Not the best time to question everything.
January 21, 2013 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Halfway through my last year of law school and my partner of ~5 years has walked out. After months of trying to deal with an emotionally abusive relationship going seriously wrong, my life is decimated and my work for law review is behind and I'm getting angry emails all over the place. I'm having trouble just getting out of bed. Counselor through the university has let me vent a lot but I'm not feeling any better. Something needs to give, but how?

I'm looking for practical solutions here. It's been a bit less than two weeks. I've got an appointment to look into antidepressants, but I know those take about a month to kick in, and I don't have a month. I'm not even totally sure I'm depressed--this has been seriously traumatic for me, and my life will not just stop and let me catch my breath long enough to actually deal with things. I have very little support because for the past several years, my ex was having serious problems with my having any kind of social life without her, and she was so unpleasant to be around that people stopped inviting me to anything.

I'm near graduation, but do not yet have a permanent job offer lined up. I have serious questions about whether I really want to be a lawyer at all; my grades are good and I don't mind my classes, but this was a line of work I chose because my now-ex had by that point destroyed pretty much anything else I wanted to do, and approved of that option because it was only a three-year degree so I could be back to work faster. Dropping out now will not save me any tuition money.

Complicating factor: I am not out to my family, and my family has community connections that mean I cannot come out to most of my peers at school or my professors, either. I depend on my family for support during school, and they are very conservative. I have an ongoing medical problem that I can't afford to maintain health insurance for without my parents' help. I am not in a state where I can qualify for medicaid as a single adult without children, and I'm not going to die without my meds, but they are necessary for me to function. (My university insurance is not adequate; I'd run out of prescription coverage with the annual limits in the first month.) As far as my family is concerned, my roommate just moved out.

I feel like I have two options.

One, I keep going as I have been. But I don't know how to possibly catch up everything I have to catch up, considering just getting up long enough to post this has been difficult. I have been sleeping 14+ hours a day because being awake feels unbearable, and this is the first I've even been close to dressed since Thursday. I cannot just take a couple weeks off to recover from this. I don't have any serious job prospects and I hate all but two of my classes this semester. I'm not ruling out continuing, but I have no idea how to recover and keep up five classes and law review.

The other option is dropping back to part time and appraising at the end of this semester whether I want to continue. This has its own problems: One, I don't know what to tell my parents and professors. Two, it means I definitely won't graduate this semester. Three, I'm going to, I assume, have to explain it to potential employers in the future, as well. In general, if I don't stay in law school, I also need to figure out how to explain that to future employers.

My whole life was tied up with this person and yes, I feel stupid for doing that, for putting up with the abuse for so many years, etc. But right now, I need help moving forward, not just talking about how I'm sad and angry. I need to actually be able to finish my projects, however late they might be, and eventually find myself satisfying and gainful employment. And until I have that employment (and insurance through it that I can afford on my own), then I need for my parents not to find out about this. How on earth do I manage that?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My heart goes out to you :( I've been in a similar situation, and the way I dealt with it at the time was just to throw myself into my work and ignore my sorrow. It was brutal, but I had no choice but to work so I figured I'd rather keep my job than lose my relationship and my job.

I think in the short time, don't make any major life decisions. Throw yourself into your classes.

And get with your advisor. It's early in the semester and early enough that dropping classes a) won't affect you financially and b) won't show up on your transcript (assuming your school is on the same schedule as mine is). It might just be better for you to drop down to part time and either take summer classes or stay an extra semester. If jobs want to know what's up, say you had a health issue that is now resolved (assuming that in a year, when you'd be graduating, you'll be in a better place).

But most of all --- don't let this person screw up your life any more than she already has. And remember that you're not stuck in a field just because that's what your degree is in. But you're close enough to finishing, and that degree will help you regardless -- it'll sure look better than 80% of a degree that you dropped out of.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:19 AM on January 21, 2013 [23 favorites]

What DoubleLune says is so on target and helpful that I can but suggest you read that advice over a few times.
posted by Postroad at 11:25 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My then-girlfriend broke up with me in the middle of 3L year too. It sucked. You just do what you gotta do.

I'm not even totally sure I'm depressed

Doesn't sound to me like you are. If you can point to a particular event and say "Yeah, that sucks," especially if it's a recent event, a diagnosis of depression is, as I understand it, disfavored.

But here's the thing: there's a difference between grieving and being depressed. Sounds like you're doing quite a bit of the former. That's healthy and to be expected. I don't think mental health professionals would change the descriptor to "depression" until it's been long enough for the typical grieving process to have worked itself out. Two weeks is not long enough.

this has been seriously traumatic for me, and my life will not just stop and let me catch my breath long enough to actually deal with things.

