I’m always hearing that I’m a downer, that all I ever write about is the negative side of law. Nothing could be further from the truth. If The People’s Therapist has one precept he lives by, it’s that old adage (okay, so maybe it’s a tenet) from management theory: Don’t bring me a problem unless you’re also bringing me a solution. It’s hardly my issue that all people ever seem to bring me (at least where law’s concerned) is problems. I’m drowning in their problems, and they must have the wrong guy, because I’m a constitutionally upbeat, constructive person – all about solutions, and upbeat ones, at that. Upbeat, constructive solutions are my forte. But these law people…what can I say? They just keep coming with the problems.
This dynamic plays out a lot when I do interviews. As an international celebrity, trend-setter and raconteur on all-things legal, I’m flooded – or, I should say my people (agents, managers, major domos, land stewards, footmen, grand viziers, and so forth) are flooded – with requests for interviews, podcasts, panels, speeches, award ceremonies, ribbon-cuttings, product endorsements, mall openings, ship launchings, red carpet appearances and the like. Of course, I always say yes, since I’m an upbeat, constructive guy. But in the course of these lavish, star-studded galas, my merriment is again and again interrupted by pesky, repetitive questions about anxiety and lawyers, depression and lawyers, suicide and lawyers, yadda yadda yadda. For whatever reason, these appear to be the favorite topics of whoever wants to chat about law in these situations, and so I find myself reluctantly fielding inquiry after inquiry regarding how common these phenomena are, why they occur and (just to drive home how ridiculous this all gets) if there’s something about law or law firms that might somehow be responsible for the sky-high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide that apparently seem to occur among lawyers.
I’m an upbeat, constructive, cosmopolitan kind of a guy, more flaneur than talking head, and this is downer, negative stuff coming at me when I’d rather opine about matters fun and hip. But I’m also a celebrity and a spokesmodel, with the attendant obligations (as well as a plain old, down-homey, profoundly decent and modest regular guy), and so I do the best I can to satisfy the peculiar one-track tunnel vision of certain persons out there with regard to this thing we all love that we call law.
At some point in these events, there inevitably arrives a juncture at which I’m expected to answer one key question: How can lawyers manage anxiety and depression (and thus stop committing suicide), because, you know…it’s getting to be a drag.
I get that, and as an upbeat and constructive person, I welcome this juncture when it arrives, because we need to fix this! We need answers here. I’m as positive and rah-rah and gung-ho about law as anyone – in fact, I’m Mr. Gung-ho, and I eat and breathe a love for law in everything I do, and I’m not too proud to admit that. And I totally agree that it is time to stop whining and griping and start finding solutions!
There’s just one little problem, though, and it’s a doozie…
Where to begin? How shall I explain what’s really going on? I’ll follow the example of wise men through the ages, and impart my wisdom through a story. Imagine there’s a tiny little puppy dog, and he’s just adorable and sweet and cute, but the poor thing is very very anxious, and very very depressed and it’s hard to tell, since he’s a dog and can’t talk, but he’s feeling kinda suicidal right now.
Awwww…poor little pup. We’ll call him Snuggles.
The question is obvious: What can we do to assist poor Snuggles in managing his anxiety and depression, and help him feel less suicidal? We can’t sit around feeling sorry for Snuggles – we need to do something for him.
But there’s one rule we start with – Snuggles has to be the actor here. Snuggles needs ways to manage his anxiety, depression and longing to die. If we’re going to avoid going all negative and downer-y here, we should focus on answers, instead of off-loading blame.
Sure, I’m a realist, and I’d be the first one to acknowledge little Snuggles lives in a laboratory, where he’s kept awake night and day, locked in a tiny, cold cage, and tormented with apparently arbitrary electric shocks. And yeah, he tries to be good, and look adorable and lick everyone’s hand, but they still keep abusing and shocking him. You might also make a big deal of the fact that he doesn’t get fed very often or groomed and is covered with sores and occasionally, when he is let out of his cage, it’s only to get kicked and slapped.
But enough with problems – that’s only going to turn things all negative and trigger whining and complaining. We all know the blame game leads in one direction: circles. Snuggles needs to take action, and find practical steps to manage his anxiety and depression. We need to be upbeat and constructive here.
