I made a mistake.
A big mistake.
I’ve been candid about my mental health journey. I was even profiled by a legal publication about my depression and its effects on my legal career. I took a year sabbatical after my articling year to focus on passing the bar and to learn coping tools for my legal career. It’s been a three year mission since 2016 to improve myself as an advocate and be an effective lawyer for my clients. I have since passed the bar and I’m ready to take on the world as a lawyer.
I realize that I’m in an exciting new stage with my career. But I also now realize that I still need to do more healing in another area of life: my friends and acquaintances.
I won’t sugarcoat this: I was selfish and towards the end of my three year mental health battle, a “meh” friend. I avoided friends’ celebrations. I avoided hanging out with friends. I became bitter, petty and salty on social media (#subtweets). I justified this behaviour to myself as protecting myself from being re-triggered and finding support from strangers. It’s been three years of constantly feeling useless. Three years of feeling small. Three years took a toll on my self-esteem.
For me, self care was purely self-fulfilment. Self care was anything to help me feel better (aka more power because I felt I lost so much). I got my hair done to make me feel better. I would take lavender baths. Basically, I bought into this notion that self care is synonymous with being super selfish and kinda mean. You may tell me that it is a bit harsh to call yourself a brat. But context is key: I grew up under Jesuit theology in my Salvadoran household. San Oscar Romero is my hero. The mantra with my friendships and my professional network has been to help others and nurture the community.
In my mental health advocacy in law, I carried the words to San Oscar Romero to heart because I came forward with my story so other lawyers and students don’t feel alone with their depression and other mental disorders.
A few days go, lawyer Paula Ethans’ published an article on kaurspace.com titled “Every Self for Themselves.” The main thesis of the article essentially blasted the self care industry as the victim of neoliberal weaponization. In other words, the current narrative of self care has been hijacked by capitalism and self care focuses on products making you feel good and not systematic change.
Suffice to say, the article grabbed me. It made me think. It made me think that I shifted away from my hero San Oscar Romero. I felt good as a soon-to-be lawyer because I started mentoring and helping others; but I now longer felt the same could be said for me as a friend.
This is a lot to take in, especially if your true character is to help others and nurture your friends. This is especially a lot to take in if you were still acting like a brat yesterday and it wasn’t until this morning when you realize this isn’t you.
It starts with an apology and a promise to practice true self care. Not everyone may accept your apology and that’s fair. But you need to trust yourself that time is and will continue to be your teacher. As Paula Ethans’ notes capitalist self care is focused on the person, not the collective. I’m gutted to admit, I was selfish and salty. Hurt people hurt other folks. A scrub won’t fix the cycle of hurt – but being aware that true self care involves healing as a collective.
My journey with mental health in law brought me to my lowest point as a friend. As a professional and a lawyer, it humbled me and it made me a better advocate. But as a friend, I became self-centred. The hope is that a person won’t be judged by their worst point. I have learned that healing starts with the collective, not fancy face masks. It will take time and it will also begin with a sorry: I’m sorry.