Sunday, August 31, 2014

What People Waiting for Bar Results Really, Really Wish You Knew

For all of us who took the bar exam in July, here are some things we desperately need and want the people in our lives to understand--to really, truly understand, not to just give a quick nod to while continuing to reassure us that they're "sure we passed the bar." I've tried to explain what I'm about to write about to some people before, but most people believe it's so farfetched and unlikely that they don't really listen. Well, I speak for most bar-takers out there when I say we need you to really listen. Forgive me if I get too long-winded in this post, but I just need to say all this. These are many of the emotions that my friends and I have been keeping to ourselves for weeks, and it would help for others to understand them more.

First, I know you are trying to support me and encourage me when you say you are sure that I passed. I am so grateful that you care and that you understand what a big deal this is for my life and my future and that you are remembering that I am in a time of waiting and willing to encourage me in it. Second, I know that statistically speaking, I probably did pass the bar. 85% of first-time takers in this state do, and coupling that with the fact that I did pretty well in law school and studied incredibly hard, it makes sense that I would be in that 85% when results come out on October 24th. And I know that this is not the kind of test where you feel like you passed when you're done with it. You're going to feel like you failed, whether you actually did or not. I get that. But.

I need you to know that I do not feel like I passed the bar exam. At all. There's no way for me to feel otherwise about a test where I didn't know the majority of the answers, as was the case on the bar. This is not like undergrad when you've barely studied for something and you're like, "I am so totally going to fail my calculus test!" No, this is like, I know I'm smart and I know I studied as hard as I could but when results come back, they may not be good. I may have failed the bar exam. It is a very real possibility, and I need people in my life to understand that. I'm not overreacting and I'm not jumping to conclusions. This test is not about being smart and it's not about working hard. It's arbitrary, and every year, lots of people who barely cracked a book in law school pass while many who studied as hard as they could fail. It happens, so it's not a reassurance to hear that I "worked hard" or "am smart." It's just not, because those things don't matter on the bar exam.

And I need people to understand the next component of this--what will almost invariably happen if I fail the bar. This part holds true for almost anyone who is currently employed by a law firm and waiting on bar results. This is not a test for a "grade" that goes on your transcript or something. If it were, then it really wouldn't be worth losing any sleep over. No, this is a test that determines whether I and many other recent law grads get to keep our jobs. For all who may misunderstand, I'm not worried about "getting an F on my transcript" or a "fail" on my record because of the bar. Not at all, and it doesn't work that way anyway. I'm worried about losing my job--that's why this feels like the biggest deal ever. I love my job, so much, but I will in all likelihood lose my job immediately if I get bad results back from the bar exam. My bosses are so very nice and would feel so bad about it and I know that, but the bottom line is, no small law firm can afford to keep you on if you don't have a law license. It's not about whether they like you or not or whether they want to give you another chance or not--small law firms can't afford to give people another chance.

So for everyone saying it wouldn't be the end of the world even if I fail, well, it feels like it kind of would. I know life would go on and I would find a way to deal with it, but for people in my situation, it's not always helpful to have everyone tell us, "Oh, I'm totally sure you passed." I need you to know that I might not have passed. And if I do pass, it's not a foregone conclusion and will be the biggest relief/ surprise EVER. If I don't pass, I will almost definitely lose my job on October 24th, not to mention all the money and time I poured into the bar exam. And that's hard to think about. It's hard to plan for things that happen after October 24th, because I don't know if I'm going to have an income after that date or if I will be able to continue living in this city or this apartment after that time. I need people to understand that, and when they ask me whether I can do certain things in November or December, I honestly don't know because I honestly don't know what my employment status will be then or where I will be living. I know people think I will loosen up financially as soon as I start getting paychecks from the firm, but what they probably don't know is that I am saving every dime I can of those paychecks so I can have a cushion if my job only lasts for 8 weeks total. It would be completely irresponsible for me not to do this.

