This week’s post is going to a bit of a personal one. It’s going to tackle the issue of mental health and law school through a single character of this week’s Harry Potter chapter and my own struggle with mental health issues. For the longest time I struggled to understand why I thought and acted the way I do. About 1.5 years ago I ended up going to a therapist and discovered that I suffer from GAD (General Anxiety Disorder). Now to a lot of people (my old self included) having GAD is kind of like a cop out for having a messed up brain. It sounds like it everyone has this disorder and that it’s just something therapists tell you to make you feel better about your messed up reactions and strange interactions with people. It sounds like it’s something they tell you to make you have something to blame when you are irrational or overwhelmed with stress. But I ensure you it’s more than that.
For example this week I had an anxiety attack at a huge event with tons of lawyers and opportunities to network all around. To most people I just looked angry or irrational and overwhelmed, but on the inside it was like there was a war raging. I wanted to walk into this crowded room, put onto brightest smile, talk to people, laugh with my friends and then do the volunteer job I was given, but I couldn’t. I stood there petrified, my chest was tight, the room felt small, my eyes felt watery, and my brain started to nit-pick everything. It actually started before we got to the place in general and that’s what usually happens. Panic sets in, then nit-picking begins, then the overwhelming shame of not being like everyone else enjoying this event sets in, and then it all becomes too much and then it’s time to withdraw from the crowd and obsess over how you screwed up.
Looking back on my life, I don’t know exactly where anxiety became a part of me, but it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. Last year it was getting better. I refuse to go on medication for it (not that I judge those who do take medication for it) and try to really tackle it with other methods like exercise and nutrition. It was working, I could start to see where I was being irrational or tame the obsession of over analyzing an attack afterwards but in law school it’s really hard always stay a few steps ahead of my anxiety because law school creates more anxiety with every assignment and class.
In this week’s chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while Harry, Ron and Hermione search everywhere to figure out who Nicolas Flamel is and how they can keep harry Safe during the next quidditch match (where Snape, who they think is trying to steal the sorcerer’s stone which is hidden in the school, is refereeing) there is another character who is fighting his own battle. At the beginning of the chapter we find Neville Longbottom stumbling into the Gryffindor common room, his legs stuck together with a binding curse. Hermione undoes the curse and the golden trio starts telling neville how he should fix his bullying issue with Malfoy. Hermione tells him to tell McGonagall and Ron tells him that he needs to stand up for himself more. This of course overwhelms Neville who snaps back and tells them that he doesn’t want anymore trouble and he definitely doesn’t want to be told he isn’t brave enough to be in Gryffindor by not standing up for himself. Harry, the odd voice of reason here, reassures Neville that he is worth “12 of Malfoy” and is braver than he thinks. Later they head out to the quidditch match and while Harry is out playing, Draco starts with his bullying of Neville and this time Ron in the stands. There Neville repeats what Harry said about him being 12 of Malfoy and Ron cheers him on, thus ensuing a fight where the two boys attack Draco, Crabbe and Goyle.
Neville embodies this week’s theme: standing up for yourself.
Neville is one of those characters who will go through a major metamorphosis throughout the series. Rowling doesn’t give us much to work with in understanding why he is so timid in this book, but as the series goes on and we discover more of his story, we will start to see him not only grow but be understood better. I love this chapter because Neville and I share a lot of the same sentiment in how we view ourselves. For me, my bully is the anxiety that lives with me, constantly there to remind me I’m not as brave or smart or capable as others, for Neville he has Draco and sometimes even his friends (who don’t seem to do it on purpose). I’ve noticed though that in law school it’s not always something like an anxiety disorder that bullies people into similar thoughts. A lot of times it’s something as simple as self-doubt, stress, worry and just feeling lesser than our peers.
It’s easy to get bogged down by mental health issues and start to feel like a fraud. Neville feels like he maybe shouldn’t be a Gryffindor, and I know for myself and countless others a lot of 1L students feel like they shouldn’t be law students at all, that the school made a mistake in allowing them to attend. The key though is to start believing the opposite. When Harry tells Neville he is worth 12 of Malfoy and Neville believes it, he stands up for himself. He may have ended up getting a little too confident in trying to take on Crabbe and Goyle, but he stood up for himself and the seed of confidence was planted.
For me, after feeling like a failure in controlling my anxiety at the Law Stars event and then in a lot of my conversations and interactions after that, I found a little confidence in getting back a paper. If you remember a few blog posts back I told everyone I received one of the lowest grades in my class on a paper (that grade being an 8.4/10). This week we received our second memo back and I was almost in tears at seeing a 9.5 as a grade. Now it’s still not the best (which my perfectionist mind loves to remind me), but it’s progress and progress that give me enough confidence to go forward into the final few weeks of the semester knowing that I’m not a fraud and can handle this. It helps to quiet the bullying voice of my anxiety that keeps trying to keep me from doing great things. It helps me stand up for myself.
The key to standing up for yourself is to cherish the little triumphs. Whether it’s making great networking connections, seeing progress in classes, feeling like you understand a topic or just being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whatever it is cherishing those moments can help you take steps forward to overcoming the doubt inside, the stress in front of you and the things trying to pull you back. Mental health is a very key part of law school, and a lot of people don’t talk about their issues. A lot of people put on a front and try to remain strong and confident in front of their peers because of the competition between us all. The thing is, not being able to talk about and share your mental health issues or experiences makes the world a very lonely place, especially when you start to find out that a lot of people around you, the ones you are hiding your problems from have the same problems and can fight the bullies alongside you. Neville would have never stood up to Draco and his goonies had Ron not fought with him and Harry not given him the nugget of courage to do so.
Mental health issues shouldn’t be something we are ashamed of, because they are part of who we are. If we shine a light on them, talk about them and share our experiences (triumphs and defeats) with others we gain more people fighting in our corner with us. There are no better triumphs then being able to face your bullies with your friends beside you. I know that I couldn’t make it through this semester without people cheering me on and pushing me forward when I just want to quit. Face your fears, face your bullies and keep moving forward with the people who care about you.
Until Next Time,