First, Snuggles can, at very least, take some medication – a few Klonopin and an Ativan and maybe a Xanax for the anxiety couldn’t hurt, and who knows, maybe Lexipro or Zoloft or Cymbalta or Paxil might help with the depression, or heck, we could call in the big guns, like Risperdal or Lamictal or Seroquel or Abilify, because we’re looking for answers here, and that means turning over a few stones in the process. This is not the time to turn squeamish about taking a few off-label antipsychotics.
Second, Snuggles can take better care of himself. That’s likely what the real problem is. Granted, I don’t know exactly how he’s failing to take care of himself – but I can guess he’s not eating enough kale. No one really eats enough kale, you know? Adding healthy cruciferous vegetables to his diet would be a positive step forward, and a step away from making excuses.
Speaking of which… no one’s stopping Snuggles from taking a minute or two to focus on being mindful. Mindfulness meditation – between the electric shocks and beatings – could help him stay positive and clear away negative energy blocking his chakras. The more spiritual he is, the more upbeat and constructive he’ll feel!
Come to think of it, how about getting some psychotherapy? I don’t see why Snuggles can’t take a break from kvetching and talk to a psychotherapist who can help him understand it’s his own thoughts and feelings at fault here.
This leads me to the big reveal: The problem I alluded to earlier – the doozie – is really nothing other than “off-loading responsibility” – i.e., trying to pin the blame for your mental problems on some external factor instead of looking the situation squarely in the eyes, and blaming yourself. That’s the real “big problem” in law, and why, right from the start, in presenting the story of Snuggles, I pointed out the absolute necessity of his taking responsibility for his situation and solving his own mental problems by accepting blame for them.
I think we’ll all agree cruel, abusive medical testing laboratories might not be our favorite thing to think about, but they also aren’t going away any time soon, and these outfits, for better or worse, are an obvious necessity, and play a crucial role in our society. Instead of dumping all the blame on the laboratory for locking him in a tiny cage, exposing him to electrical shocks and beating him mercilessly, Snuggles would be better off taking solid, practical steps – upbeat, constructive steps – to address his mental health failings. That goes for the other puppies locked in cages around Snuggles, too, who complain of symptoms of anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts.
Sure, maybe the fact that they have all developed the same symptoms living under identical conditions “suggests a path forward for future research”…but who has time for that? For all we know – and this is a very real possibility – their mental health failings result from vaccinations they received as newborns. What we need to accept is that no one has an answer right now as to why Snuggles and other puppies like him are anxious, depressed, suicidal wrecks. It’s a profound mystery, and we might never have an answer. The key, moving forward, is to stay upbeat and constructive! That means demanding that Snuggles and his fellow puppies stop dishing out blame and do something to cure themselves.
Now, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with lawyers? I guess it’s growing obvious that I’m making a point here by utilizing an allegory (or metaphor or simile or whatever.) Because, just like Snuggles, lawyers seem to be suffering (for complex reasons as yet unidentified) from a widespread outbreak of anxiety, depression and suicidality. Luckily, with the exception of a few whiners (mostly losers who couldn’t cut it in biglaw and slunk off to write pointless, repetitious, whiny downer columns attacking their own profession) your average lawyer has enough common sense to realize the problem lies squarely with only one person: himself.
Okay, so some law school convinced you (at the age of 23) to borrow a quarter of a million dollars to stay in school for another three years studying pointless arcana, then dumped you into a job market that left you hopelessly unemployed and saddled with lifelong non-dischargeable debt or in a hateful job working for sadists who force you to toil all day, night and weekends at tedious, meaningless drudgery for money that will go, for at least another decade, directly to a bank to repay loans. I still think we’ll all agree whining and complaining are unproductive activities. The answer lies in being upbeat and constructive about your situation, and that means taking ownership of it instead of trying to offload responsibility for your own failings.
Law firms are a necessary part of our society, and there’s no point blaming them just because they grind living beings to dust and trade human suffering for money to line millionaires’ wallets. It’s hardly their fault you’re whining and complaining instead of devising upbeat, constructive solutions for your mental failings.
No one’s stopping you from eating more kale, or taking a minute to do mindfulness meditation or learning to be spiritual. And how hard is it to swallow a handful of pills?
Own your narrative! Quit acting like some beaten puppy who blames the person beating him, instead of taking responsibility for being beaten. At very least, see a therapist. If he turns out to be some low-energy loser who lacks tools to help you manage your anxiety and depression, and tries to shift the blame by whining about your “poor work/life balance,” “toxic work environment” or “shattered financial prospects”…find another therapist, one who’s upbeat and constructive.
And eat more damn kale.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)
My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls
in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance