In many ways, I’ve found myself exactly where I needed to be. I took advantage of the Mexican connection to when my friend’s cousin was going to the school I would be attending and saw a flyer for someone looking for a roommate. My parents dropped me off with a few groceries and some stuff from back home and I began my Houstonian life.
I think my law school experiment was just what I needed even though the way it ended was probably not what I had envisioned.
My roommate had gone to a wedding so I spent the first two days alone in the apartment, talking to people from back home, learning bus routes, and making some law school friends.
I’m going to combine today’s post with tomorrow’s post because I think there’s a two-part component to my first year here. One, the mental aspect, and two, the law school aspect and I’d like to offer my thoughts on both.
In hindsight, I was more excited where I should have been more terrified. Orientation kind of did that to me, with Professor Geoffrey Corn reprising a speech that would be enough to get even the most hardened cynic running to take their LSAT.
The thing about law school, as I’ll discuss tomorrow, is that you have to keep that excitement from the get-go. I had it, but all of a sudden I was flooded by all these other distractions that I had never seen before. I’m talking more bars in two blocks of Midtown Houston than there are in the entirety of Brownsville, Texas. I’m talking about restaurants from every ethnicity. I had never been exposed to so many distractions.
And I was tested. I've always felt I fall on the smart side on average. I like looking out for challenges. Then this happened and I started feeling dumber than a box of rocks. Inspired, but dumb, and that was the earliest red flag: I had no idea how to ask for help, in any of my classes. I was simultaneously too intimidated and too proud to approach any of my professors to try and grasp concepts I didn't understand. That's a bad combination for any law student, because I know that the professors there, and the professors at the other law school I've become familiar with (University of Houston Law Center) have a vested interest in seeing their students succeed.
I think the sentence: "I fell into vice." is paradoxically completely true and completely false.
True in the sense that that's what it happened, false in the sense that I didn't fall into anything. Every (mis)step was taken into account. I felt, in some senses, like I was playing Goldeneye 007, 00 Agent difficulty, Control and all I had at my disposal was the Klobb.
For the younger crowd that didn't understand that last reference, I'm talking about a lengthy, complicated mission where you have to escort and protect the bullet-magnet known as Natalya Simonova, who doesn't have much health to begin with. In this 64-bit scenario, I'm only equipped with the Klobb.
That was my situation, and it's a situation that I set myself up for. I was both Natalya (aimlessly wandering into everyone's line of sight) and a poorly-equipped James Bond that had to keep the enemies off himself and Natalya while at the same time meeting every other mission objective.
Heh, I'm just now realizing it's kind of funny the mission is Control and that's exactly what I didn't have. My brain was going crazy because here I am, in an environment where I felt I should have excelled in. Law school is 90% knowing how to research to 10% knowing how to argue and I find myself hard-pressed to find any accredited law school where this isn't the case. And I was good at research, especially if I found the subject fun.
But it didn't click.
Last week I tried to build an L-shaped desk. One of the screws connecting the middle part to one of the "wings" screwed perfectly, but it was too short. The screw connecting the sliding-out-keyboard-thing to the bottom part of the desk was the right size, but the hole too small.
So I got frustrated because I couldn't find the answer to that. And law school isn't like, oh, here's this quiz and this homework and this extra credit. Outside of Legal Research and Writing, where the total grade was divided into three parts, I only had one unforgiving grade to deal with at the end of the year and there's nothing before hand.
Frustration, beforehand, was something temporary. Math problems in high school? My cousin would tutor me and after a frustrating hour or so, I'd "get it" and be able to get a high B.
In college, something wasn't going right with a story? I'd call up my sources and see if I could get more meat, or I'd go in and out of my boss's office or go back and forth with one of the other copy-editors until something was perfect.
In law school, I didn't see a way to deal with the frustration. So rather than AIRQUOTE "admit defeat" AIRQUOTE I looked for other venues in which I could shut up the voice inside my head that kept on telling me what a worthless disappointment I was. These venues also distracted me from keeping an eye on the storm of my ADD/ADHD. I bickered with my roommate a lot over minor stuff that was a direct consequence of that.
I found that release through alcohol, through food, and through engaging in any legal distraction where I could unleash that pent up frustration. Not that it helped, mind you. You know what the worst thing about having a hangover is? When you wake up and not only do you feel like death warmed over, but whatever reason you had to get drunk in the first place is STILL on your mind. You know what the worst part about stress-eating/binge-eating is? After you spend whatever amount of money you do for eating like a king, at some point, you're going to have to shit. And as you shit out good money, you're going to think about whatever it was that drove you to eat like that in the first place.
Let me paint you a picture with how accessible my distractions were. The following maps show restaurants and bars within a 4 miles of where I lived.
So, those were my distractions. I am thankful that I never went for weed. I am thankful that I never tried a hard drug. But you know, sometimes, when I'd find myself bleary-eyed and half-naked on my bathroom floor, throat burning from my stomach acid acid and a thundering headache that made any sort of movement painful...I understood why people sought the escape they did.
I wasn't the only one dealing with this. The stats will show you that. Here are some dismal stats when it comes to law school:
Forty-two percent of the surveyed law students said they thought they needed help in the past year for emotional or mental health problems, but only half of that group had actually received counseling from a health professional. And only 4 percent had sought help from a health professional for drug or alcohol problems, though the survey shows a higher number reported binge drinking and drug use. (Source)
The source cites a survey where the following stands out to me:
Over half of the respondents reported drinking enough to get drunk at least once in the prior 30 days, while 43% reported binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks and 22% reported binge drink ing two or more times in the prior two weeks, with male respondents more likely than female respondents to engage in binge drinking. (Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women.)
Nearly 25% of respondents affirmatively answered two or more of four questions that comprise the CAGE assessment, a widely used alcoholism screening tool, suggesting that perhaps as many as one-quarter of respondents should be considered for further screening for alcoholism.
And as far as mental health goes:
The survey contained a screen for depression, with 17% of respondents screening positive. In addition, 18% of respondents indicated that they had been diagnosed with depression by a health professional at some point in their lives. Of these, over one-sixth had been diagnosed with depression since beginning law school. The survey also contained a screen for anxiety, with 23% of respondents screening positive for mild to moderate anxiety and 14% of respondents screening positive for severe anxiety. In addition, 21% of respondents indicated that they had been diagnosed with anxiety by a health professional at some point in their lives. Of these, nearly one-third had been diagnosed with anxiety since starting law school. Overall, more than one-quarter of respondents reported having one or more diagnoses, covering depression, anxiety, eatingdisorders, psychosis, personality disorder, and/or substance use disorder.
And when you start getting to the reasons why people don't seek help, social stigma comes in at 47% of the surveys and 'the belief that they could handle it themselves' at 36% although "male respondents were much more likely than female respondents to believe that they could handle the problem themselves (51% of male respondents and 30% of female respondents)."
So my situation isn't unique in the very least. And I suspected I wasn't even unique in my own small section. But how do you even broach that subject?
"Hey man, this might sound weird but I find myself wanting to have a drink even during class."
"HAHA, I KNOW!"
"No, I mean, like, I feel it's missing from my life."
"Well, XXXXXXX club is having a social tonight and we're going to that one and then to the one with the other law school tomorrow, so you'll get your fill."
"Didn't they have one last week?"
"No, that was a dry run."
With the benefit of hindsight I could say I should have done this, I should have done that. Maybe the help would've been sufficient. Maybe it would've put me on some sort of super-secret at-risk category. Maybe.
But the reality and that chapter in my book says that I was in a bad place, I had no idea how to get out, and all the movement I did just got me closer and closer to total despair.
I saw the worst of myself that spring. I saw darkness.
I hated myself, I really did. I hated that I couldn't win. That I was swimming as hard as I could and I still wasn't getting anywhere. I looked with wonder at my classmates who I'd see at those same socials drinking more than I did always have the best comments and questions in class. I was outclassed every which way and why would my classmates (read: competition) give two shits if I self-destructed. One less in their way.
That was my perception, the reality was that these were a handful of men and women who were also going through their own shit, who had their own problems and who weren't the "HAHA HE IMPLODED YEAHHHH" type. I've run into several since, at bars, at a concert, in restaurants, even just walking downtown, and when they see me, they recognize me and greet me like an old friend. So I really value that. Two years after I left law school, I happened to be in the building for my roommate's bell-ringing ceremony. For the confused: our law school tradition has graduating 3Ls ring a massive bell when their last exam is done and it coincided with the upcoming graduation of many of my former Spring classmates. I kinda shied away from a group picture but they pulled me in and still welcomed me.
But back to Summer 2011 and a brief recovery. My first and only B in Con Law was a high point. It gave me some hope. It's still my favorite type of law to study and I still have my B outline from that summer. I went home for a week between summer sessions to relax and get my bearings back. When the fall semester started, I was ordered to go to a special tutoring session once a week as part of my "this is so you don't get kicked out right away" treatment. I did feel better. But by that point, it was September, and I was fighting a losing battle on multiple fronts.
Still, I went down fighting, with budding alcoholism, with depression, with anxiety, with ADD/ADHD, and with my tests.
And then 2012 came and my grades were even worse the second semester, which meant that 1) I could take everything again (on my own dime) and see if I did better or 2) accept dismissal.
I chose option two.
And the tiny sliver of hope in that defeat was that I no longer felt the craving for alcohol I had experienced for the entirety of 2011.