I knew law school was going to suck, but fuck does it really suck.
I have PTSD which makes me more prone to depressive episodes and uncontrollable anxiety.
My first year was miserable, which is unsurprising. Everyone in law school is having a shit time, but not having a serious mental health condition allows for easier rebound after exposure to intense stress. I was so anxious I would cry through plane rides on the verge of a full mental break down because I could not stop thinking about the plane colliding with another and having to plummet to my death.
I, rather infamously, had a massive public breakdown during school hours where I literally hurled a textbook at a wall and screamed at every admin within earshot. At the time it felt empowering to shriek at the people I felt were responsible for putting me through a living hell, but now I look back and feel disappointed in myself and everyone around me to not address this aggressive behavior as a symptom of worsening mental health.
I had the pressure of performing well enough to pass and stay enrolled for the second year while teetering on the edge of failure. I went from an A/B student to pulling straight C-s. I felt like a complete fucking idiot coupled with anxiety about how I would make money if I flunked out. I had no income or savings to rely on. I had to commute an hour or more to class because the 6 to 8-hour days 4 days a week plus a 9 am class on Friday put me right in the middle of rush hour traffic.
No matter who I turned to for help in the Administrative Offices I was met with snide comments from administrators who clearly did not understand how to effectively aid students with mental health concerns. It felt like I was constantly being gas lit by these people who were taking huge sums of money from me. They always sign off their emails with, “We care!” but when I needed to drop a class so I could function better the answer was, “maybe you shouldn’t have lived so far away.”
Yeah, thanks bitch. Just go ahead and blame my financial insecurity in one of the most expensive places in America to live on why my PTSD is making me want to throw a 10-pound book at someone.
The summer after 1L year I was the most depressed and suicidal I had been since my major traumas. I was hugely triggered by the death of Kate Spade. Seeing such an influential and powerful woman kill herself made me feel that there would never truly be hope.
I finally began taking medication, which is something I wish I had done sooner, to treat my PTSD. It takes some time for psychiatric medications to take effect, but after a few months I was noticeably more receptive to therapy and making improvements in my mental health.
My story is not unusual to the young lawyer experience. My first year they sat us down for this (bogus) skills class and almost proudly displayed statistics regarding how fucked up lawyers are. With 8% entering with a depressive disorder, 40% of a graduating law school class will have developed a depressive disorder during 3 years of schooling. That is just depressive disorders, so no telling what would happen to me and my shit trauma brain.
Then they had the nerve to ask the class how WE could remedy this issue as if we were responsible for the systemic power imbalance that makes lawyers one of the most hated professions in existence. Do not get me wrong, the student body could absolutely benefit from empathy training, but we as students are not in a place of power to completely upheave the system cis-het white male lawyers have built and sit on top of to this day.
Law schools in America have existed to aid the racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., body of American policies by weeding out potential lawyers deemed weak and unworthy. The LSAT was created to prevent Black and Jewish people from accessing formal law education when apprenticeships fell out of favor. The culture of academics in a law school create severe competition and distrust in your peers along with unhealthy lifestyles to pass classes, and for some schools stay enrolled. Alcoholism and drug abuse are rife in the professional community because law students are overworked academically and upon graduation enter a starting position where they are expected to work well and to exhaustion.
2L year was easier and less stressful for sure, but I felt my energy levels depleting. After my cat died in February, I entered one of the longest depressive episodes and began to understand why PTSD is categorized as a disability. I was not sleeping well due to frequent nightmares and jolting nighttime anxiety. I would sleep three or four hours a night and spend the rest of the time tossing and turning or wide awake. I would fall asleep in class or pass out for two hours during breaks in class. If I could curl up in a ball, I would fall asleep anywhere.
Toward the end of the Spring semester I was having difficulty showing up to class. Some courses were so unmotivating and bland, but others I needed to attend and could barely focus when I showed up. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and cry until I fell asleep. The loss of my cat after months of trying to save him from cancer sent me back into a depressive spiral, I’m not even sure I’ve fully recovered from.
Oh and then some Right Wing MAGA fucker ENROLLED IN MY SCHOOL shared the event flyer for a town hall discussion on the rise of Alt-Right White Supremacy to MAGA 4chan and MAGA reddit where the commenters responded “shoot them” and the administrators said NOTHING to the student body and had literal cops monitor the event on WHITE SUPREMACY. The absolute liberal fuckery coming out of both ends.
I was so relieved that half of California caught on fire and class was cancelled because I was gripped with terror at thought of someone following through with violently disrupting the event. I don’t know how mentally healthy people deal with hearing information like this, but with PTSD my brain was in absolute hell mode.
So 2L year actually sucked now that I think about it, but at least it sucked less?
As this summer approached, I was legitimately worried about how I was going to manage a 4-hour daily commute for my fulltime summer internship. How would I stay awake the entire day without napping? How would I have the energy to stay motivated an perform my best?
I needed another medical intervention in my mental health care. My doctor added another medication to help me sleep at night. Results were immediate and I finally know what it feels like to make it through the day without saying “I’m tired” constantly. This was a needed relief, but it is not the final solution. I still have one more year to get through, and while I am optimistic it will be the best of the whole experience, I am also preparing for another nosedive.
Law School is not a safe environment for anyone who is struggling with unmanaged mental health. From apathetic admins to neurotic peers, law school increases the feelings of isolation to the extreme. Self-esteem is shredded by the grading curve, and people who were happy students in undergrad become husks. The stress is endless, and with a stress disorder it only makes matters worse.
I am not trying to scare anyone away from attending law school. The world needs more empathetic lawyers, but not at the cost of stable mental health. If this is something you’ve been considering as a career path, I implore you to take control over all aspects of your mental health before you matriculate. Come 1L Fall finals, you won’t regret the investment you’ve made.
A lot of the time, I don’t even know if I want to be a lawyer. I wake up with this gut wrenching feeling that this was never the right path for me. I used to be disillusioned and passionate about attending law school, like I was doing something positive for the world, but now I feel bitter and tired. Of course, whatever there is to make the world better, I will do. I know my time in law school will not have been spent in vain, but I know how damaging the last two years of constant stress have been. A part of me truly resents the law school experience for what it has done to my mental wellbeing. Old wounds have been picked open for new infections to take hold, and I feel so exhausted by my existence.
I’m still working with my doctor and therapist to heal from my old trauma and come to a place of peace. It’s going to take time, like all great things do, but I’m hoping this final year of law school can be a positive one.
We’ll check back in on that though.