A struggle I constantly face is trying to find the time to connect. It is something I must make a priority or it doesn’t get done. It is something that is easy to continue to push down to the bottom of the to-do list. But, when I allow myself the time to connect — locally or nationally, face-to-face or electronically — I am instantly reminded of how good it feels.
Since publishing my second article, attorneys in California and Arkansas who have personally experienced a disorder reached out to me through email. I have now connected with attorneys in Indiana, Pennsylvania, California and Arkansas. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to connect with all of you. Four states down and 46 to go? Additionally, the second article was shared on the Lawyers with Depression Facebook Page, which has approximately 3,000 followers and is managed by attorney Daniel Lukasik. Thank you, Dan.
On Sept. 14, I am presenting to the Tippecanoe County Bar Association about my experience with JLAP and mental health issues in the legal profession. This will be the first time I speak publicly about mental health. After I agreed to give the presentation, I felt a little nervous because I will be talking to people who know me well and who I regularly see. I received an email in response to the last article from an attorney who has given a similar presentation to his local bar association in Arkansas. That has helped reduce my anxiety. He shared that he closed his remarks by telling the group, “One of the biggest barriers to treatment is the stigma of mental illness, and that one of the best ways to overcome the stigma is for lawyers who’ve dealt with mental health challenges to speak out about their experiences.”
I agree. I knew from my personal experience that connecting with other people who have a mental health condition is very therapeutic. In addition, I thought it would help reduce the stigma. However, that was just my opinion. I very recently read the ABA report on improving lawyer well-being, which states that research shows direct contact with someone who has personally experienced a relevant disorder is the most effective method to reduce stigma. (B. Buchanan, J. Coyle, “National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, Creating a Movement to Improve Well-Being in the Legal Profession,” p. 13 (2017)). Learning that other people are doing the same thing, that this method has been researched and that our colleagues who have closely examined attorney wellness support the practice, inspires me to continue.
Questions from the mailbag
A few questions have been posed by those who have reached out to me. I have responded to the questions privately but I wanted to share the questions with you because I think it is important to remember that there are so many other similarly situated people out there.
• I find it extremely isolating and pressuring to always exude success. Do you have any advice?
• How can I seek out other bipolar lawyers?
• I have just started my legal career and it is hard for me to tell if it’s the bipolar making me feel a certain way, or if it is just the job, or both.
I encourage you to keep reaching out, keep connecting, and keep sharing. It is inspiring. It is helpful. It is refreshing.
Beneficial articles and memoirs
I try to read articles and stay current with news stories about mental health while preparing to write the column. Here are some recent articles I have found interesting:
• The American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, together with the National Task Force of Lawyer Well-Being and other organizations, released “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”
• Former NFL linebacker Keith O’Neil recently released his memoir called “Under My Helmet: A Football Player’s Lifelong Battle with Bipolar Disorder.” BP magazine published a review of the book, available at www.bphope.com/book-review-under-my-helmet/.
• BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum publicly shared his experience living with depression and anxiety in an article published this summer in USA Today.
Mental fitness exercise: beyond the office walls
Busy schedules, long-term deadlines, and not enough hours in the day — the 21st century lifestyle brings with it immense stress. How often do you step outside during the work day, separating yourself from the “inside” — florescent lights, dull carpeting, hum of the air conditioner — out to what is real, refreshing and relieving? Find a moment each day to step out of the office doors and really feel what is real and what is now.
Once you are in fresh air, close your eyes.
Sound: What do you hear? Birds chirping? The wind blowing?
Smell: What do you smell? Fresh cut grass? Lavender in bloom?
Open your eyes; continue to be quiet and still.
Sight: What do you see? A cricket jumping? A child playing?
Reach down and touch something.
Touch: What do you feel? The earth under your fingertips? A piece of gravel?
Grounding exercises like this, if even for a minute or two, can bring you back to what is important today, in this moment.
Reminding ourselves to be right here, right now, is important for every profession.•
• Reid D. Murtaugh is attorney in Lafayette and the founder of Murtaugh Law. You can email Reid at [email protected] Also, you can learn more about Reid’s practice at www.murtlaw.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.