Eighteen months ago, I was in a pretty low place. I was still posting to the blog about the girls, but there were also a lot of ‘private’ posts where I vaguely wrote about how much my life sucked. About how worthless I thought I was. About how I was depressed with no good reason for it and if I would just be a better person I would snap out of it. I was depressed. Really depressed. Days when continuing to breathe in and out seemed like too much effort depressed. You know, I threw 18 months in there just to give it a number. Looking back now, I think I can say I was depressed for years.
I was seeing a therapist. There were plenty of side-shows that I could bring up in our discussions, but most of my issues came down to my job.
“I can’t decide if I’m depressed because I hate the practice of law, or if I hate the practice of law because I’m depressed.” This conversation circled around and around, week after week.
“It’s that office,” my therapist finally said. “It’s that office and you need to start becoming open to the idea of leaving.”
“Oh, I’m open to the idea of it,” I would laugh. I was so, SO open to the idea of leaving. I would envision myself skipping through my office, gleefully dropping letters of resignation on all the partner’s chairs. And then I would explain why none of it was possible. “It’s not fair to my family for me to take a pay cut. I don’t think I even want to practice law any more and if I’m not practicing law then I’m a disappointment. That office is so dysfunctional that I can get away with being a bad employee there and no one notices. No other firm would hire me. I don’t do good work. I’m lazy. No one in their right mind should hire me.”
Depression. It’s such a filthy liar. It will stare you right in the eye and confidently tell you any lie that keeps you stuck.
We spent a lot of time discussing change. About how you start small. “If you start with ‘I need to change careers,’ you’ll become paralyzed by the size of it,” she explained. “Start small. Just one change. It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with your job. Just change something. Anything.”
She would give me homework each week. Little changes. Some would stick. Most would not. But the point was that I was shifting things around. Testing and preparing for something bigger. One week my homework was to schedule some time off work that didn’t revolve around the girls being sick, or a quasi-required visit with family. Just time off work because. Just because. The next week I told her that I had booked a flight to visit my best friend in Seattle. I even scheduled it around my birthday as a gift to myself.
“That’s great,” she said. “I think that will be really fantastic for you.”
It wasn’t. And yet, it was. That night in a Thai restaurant in Seattle happened one year ago today. That night, as clichéd as it sounds, changed my life in ways that only something like that can. It brought home that life is short. So, breathtakingly short. And it can be over long before you are ready. As I came home from Seattle and struggled to get back into my old routine, I realized it was way, way, WAY too fucking short to spend any more time languishing in my own unhappiness.
Change, like falling in love, is one of those things that happens slowly, and then all at once. I’d been putting in the hard work with my therapist to get ready, but that visit to Seattle was my tipping point.
I still thought the job at the firm was something I was supposed to want, but I didn’t. So the problem behind my depression had to be that I hated the practice of law and needed to find something else. When I came back from Seattle, I started talking to everyone. “What do you do? Do you like what you do? Could I do it too?” Seriously. Everyone. I was practically asking people about their work in the checkout line at the grocery store. Going through all of that on the blog seemed like a good way to get fired, so I stopped blogging.
Along the way, through a friend of a friend of an acquaintance’s friend, I met an attorney who had left her big-firm job to sell real estate. She and I hit it off. Her work sounded appealing. I thought I could make it work. It was the ticket I needed to give me the okay to walk out the door of the law firm job I still thought I was supposed to want. I was going to quit practicing law and become a real estate agent.
As it turns out, this idea scared the shit out of D. For some really practical reasons that involve keeping electricity running to our house. As a compromise, I reluctantly agreed to keep a reduced law practice going, just out of our house, just enough to help us make ends meet, and just until the real estate thing really started going. By New Years Eve I had left the law firm, started a solo law practice out of my home office, and was going through the steps to get my license to sell real estate.
Here’s another funny thing about change when you’re depressed: Even when you don’t get it right, you still end up better off than where you were.
One year later, I can tell you that it wasn’t the practice of law, or that I am a horrible person who just needs to get her shit together – Turns out it was that office after all. Turns out, I actually like practicing law when it’s on my own terms. Turns out I’m actually pretty good at this whole lawyering business and that every single one of my clients from the firm wanted to come with me. Turns out selling real estate is fine, and I’m enjoying trying something new, but, turns out, it was also just a crutch that I needed to get me out the door of my firm. Turns out, I’d probably be happy doing just about anything that is not in that office. I never would have known any of that if I hadn’t just taken the leap and started making the scary changes.
It seems insulting to say that it took my best friend almost dying in a restaurant half a continent away to make me realize that I had the power to effect my own happiness. But, there you have it. It is what it is. Twelve months later and I barely recognize the person I was a twelve months and one day ago. I’ll let Amy tell her own stories, but I think she feels similarly.
I was texting with her this afternoon:
Me: “It was awful. But, maybe part of it was okay, too? I don’t know. Maybe it just was.”
Amy: “I think it was one of those awful things that strengthened and empowered us. Let’s never do that again.”
Agreed. I’m so grateful she’s still here. I’m so grateful that I’m not where I was any more. I’m grateful. But I get it now. Let’s never do that again.