Why sugar-coat the terrible things? Law school, much like the rest of your life, is tough. The strain you feel is always present and, as much as I’d like to say I am capable of compartmentalizing myself 100% of the time, that skill simply eludes me. The reading, class assignments, research trails, and networking events are a constant hum in the back of my mind. Even when I’m with you, my mind is still trying to work through problems, think of better approaches to arguments, contemplate assignments for my externship, and organize and manage a task schedule.
It’s exhausting. I’m working off a perpetual state of reserve resources, always feeling like I don’t have enough left in the tank. I didn’t expect law school to be easy, but I also didn’t expect it would feel so lonely. So many students subscribe to the “fake it ’til you make it” mentality. What does it cost us to just be upfront about our mental health?
I’ve found that when someone asks how you’re doing, the typical law student answer is “fine.” The truth is, most students refuse to be honest. Why let your colleague know you’re feeling scared, weak, tired, or defeated? Apparently, showing any signs of weakness somehow directly translate into a lower class rank.
To that notion, I say bullshit. Law school is plenty damn hard without having to bottle up every emotion and put on a pretty face. My response to peers who ask how I’m doing recently has been something along the lines of “I’m exhausted, but can’t complain. Everything seems like it’s too much, but I’m ready to get to graduation.” Why lie?
My friend Matt recently spoke with me about his own struggles and we promised we’d drag each other across the finish line; it’s only four weeks away, after all. Funnily enough, we’ve basically vented and motivated each other through these past three years. We’ve shared laughter, tears, regrets, and more coffee runs than I care to count.
Though many of my classmates and I have good relationships with each other, naturally we aren’t always best friends. I’m closer to some than others, but I do cherish them all. They’re basically family. With that in mind, it’s imperative to remember how much you need their support, as well as the simple fact that they need you too.
Burnout is real. You don’t always know when it’s happening, either. Here’s a good example:
My hair texture changed. To be clear, it thinned out. It’s seems stupid and tiny and not worth mentioning, but it happened. Three years into law school, my hair is much thinner than when I started and it’s a change I’m self-conscious about. My family noticed and (still) comments on it.
My body experiences stress, just like anyone else’s, but I didn’t recognize the need for self-care. I failed to realize my naps getting longer, my determination to finish something feeling more herculean. I was taking on too many tasks – two jobs, tutoring, mentoring, classes, clinic…and still needing time to feed and bathe myself to feel human.
Pushing forward to the next deadline was all I needed to do. Just one more day. You probably do the exact same thing. But what I’ll say is this: Take care of yourself, first. You can’t become a lawyer if you completely fall apart before the finish line. Our class is missing several people who began this educational journey with us. Failing is real. It happens. You will experience burnout. How you deal with those moments when you hit a wall is a skill you need to hone to a fine point.
My existing state centers around being happy, not because I force myself into that emotion, but because happiness is my aspirational goal. I smile and laugh all the time. Dancing around my kitchen is quite typical. Cookie batter and brownies taste better when I’m in a good mood. Happiness also sometimes means taking my dogs for a walk instead of staying in and reading more about Secured Transactions.
Learning to balance the shittiness of burnout and feeling like you’re at the end of your rope while still getting yourself through the day is challenging. I tend to feel guilty about relaxing, working out, or spending time with the people I love when I could be studying. Which is probably why a sliver of my brain continues those tasks, rather than appreciate the moment. Sorry.
We’ve got to talk about this though. You’re about to be a lawyer, accomplishing a major goal in your life. You need to lean on your support system and reach out to those resources (on or off campus) when you need them. Mental health breaks and self-care are key pieces to learning your balance. You will reach your limits in law school. Trust me on this.
Law school is a marathon. Keep up your strength, and be sure to borrow some from your friends and family when you need it. I don’t know where I would be without the amazing team cheering me on.
Your team is there for you. Your friends care, your family does, too. They may not always understand what you’re going through, the rigors of classes, the panic of searching for a job before your Bar exam, the crushing feeling of debt, or anything else you’re dealing with. They will listen though. They’ll be there for you.
You can do this. You are almost a lawyer and all this effort is worth it.