And this has nothing to do with not trusting God enough. I believe that God is in control and will do what is best for me. Period. But that doesn't mean I passed the bar exam. Planning for what will happen if I fail the bar exam doesn't mean I don't trust God. If you knew there was a very real possibility you'd lose your job on October 24th, you'd plan for it too, and it doesn't make you a bad Christian. I am loving my life right now--my new place, my new job, all these new possibilities. But I can't escape the possibility that I may be asked to give up every bit of that in eight weeks, and there's nothing that I can do about it. And I know that God will provide and will meet my needs, but just realistically speaking, I don't know how I'm going to provide for myself or pay my rent if I get bad results from the bar. I think I also speak for fellow law grads in the waiting game when I say that I'm scared to get too attached to my new life right now, because I'm scared I won't be able to keep any of it. I know that I am here for a reason and in this job for a reason, and I really can't imagine that it would be part of God's plan for me to lose the job He's worked miracles to enable me to have after just a couple of months. I really can't imagine that and it would make no sense and no, I don't actually think that He has that in mind. He knows that all I want right now is to be here and that I feel that His calling on my life is for me to be here for the very long term, not just for a few weeks.

But He is God and I am not. I don't get to control God's plan, and He's not obligated to act in ways that make sense to me. In fact, if God only did things in my life that made sense to me at the time, I can tell you that I would not be here right now because it took things in my life that made NO sense to get me here in the first place. It will make no sense to me if I fail the bar. I'll be wondering why God would lead me all this way only to have me lose everything I've been given in this new place. I'll wonder how it could possibly be God's best for me to lose what I prayed and prayed and prayed for, because did I ever pray for this.

But again--He is God and I am not. That's just all there is to it. He is in control, and I am not. I don't get to dictate God's plan. I am so hopeful that in a couple months I can look back on this post knowing that I passed and that everything is going to be okay, and I will tell you all the results no matter what happens! But there you have it--this is what all of us who took the bar a month ago need the people who care about us to understand.

Time to Be a Career Woman

I started work at the law firm on Monday and in six days, it feels like my life has completely changed. I've gotten used to putting on a suit/ pantyhose/ heels every morning, driving to work, making my coffee and reading the paper, and getting settled into my fourteenth-floor office. I have met a ton of new people and more or less learned my way around the office, or at least the parts I really need to know for my purposes. The domestic relations group is all on the same hall, and really as long as I know who and where everybody is in my practice group, I'll be good to go. I've been to a mediation already this week and will be going to court with D. first thing Tuesday morning. They want me to go to as many depositions, mediations, and court appearances as possible in the first few months, to go to a few family law classes and seminars, to draft some pleadings, to do a lot of reading geared toward my practice area, etc. They've put me in charge of providing email updates to the whole firm every other week about recent case law developments in our practice areas, so I've started keeping lists of all that information to have on hand. I've learned how to use our billing software and our research databases and been practicing with both. And then I've been coming home and trying to go for a run and then falling into bed exhausted by approximately 10:45 pm every night, which is so early, but after getting up at 6:30 am, I am tired.

I am joining all these groups like the Young Lawyers' Division of the American Bar Association and a volunteer lawyers' group and am planning to go to all their events, like family law section breakfasts and movie nights and wine tastings, to meet people and to network. I want to be that girl who brings in a HUGE case for the firm approximately two weeks after getting started, and you can't meet potential clients if you don't join groups and put yourself out there. I'm also hoping to join a gym or a running club and to start doing volunteer work, because those are the places where the potential clients will be.

So, I love my job and I can't believe I actually get to work at this firm and in this place. This is definitely what I have wanted for a long, long time, and it's everything I thought it would be. And it feels so good to love a job and to be truly excited for Monday (well, this week, for Tuesday because we have off for Labor Day). I haven't always loved my law-firm jobs, but I had a feeling that this one was going to work out, and it sure seems that way. I can't hide how excited I am about the next few months. I've already practically filled my calendar up with events to try out in the city in the next couple of months (I reasoned that I have no friends here yet besides emerging work friendships, so I may as well go to these events, since I'm guessing that's a pretty good way to make friends). Stay tuned for some more posts to come on: developing soft skills in the workplace, why I won't let people judge me for being (gasp!) a divorce attorney, and how to stay sane while waiting for bar results. Have a great Sunday!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Almost Done Moving!