It probably isn't going to until graduation. I think you're probably just going to have to shelve these issues and deal with them later.

Also, now you know why so many people in the legal profession--both students and lawyers--are alcoholics. As a matter of fact, many states require some kind of substance abuse awareness class as part of their initial CLE requirements. It's an incredibly high-stress lifestyle.

Three, I'm going to, I assume, have to explain it to potential employers in the future, as well.

Damn straight. Finish. Do whatever it is that you have to do, but finish. Fortunately, this is law school, so other than your law review obligations it's not like you're going to have a bunch of due dates for classwork until the end of the semester some three months from now. It's still early in the semester.

In general, if I don't stay in law school, I also need to figure out how to explain that to future employers.

More than that, you'll have to explain it to your current creditors. "My partner broke up with me" will not qualify you for bankruptcy or even deferment once your loans start coming due in December.

Consider this practice. If you're going to be an attorney--and at this point I'd say the odds are very good that you are--there are going to be instances all over the place of having a ton on your plate in your personal life while at the same time having non-negotiable deadlines for work. As a rule, federal court does not give a shit about your personal problems.

But yeah, it sounds like this person has already fucked with you far longer than she should have been permitted to. Don't let her ruin your career to boot. Get 'er done.
posted by valkyryn at 11:29 AM on January 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'll tell you one thing: my friend is a lawyer, it was brutal yes but she now makes a LOT of money. Far more than I ever will "doing what I love". She owns a beautiful home that she has not had to do one single bit of DIY work to, she travels to amazing places and has the money to pursue her hobbies. I expect she will retire early too.

Doing what you love is great but having a comfortable lifestyle is not to be sneezed at. It's not just SUVs and granite counter tops, it's freedom. Freedom to walk away from any bad relationships in the future and to do what makes you happy.
posted by fshgrl at 11:30 AM on January 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

You poor thing. You have a right to feel upended.

There's a saying that I hold a lot of stock in, "When you look back on times in your life, you remember what you did, not how you felt."

So accept that you're going to feel angry and pissed off and sad, and relieved and everything that you're feeling.

I'm a list maker, and the organizer in me loves writing down everything that needs to be done, and then crossing things off as I do them. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

One thing I'd recommend is sending an email to each of your professors and law review editor that says:

For the past week or so, I've been dealing with a family emergency. I realize that during this time some things have slipped. Please bear with me while I deal with these issues. If any deadlines can be extended I would really appreciate it.

That at least lets people know that something terrible happened, and that you're doing the best you can under the circumstances.

Right now, work on graduating. Getting a job will happen, but you're in survival mode now and just put one foot in front of the other. If you have an opportunity, great, but don't fret about your situation right now, you don't have the emotional bandwidth to do so.

As for your family and all of that stress. That too is temporary. Once you have graduated, found a job and are out taking care of yourself, you can come out to your family. While you know them better than I do, and while they may be unhappy about your being gay, at the end of the day, they love you and will want you to be happy, no matter who you end up with.

Don't make any crazy decisions, keep going to school, keep dealing with what you need to deal with.

June isn't that far away, and think of how good it will feel to be done!

You are stronger than you think you are. I would recommend looking into some LGBTQ organizations on campus. They may have specialized counseling and help for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:34 AM on January 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

You can do it! You're almost there!

Send the email that Ruthless Bunny says, and drop back to part-time. You'll be okay!
posted by tel3path at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry you are going through this. It sounds like you are a bit stunned and emotionally shocked by what you are going through more than you are depressed.

It's natural in these circumstances to get overwhelmed and try to look at the whole life picture. Having been in graduate school when I had a bad breakup, I would say you have to keep going and finish.

The common advice is common because it works. Exercise. Try to limit your sleep to 8-9 hours a night. Set an alarm, get up in the morning, get dressed, drink a cup of coffee, get out of the house, keep going to class. Triage the most critical things first. Work for 20 minutes at a time, then take a break. Be kind to yourself. Ruthless Bunny has a great, brief email that maintains privacy while communicating the gist of what is going on. Send it to the law review people whose emails are stressing you out.

Look at the positive, you wrote a very coherent request for help here on AskMe and sent it. You got it done. YOU CAN DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by artdesk at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not even totally sure I'm depressed.

Doesn't sound to me like you are. If you can point to a particular event and say "Yeah, that sucks," especially if it's a recent event, a diagnosis of depression is, as I understand it, disfavored.

