A letter to my future child

A tale of a young, twentysomething-years-old woman finding hope while living with depression

Dear child –

It’s me, your mom. Only I’m not actually your mom right now.

You see, I’m still 27 years old. I’m fresh out of law school. I haven’t even met your other parent yet! In fact, you may not even be my kid; but I will treat you like one!

I’ll be honest kid, I normally don’t think of you at this life stage. I’m single and my main loves right now are my two cats, Lady Penelope and Lady Lily. I hope you meet them. They have diva and silly personalities. I mainly think about passing the bar exam and also if Beyoncé will release her next album soon (I didn’t like her recent joint album with her husband, Jay-Z).

So my future kid, why am I thinking of you today?

I want you to know that your mom is struggling in this stage of life. However, I want you to know how hard your mom fought at this stage of her life to eventually see you in the future.

Your mom is sick right now. Mom is sick with depression. Kid, you may be too young to understand depression so I’m going to simplify it for you:

You know that feeling you get when you receive a gift for your birthday? It’s like a tingling excitement to rip open the gift? Depression is when you don’t care about what’s inside the box. You don’t care if you get a toy or socks (side point, socks are important so don’t be upset if I give you socks).

You may ask, “why mommy are you depressed? Why not be happy?”

Well it’s a hard question, kid. But you see, I’m trying to be happy; that’s why I am writing this letter.

You know when you fall down from your bike and you cry for a hug and band-aid? Mommy is hurt. So right now, she is seeing a doctor to help her.

My doctor asked me to write down and think of everything that gives me hope. It’s like an adult version of a band-aid.

Kid, I realize that even though I don’t know you right now – I may be your mother (birth or adopted), aunt, godmother or mentor – but I realize I will have cool stories and lessons to tell you. That gives me hope.

If I give up now, I won’t have fun stories to tell you. How boring is that?

I won’t tell you the time when I thought I would never love again, but eventually I did! Okay so this story is missing details right now because it hasn’t happened yet; but I know it will happen. You bet the story will rival the tale of Gone With The Wind! (It’s an old book, all you need to know is that adults like each other and kiss…eww I know, cooties).

If I give up, I won’t tell you the story of when I almost gave up my dream of being a lawyer but I didn’t! I will tell you the story of when I eventually passed the bar exam and became an amazing lawyer. Now, I know you will ask me, “Mom, what is a lawyer?”

Okay so you know how every game has rules? Well a lawyer is an expert on the rules of the game. And you know how some rules are silly and don’t make sense? Well some lawyers like your mommy fight to change those rules so everyone could play fairly. I realize, if I give up, I won’t tell you the riveting stories when your mom fought fire-breathing dragons to change those rules! Imagine how amusing it will be for me to re-tell the story! We can re-enact it! I will be the dragon and you will be the cool lawyer!

Kid, for every story has that hasn’t happened to me, I have so many stories to tell you that already happened to me – for example, the time I slept on a park bench in Paris! Or that time when mommy travelled with her sister (your aunt) to Camp Nou and saw Messi! (Don’t worry, if you’re a child of mine, you will know Messi)

I am writing this letter to you because part of my illness tricks my brain to think that there is no hope for the future. Your mom’s broken heart feels fragile like glass. But I want you to remember, your mom turned her broken heart to a sword. How? Well this is my first lesson to you kid: Depression may make you feel fragile like thin glass. But guess what? Even when you break glass, it becomes sharp as a sword.

Your mom cries a lot right now because she is sick. But it won’t be forever. Luckily she has a lot of friends and mentors who are helping her through this rough time.

I want you to remember kid, that by the time you arrive to my world, my glass heart will be a sword. We will fight so many dragons with my sword. But making this sharp sword will take time – and so be patient with me. In fact, I may not be lucky with my first attempt to make an awesome sword, but I eventually will succeed.

Alright kid,

Can’t wait for our future adventures and stories.

See you later.

– Elsa

“What If I’ll Never Be Like Marie Henein?”

A personal reflection on mental health and being a female lawyer.

Law school is an important time in every lawyer’s development. It is a time when you learn the mechanics of the common and civil law; it is a time when you build connections with classmates and professors. But it is also a time when we start asking ourselves, “What kind of lawyer will I become?” It is a time when we begin to build our perception of what a lawyer should look like.

