Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – An individual’s experience

Dealing with low self-esteem and anxiety

Although lawyers get paid to deal with highly stressful situations, I think there is a misconception that lawyers are, by default, more resilient than others. In reality, we all deal with stress in different ways, and it is nothing to be ashamed of if you are struggling at home, university or work. Personally, I have struggled with low self-esteem, anxious thoughts and negative mind-sets. Of course, I didn’t know I had these problems until, after years of struggling but not being able to put my finger on it, I finally reached out and asked for help.

A few years ago I was ready to give up, but now I have a First Class law degree, a distinction on the LPC and I am about to qualify as a lawyer. I don’t say this to brag, but to show that people can still achieve great things despite facing emotional and mental health issues.

The journey to becoming a lawyer has probably been the most stressful part of my career so far, ironically more so than practicing law. There is the pressure to get a vacation scheme, a training contract and to achieve a 2:1 or above. When others at university got onto vacation schemes and I didn’t, I took it personally, compared myself to them and wondered what was wrong with me. When I eventually secured a training contract (after around 25 applications over 2 years!), I was terrified of failing the LPC which came with the potential of paying back my LPC fees which I couldn’t afford and finding something else to do with my life. I was terribly afraid of rejection and failure, and constantly thought about ‘backup plans’ should I not achieve everything I set out to achieve. I wanted to achieve so much that I would stop doing things such as eating, washing my hair and seeing my friends, as I felt I didn’t have enough hours in a day to study and that if I failed it would be because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was really struggling but I was afraid that if I spoke up, my tutors and/or my future employer would think that I couldn’t cope and that I didn’t have the right personality for a career in law. Now I know that my fears were completely irrational, but at the time they were frightfully real and kept me awake at night.

I let this pressure and worry build up over weeks and months and years, until it got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t carry on and that I needed help. I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I spoke to my law school who paid for and put me in touch with a counsellor who really helped me to overcome the issues I was facing. The main thing for me was that I had a confidential and safe space in which to communicate my feelings and worries without being judged. If you are in a similar position to me, please know that if you ask for help that it is completely confidential and you will certainly not get a ‘black mark’ against your name. My counsellor helped me get to the root of many of my problems which were manifesting themselves in different ways in my life. Although I can’t say that all of my issues have ‘disappeared’, I have learned to love who I am and to try and be the best version of myself by renewing my thinking. Speaking with a counsellor taught me a lot of coping mechanisms which really helped me to achieve good grades in my exams and to deal with the pressures of work and general life on a day to day basis.

I am really glad that the stigma around mental health is being challenged by campaigns and people sharing their stories. I was scared to ask for help, but when I did eventually ask, it benefitted me in so many ways and I am 100% a better lawyer for it. I have spent most of my life worrying about things that haven’t happened, but now I have ways to deal with these irrational worries and can concentrate on becoming a better lawyer. I hope my journey inspires you if you are struggling with any form of emotional or mental health issues. If you take anything from this, if you need to speak to someone, do not be ashamed, and please ask for help.