Eight years ago this week my life came undone. On March 7, 2003, I was diagnosed with depression. On March 11, 2003, I was suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. On March 11-12, 2003, I had a mental breakdown. Devastation all around. Not my best week.
The file that lead to my being suspended was my own personal file. No clients were involved, I was the client and also the lawyer. I had found a house, hidden from the world, a mile long driveway, no neighbours for miles, located on a lake. My getting that house meant my survival, I too wanted to hide from the world as my depression was taking control.
The Bar Society recognized that the wrong and improper decisions I made to purchase the house were governed by my depression. In 18 years of practice, I had no disciplinary history. All parties understood that something had gone wrong in my life.
As we all know from watching Law & Order and other legal programs, lawyers work in an adversarial system. I had a lawyer, Guy Lafosse, and the Bar Society had a lawyer, Alan Stern. They each worked and ‘fought” to attain the best results for their clients. Thus, Mr. Stern’s job was to see me removed from the practice of law. After much discussions, we all agreed on a suspension and that I need to be healthy to return. The Bar Committee Chair told me to go home and get healthy. I held onto those words for years.
A couple of years ago, the Bar Society asked me to write a first person account of my depression, its impact on my life, and my recovery. It appeared in The Society Record, a monthly magazine distributed to all lawyers in Nova Scotia. I included my email address at the end of the article as I always do. I received emails from about 20 lawyers, some of whom I knew, others I did not. All very supportive and a couple even shared their story of depression. To read their stories, from other lawyers, I felt that I was not alone.
But one email took my breath away. Alan Stern’s name appeared in my inbox. I opened it, and read:
“ I just read your article in the Society Record. Thank you for having the courage and taking the time to tell others about what happened to you. One of the facts relating to your real estate practice that stood out to me at the time was how well all of your files were organized. My obvious conclusion was that you were a highly competent real estate practitioner. Over the years I have provided advice to individuals on reinstatement…and should you need such advice I would be pleased to talk with you ( at no charge of course) Sincerely, Alan”
Unexpected words from an unexpected source. Tears of joy for a moment.
Here was the lawyer, the person, who wanted me out now offering to help me get back in.
I have met Alan ( we are now on a first name basis !) several times. We have spent afternoons together. We have discussed mental health, my volunteer work, exchanged some legal gossip, and gotten to know each other both on a personal and professional basis. He is quite impressed with the work of BringChange2Mind.
We are now working on my application to return to practicing status. The Bar Society is also interested in seeing me return. My personal circle was completed a few years once I was healthy. This will complete the professional circle.
The Bar Society understood mental illness. Alan Stern understood mental illness. So, one never knows from where understanding, support, and true assistance may be found. It has all provided me with a sense of acceptance and a level of redemption. I have gotten hope from within myself and from others, from people I didn’t expect. Life presents itself in strange but wonderful ways.