This week Angela was heartbroken by the news she lost a client to suicide. She again shares this message about depression and seeking help.
The morning my divorce decree would be signed, I lay in bed on a tear-soaked pillow feeling like I could stay there the rest of my life. That dull morning, I could have sworn three hundred pounds of weight was stacked on top of me.
It felt gray and sad and shameful to get divorced. The light in my eye was snuffed out and had been for some time. For the last year, leading up to and during my divorce, my expressions were muted and my stature slumped. I spent the year prior to this day grieving and reeling from the divorce process and today the final document was going to be signed. It brought little relief.
I remember hours and hours playing a mind-numbing Wii puzzle game in those first days when my girls were away from me as I tried to ignore my sadness. I recall mornings waking up with the tears already leaking down my face. There were days when my only meals were bowls of Frosted Flakes. Brushing my teeth at the end of the day was a dreaded chore. I was overall sluggish. I was depressed. I was on anti-depressants. I was horribly sad. I was seeing a counselor. I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that I had never experienced.
I remember all the lethargy that accompanied that year of divorce. Notwithstanding the constant feeling that my feet were being pulled down by quicksand, I couldn’t let my life stop. I still had a law firm to run, bills to pay, clients to care for, and daughters to parent. I look back now and feel amazed that I got through it.
I have yet to find a client who doesn’t experience depression on some level during the divorce process. I have yet to find a client who doesn’t report some sleepless nights. I have yet to find a client who goes through divorce anxiety-free.
One woman told me about her year leading up to scheduling an appointment to discuss divorce. Her husband’s drinking had resumed with a troubling frequency, she had lost both of her parents within months of each other, and she had faced a diagnosis of cancer. Depression was nearly an afterthought to all that she had been managing. She was worried about her husband and her safety. She was grieving the loss of her parents. She was terrified about how she would manage her health with a now neglectful husband and with her only family now gone. All the while, she was also raising their three school-age children.
I asked if she sought counseling support for her mental health. She said no. I asked if she was taking an sleep aids to help her get the rest she desperately needed. She said no. I asked her if she was taking an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication. She said no. My eyes widened as I asked her how she was surviving every day. Tears welled in hers as she replied she was afraid that the court may judge her for needing help and that custody of her children would then be at risk.
More clients than I can count have looked at me with worry when telling me that they suspect depression. They are worried it will impact their case.
The stigma attached to depression, even in the midst of going through divorce when depression may be expected, causes reluctance for us to be truth tellers about our struggles. We hide it. Yet I know from helping hundreds of clients, and from my own circumstances, that depression is more likely than not to impact you or someone you know.
The importance of addressing depression and anxiety is critical during a time in which your energy must be used efficiently and wisely. You are not only getting yourself up and through these days, but your children as well. If you are ignoring your mental health and failing to rest and restore your energy, you will likely be ineffective in supporting your children to manage their own. Remember the wise advice from the airlines: Always put your oxygen mask on before assisting your children.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the courts will applaud parents who seek support for themselves and their children to manage these difficult transition days. They will place more judgment on a household where suddenly a child’s grades are slipping or there are reports of behavior outbursts because a parent has stayed in silent suffering, consequently causing an appearance of neglect.
Think back to my client. Do you hold judgment for her in experiencing depression and anxiety? Would you condemn her for seeing a counselor? The judge is no less human than we are and would look at her situation with the same compassion. However the judge would only be able to do so if she was courageous enough to admit to the hardness of her days.
We must find the courage to get support. Tell the truth about how you are feeling. Tell a family member, a friend, your lawyer, a counselor, or a trusted advisor. Don’t be embarrassed by it or hide from it. It is expected and normal during this time of intense change and grief.