Moving is a lot of work, friends. A LOT of work. Although I had a moving company help me with my furniture and some boxes of things, they didn't move most of my other stuff, like everything in the kitchen and bathroom and random stuff left in the bedroom that I really can only categorize as junk. Yesterday I spent all day hauling baskets and bags of the remaining stuff to my car, DEEP cleaning and scrubbing and disinfecting and vacuuming pretty much everything in my old apartment, and dragging huge bags of trash to the Dumpster. Today, I am moving all of those same baskets and bags up two flights of stairs (no elevator here) and into my new place and taking a break now to write this post. So, needless to say, I am giving myself a free pass to not work out for both yesterday and today, although I will probably go running tonight anyway because I am dying to use my new running app I just got that tracks my mileage (smart phones are an amazing thing).

But even though these past two days have not been particularly fun, the good part is that I am basically done moving in now and no longer have to keep going back and forth over and over between my old place and here. Just in general, I have driven back and forth between those two cities what feels like about 1,000 times over the past year and a half for various things, and I am so glad that I just LIVE here now and don't have to go on a huge drive every time I need or want to do something here. It is such a great feeling. It's also a really great feeling to know that, at least in terms of my living space, the transition has more or less been made already. I just have a few things left to unpack and put away, but we're starting to get pictures on the walls and real dishes in the cabinets and magnets on the fridge and it actually looks like I live here now. It will be good to get fully settled in with the living situation because the next big transition is starting work on Monday and taking a stab at developing a social life/ making friends, which means I need to be getting some suits dry cleaned, getting my nails done, and just generally getting myself ready to go. I feel like if I'm not together for my first day, I may never be together for my new job, so I need to get my ducks in a row now!

Over the weekend I went down to Florida to visit Catherine and her husband Craig, and we had such a good time. I got to see their beautiful new home and we just had a great, low-key weekend. One thing I love about that friendship is that we don't have to do a lot of stuff or spend hardly any money to have a good time. Some of our most fun times together in law school involved simply going running together or making dinner together and watching movies. Our Friday night involved making brownies and playing chess and a marathon Scrabble game, and we spent most of the day Saturday going to thrift stores. So it was a lot of fun, and now I'm back and enjoying a few final days of relaxing before the big day on Monday. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's High Time for Christians to Stop Demonizing Mental Illness

Today, I decided it was time to finally join the 21st century and get an iPhone. This is my first smart phone ever, and I knew I had to get one now because it's just expected in the work force. It's not an excuse to be like, "I'm sorry, I didn't get your email yet because I was in court with no Internet access for three hours." That's like saying to your boss, "I'm sorry, I can't type up that memo because I don't have a computer." Well then get one and figure it out, because it's expected of you. So I got one. And I really like my new phone. It's lime green (just like my car). But I digress.

Christian at the Apple store helped me get the phone all set up. He was really cute and nice and I was secretly hoping I might walk out of the store with a phone and a date. We had a lot of down time waiting for my contacts to get imported and for AT&T to run a credit check on me and so forth, so Christian and I started talking about Robin Williams' suicide yesterday. I told him that I hope the good that might come out of this is to raise awareness about how big of a deal mental illness and depression really are, and how misunderstood they tend to be in our society. Then this afternoon, I read this article by Matt Walsh and it made me mad. I am not trying to attack Matt Walsh because he has written a lot of articles before that make me want to say, "Thank you for speaking truth when no one else would dare to do so!" And I'm more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wrote this article from a well-meaning place. But what he actually wrote? It does nothing but shame people--Christians in particular--who suffer from depression and mental illness (and this blog post is going to focus on depression primarily as it affects Christians). Frankly, it's this sort of ignorant, condescending junk that makes many Christians so afraid to seek treatment for mental illness or to even admit to others that they think they might be struggling with it. And I don't normally say things like that, but this needs to be said. For all my fellow Christians out there reading, we all need to sit down together, pour ourselves some after-dinner coffee, and have a long chat about this topic. It's high time.

