Sunday, February 5, 2017

Struggling in Law School: The Mental and Physical Toll of Legal Education



Anyone that reads my blog can look at the dates on my posts, and notice that I've disappeared a little bit, and that I've been posting rather sporadically. At first, finals and the holiday break took over my life. Then I came back to school and expected I would start posting again. And then I didn't. I don't know for sure if anyone has really noticed, or everyone just assumed that I was busy with school, or what. But here I am - back, at least for now, and ready to share with you another piece of my story.

I have debated a little bit whether I actually wanted to write this post or not. After all, my goal for this blog was to share my story and help law students and future law students get through the crazy adventure of legal education. Above all, I wanted to be encouraging and show others that you can do it, even on the hard days. So I knew if I addressed the difficult time I was having, it might have  more negative spin than the usual content I try to post. But, I want to be honest. I want to share my story - the good and the bad. I want others to know the realities of law school, so they can learn from my mistakes and my struggles to make their experiences better. So here is a piece of my law school adventure that might be a little less positive, a little scarier, but still honest, raw, and a real part of my life.

I have been struggling, both physically and mentally, due to the stress of law school.


Over the holiday break when I was back in Nebraska with my friends, family, and coworkers several people asked me "So, is law school really that stressful?" or "Is it as bad as they say it is?" My response to these questions would usually be a laugh, followed by an affirmative "Yes, but I'm surviving." And I would play it off as more than a joke. Toward the end of break, people would ask me "Are you excited to go back to school?" and with a dramatic flair I would respond with "NO! I cry every day there!" and laugh it off, even though underneath I knew it was close to the truth. Although it became easy to hide behind jokes and dramatic exaggerations about law school stress, I could feel the pressure building up inside of my and my mental health began to go downhill.

The last week or so of my holiday break, I cancelled plans with friends and family. I knew that I would miss them when I went back to Pennsylvania for school, but I couldn't bring myself to want to deal with the mental exhaustion of pretending to be happy. More nights than not, I cried myself to sleep, for no reason other than life is really hard. I began searching for ways to keep my hands busy so I wouldn't overthink things - I tried journaling, crocheting, exercising, reading, playing video games, etc. But the stress didn't stop.

Some people wear their stress mentally, some physically. Well, I'm one of the unlucky ones that experiences both. Over the holiday break, I lost over ten pounds of my body weight. I wasn't eating, and when I did, I would be so nauseous from stress that I would vomit everything. As soon as I got back to school, I made an appointment with a doctor. Turns out, I have gastritis, which is inflammation of the stomach. The cause of this, according to the doctor? Stress. No way to really get over this either, until I can eliminate stress from my life. Both the doctor and I laughed about that - we both know that isn't possible as long as I'm in school. So they put me on a medicine to heal my stomach lining and cure any ulcers I'm developing. And that's about all I can do for the physical symptoms.

Mentally, the struggle hasn't gotten any better either. I still cry, all of the time. I'll be walking to my car, and the tears will start. Wake up in the morning - cry. Sometimes I'll just be studying in the library, and suddenly I'm forced to dry my eyes and turn my head so people don't see me sob in public. Certain days, I can't make it to class because getting out of bed is too hard. Other days I can get to class, but I lock myself in my room and sleep from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. after, because sleeping is easier than dealing with everything. I'm constantly tired, sad, apathetic, and worried - even on my best days. And the worse part is - I'm stressed about how much the stress is hurting me.

The worst part about this, is I felt like I have no reason to be stressed. I did very well last semester - I ranked in the top 10% of my law school class. I have family and friends that love me, and very healthy relationships with them. Personally, I think I'm one of the best adults I know, and don't struggle with responsibility or financially. Things are good in my life, so I am constantly wondering why I haven't been able to handle things mentally. But that is how stress and mental health works, it doesn't always make a lot of sense.

A few days ago, the stress reached a new high. In a panic, where no matter what I did made me feel calm, I got online and bought a plane ticket. I did laundry and packed a bag. Then I left - in the middle of the night - and got on a plane back to my hometown. I didn't even call my parents until I was on a layover in the airport. 

When I told my mom, she began to cry. "This isn't like you, Bailey," she said to me, "I'm worried about you." 

And the only response I had was "I'm worried about me too."

So here I am, sitting in my parents' house, finally having to confront everything I'm dealing with. First things first - I've admitted that I'm struggling. Next, I had to end relationships with people that were causing me more hurt in my life. And now, I'm trying to figure out a plan to move forward and confront my issues that I've been having.

Medically, I'm already on track. I've got the medication I need. Mentally, it's a little harder. I start therapy this week. I've always been one of those people that was too proud to seek professional help. But now that I've made the appointment, I already feel a little bit more stable knowing that I'm taking care of myself and trying to get help that I need. I've bought a couple more plane tickets for trips back home, just so that I know I will have a "safe weekend" every now and then, where I can escape school, hug my mom, and see my friends. I've set deadlines for myself to decide whether or not I want to stay at school, try and transfer, or take a break from school overall. I've admitted to some key people around me that I've been struggling, like my roommates and my best friends, that way they are aware and can help me. And I'm keeping my mind on the fact that this is totally normal, and I just have to take it one day at a time.

To everyone reading this . . .

Some of you that are law school hopefuls might be thinking "Oh my god, maybe I shouldn't put myself through law school if this will happen." No. Don't let this deter you. I am determined to get through this, and show you all that even with extreme physical and mental difficulty, a person can do anything they set their mind to. I may be having a hard time, but I am far from giving up and you shouldn't either.

Some of you might be in law school, and thinking "Wow, I never thought it was that bad." And thank all that is holy that you haven't been through this. But look out for your friends. Notice who might be struggling, and be there as support and encouragement for them. You never know what difference you might make in someone's life.

Some of you who are in law school might be thinking, "That's exactly what I feel like." To you guys, know you aren't alone. Reach out to someone. Get some help, and take care of yourself. Reach out to me if you need ( caffeineandcasebriefs@gmail.com ... seriously, my inbox is always open). And know that it will get better, and we will get through this.

Lastly, I want to thank the community of everyone out there for being an outlet for me to talk about this. One thing I love about the law school blogging community is the comraderie and support we offer each other, and that is one thing I absolutely LOVE about having this blog. So thank you to everyone for the support you have given me.

Remember - things may be hard. But I am far from giving up. I'm going to fight through this, I'm going to conquer law school, and be the best damn lawyer that I can be. Depression, stress, and physical illness can be a bump in the road, but it's not something that I can't get past.

I'll be success story - stay tuned to see it happen.

Best,
Bailey

7 comments:

  1. Stay strong girl! Law School is a test of so much more than just legal knowledge. I think it is awesome that you are so candid about it and do not try to hide/sugar coat it. If you ever need to talk to someone, my inbox is always open :)

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    1. Thanks, Brandy! I love the support we have from our law school blogging community - and I appreciate you reaching out :)

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