“Life is over rated.” I made that off the cuff comment one cold morning as I traveled to a local ski hill. It became a phrase we would jokingly use at my law firm when a file went astray. Little did I know that in time, I believed it.
For me, life in my 20s was wonderful. I did well in school, then at work. I was optimistic. Life was easy. When my 30s rolled around, personal challenges surfaced.
My father died in 1992, at age 59. I come from a close family. My everyday life changed after his death. Depression moved in and the pressures of life became overwhelming.
I thought I could handle my own difficulties and just kept trying to get through each ugly day. As a lawyer, I solve other people’s problems. I don’t ask for help, people ask me.
Life had become a series of bad moments and bad days, leading to worse months and years.
I withdrew from my friends, classmates from university. In London, we had all been foreign students and we became very close. After graduating, we kept in touch, sharing holidays, weddings and anniversaries. I shut down those relationships.
Tears occurred daily as I drove to the office. I would collect myself in the parking lot, walk in and work all day. Pretending to be fine was exhausting.
Insomnia took hold. During the week, I slept two or three hours a night. By the weekend, I would collapse. This routine went on for years. I hated life so much, I stayed awake to delay the next morning’s arrival.
My last relationship was shortchanged. As my self-worth eroded, I couldn’t commit to a trip or even dinner the next night. I thought I did not deserve to be happy and slowly cut off contact. Looking back, she may have been “the one.”
Then life got even worse. I was diagnosed on March 7, 2003, with depression. I was suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society on March 11. I had a breakdown on March 11-12. Not my best week.
I had no disciplinary history in 18 years of practice. The crux of the 2003 complaint did not involve a client. I had found a house, isolated from the world. Its driveway was over a mile long. No neighbors. I thought if I could get this house, I could hide, breathe. In my struggle to survive, I acted as my own lawyer and I made improper decisions. Depression twisted my mind making logical thought difficult.
My family provided strong support such that I felt protected and safe. They were simply wonderful. My mother, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew saved me.
The Bar Society was even helpful. John Merrick the Society Chair, said, “I need say no more, but Keith go home and get well.” They understood the devastating role depression had played. They also provided a list of psychologists.
I had never been to therapy before, but the floodgates opened and out flowed my life. I attended therapy weekly for two years. It became the highlight of my week.
So getting healthy took the support and understanding of my family, my psychologist, and the Bar Society. But I also worked hard as well, and a series of small steps lead to major accomplishments.
I would go to a favorite restaurant, get take out and eat in my vehicle in the back parking area. After awhile, I moved to the front parking lot. Then one day, six months later, I ate inside.
This is actually a happy story. Getting suspended was a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was still devastating. But it removed me from an unhealthy workplace Being diagnosed with depression was a relief. I then knew I had a mental illness.
Before the diagnosis, one solution that I often considered was a late night canoe trip on the lake in front of my house with no return. The events of March 2003 were certainly a better option.
I lived off my savings for a few years but now I have no house, no vehicles, no money. Life is good though. To focus on what I don’t have is not fair to what I do have. I have my good health. I have my family. I can read a book. I sleep well. I have learned how to be happy again.
Life is not over rated, it is wonderful, once again.