First of all, I am tired of the church acting like people who have depression have spiritual problems, have inadequate spiritual lives, or just need to have more of the joy of the Lord in their lives because "joy and depression can't coexist." It doesn't exactly work that way, and it's called clinical depression for a reason--because it is a DISEASE. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain, not a sign that you are a spiritual failure. And ultimately, what is the purpose of us getting on our high horses and being like, "Well, so-and-so has a spiritual issue or he wouldn't be so sad" or "So-and-so needs to have more joy in her heart"? This makes Christians who are depressed feel like they are failing spiritually in addition to the mental and emotional pain they already feel, and it probably makes them want to say, "Thanks a lot for making me feel even worse!" It is incredibly painful when fellow Christians call your faith into question or act like you are doing things all wrong in your walk with the Lord, or when they act like your spiritual shortcomings are the cause of your problems. That hurts, and why would we want to pile more pain onto Christians who are already knee-deep in the darkness of clinical depression? It's beyond me.

And maybe we wouldn't be so quick to make these stupid snap judgments about people with mental illness if we 1) had actually experienced it ourselves, or 2) had watched a loved one or friend experience it. It is so easy to speak from your place of having a healthy mind, "Suicide is a choice. Depression is a choice. If so-and-so really wanted to, he/ she could get better." Right. I understand that for people who hurt or kill themselves because of depression, no one makes them cut themselves, or overdose on the pills, or engage in any other act that brings about self-harm. And in all cases, it is tragic. But do we really believe that people who decide that life is so empty and meaningless and painful that they want to kill themselves are capable of rational decision-making about the acts of self-harm or suicide? I don't think so. It's too easy to say that suicide is a "choice" that someone should never make. But I believe that when mental illness reaches certain levels, it can lead people to do things that, in the moment, are not really their "choices" and do not emerge from a rational, thought-out decision. This is just another way to shame people with mental illness, and guess what? It is exactly this sort of demonizing of mental illness in the Church that makes so many Christians afraid to even admit to others that maybe, just maybe, they need help. For those who have never experienced the depths of mental illness, there is simply no way for them to understand what people go through who have suffered from it.

Along those lines, we need to stop saying that suicide is selfish. I've heard this my entire life, and I understand where this is coming from--it's easy to assume that someone who decides to end their life, leaving those who love them to grieve, is making a selfish choice. But again, I don't believe it's really a "choice" to someone with severe mental illness, at least not in the way mentally healthy people define "choices," and I think we are sorely mistaken to assume that suicidal or deeply depressed individuals go to the extremes they may go to because they're being "selfish." They just want their pain to stop. If you were in unrelenting physical pain, you would probably do just about anything to make it stop, wouldn't you? How would you feel if people told you, "You're being selfish by wanting to make this pain stop?" Is it really that different when people suffer from the constant emotional pain of mental illness? Most of us don't have any clue what it would be like to wake up morning after morning, for months and years at a time, feeling like life was meaningless and devoid of any pleasure and joy--yet this is exactly what many clinically depressed people experience. Who are we to say they are selfish for wanting to make their pain stop? But for the grace of God any one of us could be in that boat at any time. And I am not trying to say that people who are contemplating suicide have no options--I'm just trying to say that for most people in that situation, it probably doesn't really feel like they have a "choice." They don't need the world to be on their case about being selfish--they need help.

The church also must stop acting as if depressed people just need to pray about their condition or be prayed for. I am a huge believer in the power of prayer. Prayer is not a last resort. It is a first resort. As long as you can pray, you will never be in a situation where you are "powerless" to do anything, because you can pray. With all that said, I don't believe that prayer was ever meant to be a be-all and end-all that gets us off the hook from taking action to solve problems. Prayer was never meant to be an excuse to sit back and do nothing; it was never meant to be a spiritual Band-Aid that we slap on someone's gaping emotional wound; and it was never meant as a free pass to not take actions to help ourselves. And many times God clearly shows us courses of action that can help us "answer our own prayers," in a way. Let me give you an example to show what I mean by that--praying about my finances or for God to provide for my needs is not a free pass for me not to have a budget and save some of my money each paycheck. And in this context, the answer to prayers for mentally ill people is very often going to be medication, therapy, or both. Prayer by itself is not the same as treatment. Prayer was never intended to be a substitute for practical solutions. Can you pray about being physically healthy? Of course, but if you expect those prayers to be effective, you're going to need to eat right and exercise too. So we as a Church need to stop acting as if depressed people just need to "pray" about their condition more. Prayer is a wonderful thing, but God sometimes provides us with the answers to our own prayers in the form of treatment, and it's ok to use it! It's not like saying that you don't believe prayer is powerful enough or that you don't trust God to heal you.