I entered law school in 2014, around the time of Jian Ghomeshi trial. Naturally as law students, we noticed Ghomeshi’s lawyer – Marie Henein. Many students, including myself, were in awe of Henein. She is seen as a criminal defense fighter. Media coverage surrounding Henein also came around the time when Amal Clooney grabbed public attention. Amal Clooney graduated from Oxford; and she was perceived as a fighter for human rights.

For law students, Marie Henein and Amal Clooney began shaping our expectation of what it means to be a modern, female lawyer in a historically male-dominated profession. The modern, female lawyer is brilliant; she is poised, but she is also a fierce advocate. However, I can’t help but wonder, where does mental health fit in the narrative of the modern, female lawyer?

During the first two years of law school, I felt like the Marie Henein of labour law. I fought for workers’ rights within the Latino community; and I didn’t shy away from conflict against employers. I did well in my classes and I thrived in exams. I even secured articling early at a top labour firm in Ottawa. I was on top of my game. However, by the time I started 3L, something in me changed. I couldn’t focus in my third-year classes. I started to avoid conflict. I cried a lot, in private and public; I struggled with the bar exam. At my lowest point, I wanted to end my life. I learned from doctors that these were the symptoms of serious depression.

I no longer felt brilliant. I no longer felt poised. I no longer felt like the Marie Henein of labour law. I no longer felt like the modern, female lawyer. I thought to myself, “What if I’ll never be like Marie Henein?” I truly wanted to embody the strong presence of modern, female lawyer. But for me to do this, I needed to learn how to be a lawyer living with depression.

It’s been two years since my journey with depression started in 3L. I have some bad days, but truth is, I mostly have good days now. I have started to look forward, not backwards. One evening, I was scrolling down my social media newsfeed and saw the name: “Marie Henein.” Something clicked in me.

The media portrayal of modern, female lawyers is adversarial in the court context. They use their intelligence to fight for their clients, or fight against human rights abuses. No doubt, the modern, female lawyer is a professional at her job. However I’ve learned that part of the fighting spirit is standing up for yourself. To put it simply, the modern, female lawyer recognizes that she is worth fighting for. She knows she deserves equal pay. She knows she deserves a safe and harassment-free work environment.

The modern, female lawyer also recognizes that if her soul is hurting from depression, she must honour herself first, even if that includes crying. I challenge law students to include mental health in their perception of what it means to be a lawyer. Aspire to be Marie Henein. Aspire to be Amal Clooney. Aspire to be yourself.

After my articling term finished, I wasn’t called to the bar like my friends. I needed some time off to honour myself and eventually write the bar exam. I’m glad I did because the modern, female lawyer not only fights in court, but she fights for herself.

I’m glad I fought for myself and I’m still here to tell the tale.

 

a word on suicide in law

Before I begin, this post may be triggering for some. I want my blog to be a safe space so please feel to close this tab or go to my cat’s Instagram page

I want to talk about suicide in law.

It’s a sensitive subject so I will proceed with much care, sensitivity, and love. A study showed that lawyers ranked 5th in suicide among other occupations. 

November 2016. Late February 2017. Those two dates are forever etched in my mind because alone in Ottawa, I almost took my own life. Twice. To this day, I tear up thinking about my attempts. Suicide is … an odd thing. It drains you. You are a shell of yourself. It’s not a short term recovery. It’s a long process. I think the best description of suicide is from the comedian Patton Oswalt: 

I’ve brushed up against this darkness and I know it’s a tempting exit but REACH OUT to ANYONE. Stay on this side of it — in the light and warmth. Where you get to try again, every day.

The exit. You see, once you’ve seen suicide, you are tempted when life is overwhelming to use that “exit door.” Admittedly, I’m no exception. Part of my recovery is forgetting that the exit door is there. It’s 2018 and I’m still in therapy for it.

So how does play in law? Law is overwhelming. Law schools are failing in teaching us how to cope with failure because the blunt reality, law rewards success and punishes failure. So let’s say you failed criminal law 101. You have to retake the class. But law schools seldom offer summer school classes. So you are forced to take crim 101 again, along with your full 2L course load. This is exhausting. Another example: let’s say you failed the bar – there is immense dread because you can’t help but feel “I invested all this time and money to not become a lawyer.” This is a demoralizing idea.

