away. And I would be lying if I said that it did not bother me. It may be less sad if I were able to speak with them each day, but like the situation with friends, my studies don’t leave me any time to call.
Doing the assignment for one course takes me 3 hours at the least and 6 hours at the most. Typically, there are 2 assignments per night, which means that once I get home from class and eat dinner, I start homework around 5pm and I don’t finish until around midnight. This is not an occasional routine, this is the experience every night, Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays, I do even more schoolwork. Typically, those days consists of 8 to 10 hours of homework. As one would expect, a routine like this is grueling, and with that much time swallowed by my studies, when is there time to hang out or speak with friends? When I do finally see or speak with them, I am not the same lively guy as before. Usually I only get 4 hours of sleep each night, which means I’m always fatigued, and they can tell. I’m now accustomed to classmates noticing the bags under my eyes and asking, “are you okay?” Or the instances when I speak to someone on the phone for the 10 minutes I’m able to give and they ask, “are you sick?” No to both. I’m not okay, but I’m not sick either. I’m just extremely stressed, tired, and depressed.
I now know what it means to be “isolated.” I spend every day alone, I rarely communicate with anyone, and I devote all of the time that I have to studying law. For the first time in nearly 5 years, I actually feel “lonely.”
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 15 years old. Then, I went to therapy every 2 weeks until I graduated high school. But since I would not be able to see my doctor as often after I moved to college, I started taking 150mg of Wellbutrin; an antidepressant. The Wellbutrin was life-changing. I never felt sad for no reason as I did before, and the things that used to sadden me no longer had such a big impact.
This success with Wellbutrin continued until this year, when I started law school.
As I mentioned previously, the rigor of law school leaves no time for anyone else, but in addition to not seeing friends and family, law school also deprives one of their personal time. Prior to law school, I was able to keep up with my favorite shows, listen to music for hours each day, read fiction, and go on dates. Now, all of these things are non-existent. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to watch one episode of a favorite show about twice a week. Lately, the only music I listen to comes from a playlist called “Ambiance” that I use to stay focused when reading for class. The last time I read a book that wasn’t about case law was in early August. And this month, I deleted all of my dating apps, as I have realized that with a schedule like mine, I have no time to build a relationship, let alone go on a date.
Being deprived of socialization, as well as all of one’s personal interests, while continuously devoting all of one’s energy to something that cannot be touched, is hard. I have since slipped back into those feelings of sadness that I experienced before taking Wellbutrin. As a sufferer of borderline personality disorder (BPD), my self-esteem was already low before law school, but now, it has sunk even lower. I never feel that I’m doing enough or doing a good job, I obsess over how I answer questions in class, and I have nightmares about forgetting to do assignments. Typically, there is usually one day each week where I will break under the pressure and cry for a good 10 minutes. It feels great, but I doubt that it is normal for that to be happening so frequently. Last week, in attempt to soften this burden, my psychiatrist doubled my Wellbutrin dosage to 300mg. I am hoping it works, but since it takes awhile to build up in the bloodstream, it will be a few weeks before I will be able to tell. I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Have you ever read up on the professions with the highest levels of alcoholism? If you have, you know that 1 in 3 practicing attorneys are alcohol abusers. Based on the first 2 months of law school, I can attest that this is a serious problem. At the law school, multiple students, including myself, have turned to alcohol as a quick fix to “wind down” after a day (and night) of studying law for 14-16 hours straight. In my first 3 weeks alone, I went through 2 jumbo sized bottles of gin and was advised by both my psychiatrist and counselor to slow down.
In the past, marijuana was always my go-to method for coping with stress or depression, but unfortunately, as many know, marijuana impairs memory. This means I can no longer look to a bowl for stress treatment when I may be called on the next morning to display what I learned from the reading. In addition, I am not willing to start off my law school career with a possession charge in the case that I get pulled over after getting a re-up. That being said, alcohol has become the only option. I can’t remember the last time I ended a day without having a drink or two. And although I know it is not good for me, I have no plans to stop, as I don’t see any other outlet. The days where I could handle stress by seeing friends, taking part in my hobbies, or smoking a joint are long gone. But . . . I signed up for this.
The Bright Side
Law school is only temporary. In the coming years, again there will be days when I can frequently communicate with family and friends, or engage in activities that bring me happiness. Despite all of the “cons” that come with being a law student, I view law school as 100% worth it. The material that I am learning interests me more than any subject I’ve covered in my entire educational career. Improving my abilities to analyze, decipher, and write are all benefits of law school that remain extremely attractive to me. The friends I have made in class are great people. And, the advantages that a career in this field will bring to my future are exceptionally valuable.
“You can do this.”
That’s what I’ll just have to keep telling myself . . .
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