What do we as believers have to gain by demonizing mental illness in other believers? Does it help make people who suffer feel better? Or does it just allow some people to feel all high and mighty from a place of, "Thank God I've never suffered from that"? These attitudes have gone on long enough and they need to stop. In fact, they have to stop if we want to see change on the way the Church handles mental illness. I desperately want to see that change. I want to see it in my lifetime. I'd love to see it now! Have you ever wondered why our churches often tend to have such a high percentage of people in the most dire stages of mental illness? Maybe it's because these people should have sought treatment long ago, and could have improved their condition by doing so, but never did because they were terrified that, on top of everything else, they'd get marked as a "bad Christian" if they did. I'm over it. Let's end these damaging attitudes. Where is the grace to be found in heaping judgment and shame on people who experience a private pain that many of us will never begin to understand? And I think we're called to be a people of grace.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

2-Week Staycation Starting Now!

Well, I got back from my three days of being a beach bum on Tybee Island a couple days ago and it was amazing. I feel like all I did was swim, walk on the beach, sleep, do my pleasure reading (I am reading The Associate by John Grisham right now and it is SO good), and eat, especially the excellent gelato sold at this little shop right by the beach. This is probably my favorite vacation spot of all, and I always come back so renewed/ refreshed. I've also been feeling so refreshed in general because I have slept better in the last 10 days than I have all summer--no more staying awake till 3am unable to stop thinking, or waking up at 5am from yet another crazy dream, as was the case on a number of nights this summer.

Then bright and early on Thursday morning, I officially got all my furniture and most of my other things moved into my new apartment. I have a few things left to pack up plus I need to clean (and I have a feeling that will take WAY longer than I think--you probably know how that goes), but once it's done, I can turn in my old keys and officially turn over my new leaf. Honestly, I was getting kind of scared as the moving guys loaded all my furniture onto the truck and as I followed them to my new place on Thursday--because moving for me is taking an unequivocal step toward a new life. It's like jumping into the deep end and hoping you'll be able to stay afloat, because there's no going back. It's getting rid of the safety net and just moving forward in faith that you're doing the right thing, even if it freaks you out.

But I really love my new apartment (not least because this is the first place I've ever lived in that I've actually chosen for myself) and I am now in the process of getting settled in. I have all the furniture where I want it and am hanging pictures, unpacking boxes and bags, getting some actual food in my fridge, etc. I will post pictures when everything is more or less in its place. I got the Internet set up yesterday, and I love how 1) it actually works reliably, and 2) I have wireless in every room in the apartment, including my bedroom, so I can write this blog post while laying in my bed on a relaxing Saturday morning. At my old place, the Internet went out all the time and was never available in any room except the living room, so I couldn't write or get work done in the bedroom if I so chose. I am loving that, and that there's a gym and pool right here, and that I can drive five minutes down the road and be at the mall if I want to be. I only go to that mall to window shop because I can't afford anything there, and even if I could, I am one of those people who still can't imagine paying for a designer purse/ designer clothes/ designer anything, but it's still really fun to look.

The gym here is nice and I'm sure I'll use it sometimes, but I'm also going to look into getting a gym membership somewhere so I can have access to more machines and equipment and also go to fitness classes. I'm getting ready to start getting short "trial memberships" at different gyms and going to a couple of free classes to see which ones I like best. There's a few gyms here that offer kettlebell classes, and I really want to try one because I read about them in Women's Health and they sound like a great workout. I haven't really been eating great or exercising too often over this summer with studying and all, so I am really ready to jump back into a healthier lifestyle.

And now, I still have two weeks off because I don't start work till the 25th. I can't remember the last time I had this much time off--probably in college sometime--so I'm excited about having time to get refreshed, to explore and get used to things here, to decorate, to read, to work out, etc. I know that new associate life is very demanding and I'll be grateful for the time of refreshment beforehand as soon as I get started! Next weekend I am going to Florida for "Lauren and Catherine do Tallahassee." (Which should be very interesting . . . my law school BFF and I can always find an adventure).

More to come soon!