We don’t talk about failure in law because odds are, if you got into law school, you succeeded a lot to get there. In other words, “what is this failure you talk about?”

Yet, we know failure happens because we are human. For the most part, folks learn from failure. That’s great.

But not all folks get that message – especially those folks who may be predisposed to depression and suicide. I’ll use myself as an example: when I failed my bar in June 2017, I wanted to use that exit door again.

By October 2017, I really wanted to “go” because I felt like a complete idiot for failing. Folks told me to live and learn. True. But when the system rewards success with pomp and pageantry, you can’t help but feel…like crap.

Law schools, law firms, legal minds, judges (hey Bev hey!): let’s talk failure. It happens as a community. Teach us how to cope, without losing ourselves.

Canada Suicide Prevention Hotline: in French or English: toll-free 1-833-456-4566 Available 24/7

 

The Emperor of Bay Street

The emperor penguin has a demanding presence. They are large in size and they are able to endure harsh environments.

“Sounds like me.”

The young man was reading an article from a nature magazine. He was impatient while he was seated in the King Street streetcar. Traffic was congested, as usual.

“I don’t want to be late for work. I have a target of hours that I need to reach per day.”
“It’s okay to relax before work. Read a magazine to distract you from the time,” said his therapist.

The young man followed the advice of his therapist and the following week, he picked up a nature magazine for his commute. Although, he still looked at his watch for the time.

“Don’t these people know that my time is valuable,” muttered the young man under his breath.

To a certain extent, the young man was right. Like the emperor penguin in Antarctica, the young man also had a demanding presence. He graduated top in his law school; he worked at a top US law firm before moving back to Toronto. He earned a reputation as being the top lawyer on Bay Street. He had reason to believe that he was the emperor of Bay Street.

Male emperor penguins are protective fathers. They keep the egg warm during the frigid winter in Antarctica. It is his job to shield the egg while the mom is gone. 

Fathers.”

The young man hated that word. He didn’t know his birth father. He was told by his adoptive family that his biological mother died shortly after giving birth. His biological father soon put the new baby up for adoption.

That is all he knew of his birth parents. He always held resentment to his birth father, even though his adoptive family loved him and provided for him.

“Why didn’t my birth father at least try to raise me?”
“We don’t have the answer,” said the therapist, “But we know it must have been a tough decision.”
“Whatever. I don’t care. I’m building my own life now.”
For the young man thought he was the emperor of Bay Street.

As the young man reached his destination, he looked at his watch and realized that he was late.

“Shit!”

The young man pushed through the small crowd assembled in the streetcar. As he got off the streetcar, he started running towards his office. Without noticing the human life next to him, he almost tripped next to the homeless man.

“Move! ” yelled the young man to the homeless man.

As the homeless man said nothing and quietly moved to the side, the young man rolled his eyes. The young man quickly ran to his office and proceeded to bill his clients as the emperor of Bay Street.

The homeless man walked slowly to the corner of the wall. He smiled.

He suffered from addiction and he came from an abusive home. Despite the pain, his heart was pure. When he met her, his life improved. He got a cashier job and started dreaming of a life with her. She became pregnant and he was excited to become a father.

The birth was complicated. She didn’t make it but his baby boy did.

“Sir, this is your son.”

As the homeless man looked at his son, he felt a deep love and protection for this tiny being. However, he knew he couldn’t provide the child with the life it deserved, for addiction was his greatest battle and he just lost his support.

“I will protect the child from the harsh reality while his mother is gone. This child should be adopted to a loving and providing family.”

A true emperor will protect the young, like the emperor penguin.

For the homeless man was the true emperor of Bay Street.

Decades later, the homeless man was living in a tent. It was raining a lot and the man needed a magazine to protect his head from nature’s tears. He picked up a magazine from the ground. It was a legal magazine.

He flipped to page 15 and there he was – his boy. He knew the face. The boy looked like his mother.

The boy was the top lawyer on Bay Street, according to the writer. The father smiled. He was proud of his son. He protected his son from the brutal environment of the streets.

The homeless man sat next to a garbage bin on Bay Street, seated as the reigning emperor of Bay Street.