Mental ill health can creep up on you, without you realising what is happening
"I had just turned 40 when I finally acknowledged I was unwell. Looking back now, from a position of greater self-knowledge, I think my own mental health problems probably began in the difficult teenage years. Left largely untreated, I ploughed on through school and university, striving to be the best I could be."
When I qualified, I moved to London from a different part of the country. The weight of responsibility, as an assistant solicitor, hit me like a freight train. With little help or support, and no-one outside friends and family to whom I felt I could confess my terror of messing up, I battled on.
With greater experience came more confidence, and I eventually made it to partnership. Of course, that meant more responsibility, a heavier caseload and greater pressure to continue to perform. The answer, I thought, was simply to put in more hours. My working day grew longer, my weekends shorter and my holidays, much less relaxing.
"Despite sacrificing so much of my time to work, I seemed to become less, rather than more efficient. My sleep pattern became disturbed. Sunday nights would be the worst. I would wake, in the early hours, churning through my schedule for the week ahead, worrying about how I was going to get through it all. Sleep eluded me, so that gave me something else to worry about. Would I be sharp enough to handle the challenges and pressures in front of me? "
Shortly before my fortieth birthday, I hit the buffers. All the joy seemed to have been stripped from my life and I could hardly face getting out of bed in the morning. I took myself off to my GP, who diagnosed depression. Despite all the warning signs, I was nevertheless surprised to receive that diagnosis.
After a course of counselling, I began to feel better. It was such a relief to talk frankly and to give voice to all the negative thoughts which I had internalised for so long. Unfortunately, however, all progress was derailed, about ten years later, by the onset of the menopause. It was, frankly, crippling. My anxiety returned tenfold, and I completely lost my confidence.
A combination of personal and professional pressures led me to conclude that I could not continue in practice. Maybe it would have been different if I had felt able to share, with colleagues, the overwhelming anxiety I was experiencing. As it was, I left the profession in my mid-fifties, never to return.
"Unfortunately, I did not become aware of LawCare until after I left the profession. When I did, I was keen to volunteer to try and help those struggling with similar issues to me. I can honestly say that, as much as I hope I have been able to help others calling into the Helpline, being a volunteer has also helped me."
In particular, I have learned how important it is to have a safe space in which to talk about and share worries or concerns. I found this in my own experience of counselling. Now, having spoken to many people on the Helpline, I truly appreciate the importance of speaking out about mental health issues when they arise. Time and again, I hear the relief in callers’ voices after they have spoken about what is troubling them.
At LawCare, all the volunteers are or were in the legal profession. It is obvious from the feedback we receive how important this is. Being able to share problems with someone who may have experienced similar or who understands the culture within many law firms and legal departments is hugely valued.
Secondly, because of working as a LawCare volunteer, I have felt able to share with callers, some of my own experiences. Speaking openly and honestly about my struggles has helped me to know myself better. I now feel more comfortable inside my own head. By keeping silent, I allowed worries to fester and grow until they became too big to manage. I have learned that it’s never too soon or too late to reach out for help.
Real stories of people in the legal community who have experienced stress, depression, anxiety and more.