I'm sorry - but I don't really agree with this advice. Depression has many, many shapes and forms. Even the most cognizant of us can be depressed. Just because you have some clarity about the situation does not mean you are not depressed - or worthy of treatment. I encourage you to continue seeking medical advice to help you through any hard times.
posted by quodlibet at 11:45 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

First, what is your position at the law review? Can you reach out for help?

Second if you must, drop law review if you can (depends if you are getting credit hours you need there). If need be, discuss what to do with your advisor. First thing you want to do is ensure you graduate, second is pass the bar, third is a job, fourth is law review. If you must prioritize, do it in the above order.

Don't just automatically drop to part time. Talk to your advisor and find out what the options are before going and doing anything. There is a bit of the fallacy of the missing middle in your response--it is very common when you're facing very tough issues.

Fourth, you probably can find the right professor to talk to. Be delicate, but find a faculty voice to talk to.

Finally, feel free to MeMail me. I didn't have that stuff happen to me my final semester, but I understand the pressure you're under and made it through and practice law. Its doable.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:48 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is there a LBGTQI center on your campus or in the community? Go....if your ex is not involved with them.
posted by brujita at 11:51 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You talk about meds--have you looked into generic versions of medication or something like What are the top limits of prescription coverage? Depending on the medication there are ways to find cheaper alternatives for sure.
posted by schroedinger at 11:54 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

On a practical note, recently I had a period of depression and high stress, and my GP gave me a two-week's prescription for Valium to take while waiting for the SSRI's to kick in.

I found that so damn helpful, those two weeks were like a holiday for the spirit.
posted by Catch at 11:58 AM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ironmouth and valkyryn (both of whom I've seen talk about law school in ways that made me trust their opinions) and DoubleLune make some very good points, as does everyone.

Just to focus on one aspect, I didn't have a job until late June after graduation (articling positions generally start in August in the province I wanted to move to, may/june in some other ones I could have reasonably moved to). I'm currently working for a legal clinic helping low-income people, which is something I could see myself doing for a long time. Although Canada and (I assume) the US have different labour markets right now, I still am proof that you can get a job late in the process.

And as someone who graduated law school in 2012 and has to deal with my own depression all the time, please don't hesitate to (m)email me for anything at all.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:58 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have any close friends you can call?
posted by discopolo at 11:58 AM on January 21, 2013

Also, please go see a counselor ASAP. You may even have a support group on campus. Make sure you eat and take care of yourself really well.
posted by discopolo at 12:00 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you need to take five courses and law review in order to graduate this semester? Could you drop a class and still have enough credits and requirements to graduate? If so, do that. Do you have the option of electing to take any of your classes pass/fail? If so, do that. If you can do both of those things, you should be able to minimize your classwork load while still being on track to graduate this semester. Because if you do graduate this semester, you will also be able to take the bar exam this summer, rather than next February.
posted by andrewraff at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2013

You must not blow up your life and punish yourself over this breakup.

You're distraught, and at sea, and I get it, I've been there.

But dropping out of law school at this time and messing up your plans would be absolutely torpedoing yourself. It would basically be self-abuse. It's almost like a way to punish her: "See what you did to me??? You destroyed me." She'd probably love that. Ugh.

You are going to have to treat yourself like a marionette probably to get through the next two weeks. (It gets better, by the way!) But you're going to have to speak to yourself very sternly.

This is, you will realize soon, a time to celebrate yourself and to flower. Not to collapse and give up.

My only other breakup advice is: FIND YOUR ANGER. It's extremely motivating and powerful.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Former lawyer here, who dealt with essentially a string of emotional breakdowns:

Take time off/drop down to part time if you possibly can. I know from experience that it's really fucking hard to do without familial support. But bowing out of some commitments in a graceful way is a lot better than having some crash or putting in a poor job.

I guess in the context of a close-knit community it becomes hard, but can't you lie to people who might discriminate against you because of your orientation? I am not getting that part of it, I guess. You are having medical issues, full stop?

I had a lot of fun as a lawyer until my health made it impossible, but law school for me was a soul-sucking experience. If you are dealing with grief and depression (and this was my experience) it is very hard to concentrate on materials that are so fucking boring anyway.
posted by angrycat at 12:11 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you don't have a friend or two who can help you keep your head above water by listening sympathetically, look for an anonymous phone counselling service, particularly one aimed at LGBT folks.

Delegate, reduce your course load a little, offload and ask for help wherever you can. If you've been getting good grades, your academics can take a brief hit while you get your shit together enough to get through this semester.

