Therapy now or later?
August 12, 2008 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Depression-filter: Was I depressed, should I seek therapy now and can it happen again?

I think I was depressed from about August 2006-February 2008. August 2006 marks the time I received my 1st year grades in law school. February 2008 marks the last semester of law school.

I think I was depressed. Some symptoms: I stayed isolated, slept in, skipped classes and did poorly in school. It didn’t start until after first year grades came back. I think that, combined with rejection from employers and being picked on by professors did it.

I did contemplate suicide a couple of times during law school, but never went through with it. I didn’t want other people to suffer just because I was unhappy. I don’t think I was just being lazy. I know I just didn’t want it anymore.

These days I'm doing better. Exercise helped and making friends outside of law school helped too. I graduated and have taken the bar exam. Though I don't have a job, it feels like the worst is over.

I'm afraid though the bad times will happen again. I don’t take failure personally anymore but I haven’t regained my confidence in myself. I don’t think I deserve good things in life, which is probably how I rationalize receiving bad results.

For example, the other day I sent in an application to the US Army J.A.G. Corps (military lawyers). They’re basically one of the few places that hire new law graduates without only looking at grades. I spoke with the recruiter and he cautioned I might be assigned to a combat zone. I wasn’t bothered at all. Somewhere I was thinking, “Great, now I won’t have to commit suicide, I’ll be a hero and my family will get some insurance money.”

I don't know how therapy works. I don’t have any money now. I’m doing pretty good now, relatively speaking, so should I just wait until I can afford it or is it worth seeking out now?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm doing pretty good now" does not jive with "Great, I'll get killed by an IED!"

Get help. Now.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:11 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're a member of the local bar association, they will have counseling services available, usually on a sliding scale and definitely highly confidential. You should try to seek something out now--maybe you can still get in to see your law school's counselor. Working in a law firm is draining and miserable more days than not when you're newly out of law school; you need to be on good footing going in or it will only get worse.

That said, you really have taken some very positive steps: exercising, seeking out social contact. Don't quit now.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:23 AM on August 12, 2008

Yes, seek therapy while you're feeling well enough to function. You don't want to try calling therapists from out of the black pit of despair or the middle of a war zone.

Depression tends to be pervasive, hard to spot until you're drowning in it, and it comes back more often than a bad penny.
posted by Phalene at 7:23 AM on August 12, 2008

Exercise does help tremendously; continue exercising.

I'm not an expert, but I do think that having been depressed once is a risk factor for being depressed again in the future. I have also had a few episodes of depression and just have to live my life in such a way as to guard against it, managing it like any health risk.

I was thinking, “Great, now I won’t have to commit suicide, I’ll be a hero and my family will get some insurance money.”

That's not something someone would say if they were feeling perfectly fine. I think you should get help sooner rather than later. However, you're not unfixably fucked up or doomed or even unusual. It's beatable and the fact that you're doing pretty well now, living a functional life, to me is a good indicator that by working with a therapist you can feel even better and stay on an even keel in the future.
posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on August 12, 2008

If you have unresolved problems in your life, especially from your recent past, you could probably benefit from some therapy. And one of the best times to go is when you're feeling better. That's when you have the clearest perspective on a situation and can do some real, productive work that'll help you not get stuck in the future.

I like to look at a problem like a broken chair that you are trying to fix. It's really hard to do that when you're sitting on it, with all your weight bearing down. You can't even see what's wrong from that vantage point. You need to get enough distance from it to look at it rationally, observe the problem, and findi and use the right tools to make it right again. So that the next time you or somebody else sits in it the outcome is a little more predictable, and nobody ends up hurt on the floor.*

Whack metaphor.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:40 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the biggest step you've taken was neither the exercise nor current friendships but the fact that you're able to recognize that you might have had depression to begin with. And may be now. And you accept the fact that you may need help.

Seriously, kudos. Self-scrutiny and then asking the question are extremely hard to do, and I don't know many people who've been able to do them.

Meanwhile, your self-motivated steps in exercise and friendships are good steps in the right direction, yes (we all know how difficult it can be to get motivated for that morning jog), and as others have said, it seems your feelings are still on the low end of the spectrum given your attitude about JAG, so find some counseling as soon as possible while you're lucid enough about your life to recognize your depression.

Good luck.
posted by Ky at 7:46 AM on August 12, 2008

I'm pretty sure the military doesn't want people with a death wish. Why don't you take care of yourself before you do that sort of thing? Maybe you could be a lawyer for the (non-military) government. They have good health insurance.
posted by callmejay at 8:16 AM on August 12, 2008

It's been too long since I was in, but the vetting I went through to get in the military might have included a question about depression. I for sure know the security clearance had such questions.

I'm not saying avoid treatment, but am saying you have to consider this. It would be bad form to go in untreated, and worse to lie about treatment (even if confidential).

Me, I'd get treatment, see how appealing a JAG job is once I had a bit clearer head.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:17 AM on August 12, 2008

"I'm afraid though the bad times will happen again. I don’t take failure personally anymore but I haven’t regained my confidence in myself. I don’t think I deserve good things in life, which is probably how I rationalize receiving bad results."

Has this pattern if thinking been with you for much of your life? You may have some habits of mind making you prone to major episodes of depression. An intensive course of cognitive behavioral therapy now can help you slough off the remnants of your major episode, help you in day to day life, and prevent or weaken any future episodes. Exercise and a more active social life have obviously helped, but your apprehension that you may be at risk has to be dealt with. Either you're wrong, in which case that line of thinking has to be sorted out so you can let yourself be happy, or you're right, and you have to inoculate yourself against another major episode.

If money is a issue, there may be free or cheap facilities in your city (can you contact a mod so they can post that information?) or you may be able to find a therapist who will agree to, say, 8 sessions at a cheap rate.

Good luck!.
posted by wexford_arts at 8:29 AM on August 12, 2008

Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness are symptoms of depression, which casts a shadow over how you think about yourself and your life. I'd reckon that's part of why you feel you have very low self-confidence, even though you have made changes in your life and have succeeded at passing some important and difficult milestones. But people don't just bounce out of a major depressive episode. As wexford_arts suggested, it's possible you have some not-very-helpful thinking habits that are hindering you.

What you have gone through is not terribly uncommon for advanced-degree students and other people who are under a large amount of stress or pressure (even pressure from themselves). Counselors and therapists have seen your story before, and may be able to help you recover faster. Talking to a professional right away would be a good idea.
posted by zennie at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2008

You may want to put off making major decisions (like whether or not to join the military) until you have gotten some treatment.

If you Google 'cognitive function and depression' you'll find a lot of studies showing that depressed people don't think straight--they're depressed, and it impacts cognitive functionality. It's a little like being drunk or having not slept for a week straight: you're likely not in a good place for serious decision making.

Also, nthing everyone else on yes, you probably want to get some cognitive behavioral therapy, yes, you sound depressed, and yes, read David Burns' Feeling Good. It has a dorky title, you'll feel dorky buying it, but it's an important and incredibly helpful book.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:40 AM on August 12, 2008

but I do think that having been depressed once is a risk factor for being depressed again in the future

This is true, according to this list of risk factors for depression, from the Mayo Clinic. If a therapist suspects depression, one of the first questions they will ask is about any depressive episodes you've experienced in the past.

iamkimiam's chair metaphor is actually a pretty good one. :-) It's a bit easier to work on the skills and tools you need to deal with life if you're not currently in the depths of despair. When I was at my worst in dealing with depression, it was all I could do to get out of bed, let alone work on my self-doubts and self-esteem.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:43 AM on August 12, 2008

Law school sucks. Having said that, you should go to therapy to find out if you did suffer depression. Look for a professional psychology school nearby to get some counseling.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:48 AM on August 12, 2008

Wow, lots of validation of the questioner's self-diagnosis. I'm going to go the pragmatic route: why do you care whether you were depressed in law school? Doesn't law school suck anyway? It may just be that you didn't like law school, but that happens all the time.

Ask yourself why you think it was depression. Continuously trying to prevent something that has already happened is a hallmark of PTSD (afaik, ianap) and this could be a reason to get therapy, to figure out why you think your sucky law school experience is something that may affect you in the future (or does affect you in the present). Going out on a limb, are you sure you're just not trying to rationalize your bad grades? That is to say, not liking law school is not the same as depression.

Lastly, contemplating suicide is quite normal. Having plans to do so is where the problem creeps in.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on August 12, 2008

rhizome, you can be depressed and have other issues (such as PTSD or other anxiety disorders) at the same time. People are validating because that was a pretty spot-on description of depression.
posted by zennie at 10:45 AM on August 12, 2008

Rhizome, I'm a chronic depressive, have been all my life, and while not a psychiatrist or psychologist myself, I am extremely well-versed in Everything You Wanted To Know About Depression (But Couldn't Get Out Of Bed To Ask). This is a textbook case of depression--this is not a know-nothing "validation of the questioner's self-diagnosis". The OP was definitely in a state of depression, not feeling down because "law school sucks".

OP - there are lots of good suggestions about finding psychiatrists / psychologists in the previous comments. I suggest that you do. Come back and let us know how you're doing in six months, okay?
posted by tzikeh at 11:16 AM on August 12, 2008

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I have, however, sought the help of qualified mental health professionals throughout my 50 years here.

IMHO (big EMPH there):

1) Yes, you were depressed.
2) Therapy can only help.
3) Yes, it can happen again, no matter how much therapy you do.

Don't let money be a barrier. i did that for the longest time, and when I finally reached out to a therapist whose work I admired (they wrote a column advising professionals in my field), I found out that she worked at a very generous sliding scale. I wish I had reached out sooner.

There should be free or low-cost therapists available just about everywhere. You're just out of law school but surely there is a counseling center there that could refer you to an outside alternative. Or at least give you a name to start. Try your city's information line. Try the phone book. Try googling "free counseling [your city name here]". If you have an affiliation with any religious group, try them. They can refer you to counseling that's non-denominational.

Don't wait for it to become worse. At least go talk to someone who's a professional (and not an anonymous voice at MeFi) and ask THEM if they think you need help. Trust your instinct about whether or not you connect with the therapist, but also keep in mind that the first session is always a little weird.

Finally, therapy is not a lifetime commitment necessarily. I've done short-term therapy before, to get through a particular life passage. A good therapist wants to see you move on. So don't let the thought that you'll be doing it forever keep you from trying.
posted by micawber at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2008

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