Mental Fitness: How peer support helped me bounce back, give back

mental-fitness-murtaugh.jpgFor most of my life, I only saw the negative in my mental health struggles. I am grateful that I have reached a point where my experience with a bipolar diagnosis has also added value to my life and my work. Disclosing my diagnosis and writing articles has been very rewarding. People have reached out to me and asked me to share my knowledge with them. I have discovered a community of people like me. It feels great to provide peer support to others.

At the same time, I would still prefer to wake up one day and be cured. Even when you are more equipped to handle the negative aspects of the disease, it is hard to cope when it reappears. Recently, I experienced a relapse that lasted about two months. Instead of helping others, I was again the one really struggling. At first, the role reversal was hard to deal with. I knew from experience that it would pass, but you never know how long it will take to recover. When you are in the middle of it, it feels like it is going to last forever. I reminded myself that living well with bipolar does not mean that you will not get sick. Accepting that it was okay to fall down helped my recovery.

I wanted to share this because people who have recently been diagnosed or who are in the beginning stages of recovery also have an opportunity to help others. You do not have to wait until you feel better to reach out to others. You can find the positive in your condition right now. Reaching out to others may help you get to where you want to be in your recovery. You don’t need any training. You know exactly how to provide peer support because of your experience with the disease. You are not a doctor or a mental health professional and don’t need to give any advice. You can just share your experience and it will help others. It normalizes their emotions. Actually, it may be more comforting for someone to connect with you than a peer who is farther along because you have more in common. Wherever you are now is okay. That is the great thing about peer support. We are all dealing with a permanent condition. We are all going to have ups and downs.

The thing that helped me the most was participating in peer-to-peer support group meetings through the Lawyers Depression Project. You can learn more about the project aimed at addressing mental health issues in the legal profession at www.knowtime.com. If you are interested in participating in an online peer-to-peer meeting, I can introduce you to the group. You can start by just calling in and listening. Many of the participants use video conferencing. The calls are confidential. It is a peer support group, not therapy. The group members are not doctors or mental health professionals.

Beneficial articles and media

As you will see in the articles below, many more athletes and celebrities are talking openly about their mental health. The culture is really changing and reaching a tipping point. However, very little is changing in the legal profession when it comes to public disclosure. Why is there so much fear of disclosure in the legal profession and what can we do about it?

• Professional basketball player Kevin Love: “Kevin Love Launches Kevin Love Fund to Inspire Physical, Mental Well-Being,” www.si.com, Sept. 18, 2018, by Charlotte Carroll

• Actor Jon Hamm opens up about going to therapy and taking medicine for depression: “Jon Hamm Nails Why It’s So Hypocritical to Shame Therapy,” www.m.huffpost.com, Sept. 12, 2018, by Lindsay Holmes

• “‘I hope it’s a waterfall’: Mets announcer Josh Lewin wants to open the floodgates on mental health awareness,” www.theathletic.com, Sept. 14, 2018 by Tim Britton

• “How to Work with the Anxious Brain,” https://jeenacho.com, Sept.24, 2018, by Jeena Cho

Mental fitness exercise:gratitude challenge

At the end of a workday, take a few minutes to reflect on the work you have accomplished that day.

Try to be kind to yourself. Write down something about the day that you are grateful that you did. Write down something that you are grateful that someone else did for you.

Remember, lawyers often neglect their own needs. I encourage you to practice self-compassion. Hopefully, you will give it a try and incorporate it into your own mental fitness routine.•

Reid D. Murtaugh[email protected] — is an attorney in Lafayette and the founder of Murtaugh Law. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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