Be gentle with yourself.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 12:30 PM on January 21, 2013

Law review should be the first thing to go. I know it's hard because it feels like other people are depending on you to do something important, but it's going to have way less impact on your future than low grades. Contact the exec board, tell them you're dealing with a serious personal emergency which is private, and you will not be able to participate for at least the next month, end of discussion. If they give you grief, ignore them. Law review does not matter.
posted by prefpara at 12:35 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

It seems that in the long run, you will be better off since your relationship was abusive. Hard to deal with the breakup now, but perhaps a blessing in disguise.
Give yourself as much time as you can to recover before making any more big changes. Now is not the time for life-changing decisions. Do not take this moment to come out to your family or anyone else. Keep your head up and finish your degree. You will be OK, and you will be lawyer. What will your ex be?
posted by Cranberry at 12:41 PM on January 21, 2013

You can do this. My relationship with an angry, isolating guy ended while I was in a really critical high-stress grad school juncture, too. In a way, it was a blessing because the searing pain caused me to see life really clearly and be ruthlessly efficient in how I spent my time. You can get through this.

What I'd recommend is to get into survival mode. Put yourself -- your hurt, angry, and grieving self -- into sort of emotional traction, and for most (say, 80%) of the time, let another part of yourself take over, the part of you that could stay calm and take over during an emergency. That scared and hurt part is almost like an injured and panicking victim that your calm-during-emergencies part needs to learn how to care for. ("It's okay, we're going to get you help, hang in there, you're going to get through this, can i get you a blanket? would it help if we stopped and rested for 15 minutes?")

Now, one thing that your survivor-self needs to do is to make some tough decisions, because traveling with this injured party is going to slow you down. You'll spend 20% of your time caring for that hurt part, and its weight is going to slow you down by another 20%. (For instance, grief can bring numbness, difficulty concentrating, and disorientation.) I'd plan on being about 50-60% as effective as before. Being realistic about this, and making space to care for your pain, in my experience, is absolutely crucial. Failing to do so can lead to efficiency falling to more like 10-20% when the pain spills over and completely cripples you.

What does it mean to care for your pain? The essential emotional first aid guide book is When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Read at least the first 50 or so pages ASAP. Then, with that compassionate attitude toward yourself, make space to meditate, journal, and go for long walks.

So, to sum up: your survivor-self has four tasks: ensure you're getting regular meals, sleep, and exercise (or just long walks); triage your work down to a manageable level; make sure that the bare minimum of work does get done; and then spend 20-30% of your time on emotional self-care and healing.
posted by salvia at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The other piece of work-related breakup advice I have is to look for those moments of calm, which do happen. Nobody is naturally upset 100% of the time. It's not a betrayal of yourself or the relationship. Get the most important tasks done in those moments when the emotional seas fall calm. Gradually come to welcome work as a place of refuge away from the pain.
posted by salvia at 2:00 PM on January 21, 2013

You have come too far to stop now. I would look at it as not letting your ex "win" or get the better of you by making you into a confused grieving mess. Contact the folks who you are behind to and let them know you acknowledge it, had a small life issue you needed to deal with and are now back on track. Then list all the things that need to be caught up on and break them into smaller tasks. Make progress incrementally every day in everything you need to. Factor in time for exercise or mental down time like watching a half an hour of bad tv. Get to bed at a reasonable hour and accept that 6 or 7 hours is all you are going to get for the next 2 months.

You have come so far, you are obviously capable (good grades, law review, etc) and there are tangible benefits to focusing on graduating on time and getting a job. You move on with your life and leave your ex in the dust.

If you have a close friend you can use as an accountability board, talk to that person and work it out so you send them an email at the end of the day or call them or text or snapchat a list or whatever that tells them what you accomplished that day. I find if I have someone who is aware of what I am supposed to be doing, I sort of feel accountable and obligated. Honestly, when I first broke up with my wife, I struggled because one of my motivations was in supporting her and the family. (Turns out I still support her, but without the emotional benefits.)

Take pride in what you have accomplished to date, Acknowledge to those you are falling behind that you are aware and are taking steps to address. Break your tasks down to smaller bits. Get exercise or me time. Find an accountability partner. Eat healthy. Win!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:01 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I have taken anti-depressants, i notice a difference within a week. You may respond much, much quicker than you expect. I hope so, it will help you focus on your studies and taking care of yourself. Sleeping 14 hours a day isn't so horrible, btw. In fact, it's so much better than if you were having insomnia. Get lots of rest, it sounds like you need it. It's quite possible within a week you will be feeling more normal again. Just remember, you will make it through this no matter what.
posted by waving at 4:19 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, deep breath. I haven't been exactly been where you are, but I did survive law school and an icky break up.

