How I made my mental illness my superpower
"Having had those experiences has made me the person I am, and the lawyer I am today."
I have had various diagnoses, which is common with mental health conditions and are cheerfully called ‘co- morbidities’! The one that I would categorise as primary is a Pure O form OCD. Which is where you get the obsessions, but not the compulsions. My obsessions can span from the mundane, such as have I gone out and left the iron on to the extreme in becoming convinced I will become a victim of a terror attack and having the disturbing imagery associated with it, play on repeat in my head. We all have extreme and irrational thoughts from time to time, the difference is that I can’t process them in a ‘normal’ fashion. The iron for example would lead me to believe that I had set the house alight, if I saw an ambulance that would be because I had I injured someone in the resulting fire and so on. The medication I take, prevents an irrational fear turning into a full blown obsession which prevents me from getting out of bed at it’s worst. It’s a nasty illness, but now I feel like I control it, rather than it controlling me.
It may seem like an odd concept and don’t get me wrong, my mental illnesses have caused me to go to some very dark and disturbing places, but I do believe that my mental illness is my superpower.
"Having had those experiences has made me the person I am, and the lawyer I am today. "
I feel that going through those challenges has allowed me to develop an emotional intelligence that no University course could ever teach. I have found that being authentic and open has really enabled me not only to be my true self, but also be much more aware of others mental health and identify when they may need support or a little pep talk. My openness has really made my professional life so much richer and I am grateful and honoured when people feel able to talk to me about their own experiences as a result of me sharing mine. For years I hid my mental illness at work for fear of judgement and hindering my career. But by doing this you end up making it worse, not only are you dealing with the challenge of the illness itself, but the shame of it and the pressure of hiding it as well.
I find it interesting that people often say now I am the last person they would think had a mental illness, but I do understand that as I ‘present’ very differently. I am loud and bubbly and wear bright clothing. And none of this is disingenuous, it is possible to be happy, confident and smiley sometimes and at other points be really quite unwell- mental illness for me is not a constant state of misery, thank goodness, it’s a continuum. While I am certain that certain areas of the profession wouldn’t see my vulnerabilities as an asset, I am privileged to work for a company who do and with whom I am an active member of their mental health employee representative group and have been encouraged to speak at staff events and contribute to staff training. I passionately believe that fostering a workplace that enables staff to be honest about their mental ill health is essential.
We need to remember that none of us are robots and human emotion is a natural part of life. Emotions are also what most powerfully connects us as humans and therefore, in a profession where we have to connect with and represent people, it is important to harness this and utilise it as part of our practice.
Real stories of people in the legal community who have experienced stress, depression, anxiety and more.