My advice: Get up every morning at the same time (have someone give you a wake up call if need be), take a shower, get dressed, and go to a coffee shop where you can bring your laptop. Good. Now, knock out the law review stuff first. I say this because I was pretty much able to put off the reading for my 3rd year classes until the last week ( 2 jobs, plus clinic equaled a very busy banana fish).

Once you get the law review stuff under control, you can split your coffee shop time between job searching and classes. Again really, you've done most of the hard work. Most of the third year is just about showing up. If you just read your textbook and show up for class you'll be fine.

As for the heartbreak and family, it's really hard, but once I started pushing through with my life, things got better. Every day was a little better than the day before until one day I didn't even think about my ex.

Right now you just need to put your head down and plow through. No point in quitting when you are at the finish line.

Good luck. It gets better.
posted by bananafish at 4:47 PM on January 21, 2013

I think I read this somewhere recently (maybe at Captain Awkward?) I'm paraphrasing:

"Let your professor(s) know that you're going through an emotional crisis right now (give as much detail as you feel comfortable) and see if they can give you any extensions/deferrals. As a professor, you not turning in the work because of a personal/family crisis looks exactly the same to me as you not turning the work because you decided to blow it off ... UNLESS YOU TELL ME WHAT'S GOING ON."
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:57 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a death in the family during law school, and I was devastated. To be sure, that is a far cry from coming out of abusive relationship, which I don't feel qualified to speak to. My advice on coping with law school while undergoing tremendous personal difficulties:

1) Talk to a counselor. Don't worry right now about whether you're clinically depressed or grieving, whether you should be medicated or only some kind of talk-therapy. Leave that to the professional(s). In the meantime, you can start regularly meeting with a counselor. I found doing so incredibly helpful. She also helped me come up with specific coping mechanisms that both gave me time and space to grieve while also helping me figure out what to prioritize at school and how to get it done. For this reason, I'd recommend you see someone associated with an academic institution (ideally someone who works grad students regularly) - either at your student health services or a local counselor who regularly sees the same folks.

2) Triage your schoolwork/activities. I found it helpful to focus on schoolwork and extracurriculars where I could clearly set out and follow the steps necessary to get from where I was to completion. I found highly creative projects without clear deadlines much more challenging and, where possible, put them off until I thought I would be better able to deal with them, substituted more limited projects, or, gracefully bowed out. For example, if you are signed up to write a research paper, speak with the professor to see if you can do a final exam or litigation-oriented briefing paper instead. Depending on your position on law review, you may be able to defer your period of responsibility to later in the semester, or a friend may be willing/able to quietly help you out.

I will say that going through this period was ultimately tremendously helpful in teaching me how to be a lawyer. I came to adore the discipline -- strict deadlines and focused questions -- litigation requires, and the process of prioritizing schoolwork/extracurriculars during an extremely challenging time period taught me a lot about doing so (and being careful of my own limits) as a practicing lawyer.

3) Remember that you count. Your ACTUAL limits are part of the evaluation you need to take into account when determining what you will and won't be doing. Part of your triage is figuring out how much you have to give. When you reach that limit, you're done. Will watching a stupid movie recharge you? Then do that. Remember that exercise helps. If you can legitimately hand something in late, have to confess weakness to a professor, or can put off an energy-draining activity that does not, in fact, need to be accomplished at-this-very-minute-RIGHT-NOW!!, then do it. The world will not come to an end, and your career will not be ruined. It is hard to take a step back and evaluate these things - a trusted friend, counselor, or even professor may be able to help you out.

4) Consider talking to someone in administration at the law school. Law schools really really don't want students to drop out, take too long to finish, or not get jobs. It looks very bad for them. There may be resources (ranging from a place to stay to additional money) available to you through your dean's office or financial aid that you don't know about. These kinds of things aren't publicly discussed, but I know of people who have been substantially and quietly helped out by their school when facing significant and unexpected personal hardship. Obviously, this isn't really something MeFi can advise you on very well, and I wouldn't recommend disclosing your situation to a hostile audience who could or would take advantage of your vulnerability. But if there's anyone in administration who has been a friendly or helpful audience in the past (or, even better, an advocate), that person might be worth reaching out to.
posted by Nx at 6:07 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's a bad idea to make decisions while H.ungry, A.ngry, L.onely, or T.ired. And you're all of these. Have the counselor Nx mentioned walk you through the decision-making process. "If you finish the degree, even at half-speed, you've got a lot more freedom in your eventual career, even if it's not doing pure law-stuff>" (Law-stuff is the technical term.)

You've my sympathy and condolences regarding your loss and being in a crappy situation. All of Nx's advice makes a good sense.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:08 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older How do I get mental health services while...   |   Getting started with Polaroid Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.