According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults age 18 and older in the United States. Additionally, approximately 98 percent of law students experience “significant stress,” compared to 70 percent of med students and 43 percent of grad students, according to a popular mental health blog.
Like most budding lawyers, my first semester of law school was not a cakewalk. My aunt, who I was very close to, passed away within my first month of attendance. I wasn’t accustomed to the competitive atmosphere that is so characteristic of the juris doctorate curriculum, and every Socratic method-laced class filled me with undeniable terror. I would read case after case and forget the bottom line when my professors would call on me. I was labeled as incompetent and unprepared.
Needless to say, I was disappointed in myself.
You see, prior to law school, I was the lead on group projects, one of the hardest-working students on my college speech team and I was that person. You know her, the girl who works out, eats breakfast and is caught up on emails before sun up.
All of that changed when I attended law school. I was still working out daily to relieve stress, but I stopped seeing the forest for the trees. My brain constantly felt swamped and overwhelmed. I never seemed to have enough time on my finals, and I would get lost in a wilderness of concepts and phrases.
In short, I began to doubt myself so severely that I decided to see my therapist. She handed me a pamphlet about how to handle my anxiety.
Anxiety? I didn’t have that. I couldn’t have that.
But oh boy, I did have that.
I began to read a book called The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Turns out, there are plenty of successful women in this world who struggle with anxiety. I thought, “There is no way the creator of Shondaland, the goddess of Thursday night television, suffered with this at any point in her life.”
Thank goodness I was mistaken.
A few years ago, Shonda was asked to give a commencement speech at Dartmouth, her alma mater. Her speech was relevant, powerful and contained all the hallmarks of memorable commencement speeches. Before she spoke, however, she worried that she would “pass out, die, poop.”
When my anxiety was at its worse, similar thoughts consumed me. Every social interaction, every party and every law school case brief was filled with the thought of me failing, being disliked, being misunderstood and the list goes on. Sound streams of worry buzzed in my ear like a mosquito in the middle of the night.
It had to stop.
I thought back to a time when I successfully quieted self-doubt. I was a freshman at the University of Alabama who had earned a coveted scholarship to compete on the college’s speech team. We spent most of the academic year traveling around the country competing with and against some of the most brilliant students in the United States. I constantly thought, “I’m not worthy to work with these people” or “I don’t belong here.” My coaches couldn’t quiet my toxic inner voice. My skin resembled some rare form of smallpox, and my waistline expanded from stress-eating.
As I competed throughout college, something shifted. I dared myself to perform pieces that spoke to my personal experiences. I showed other students who I was without fear of rejection or failure. I spoke honestly and developed relevant messages for my audiences. My acne cleared and my weight dropped as a direct result of embracing who I was. My knees and hands stopped shaking and people appreciated what I had to say.
I had found my voice.
Flash forward to the beginning of my second year of law school. On the verge of dropping out, I decided to do something that I was afraid to do: try out for my law school’s traveling moot court teams. If you’re chosen for one of these competitions, you spend months writing a legal brief and learning complicated case law. My audition room was filled with top students from the year ahead of me and professors who asked impossible questions.
There was a chance I would “pass out, die, poop.”
But I didn’t. I took a breath and sailed on. I was selected for one of the best teams in the school’s history, and I had two years of meaningful experiences and competitive success. I left law school with the ability to explain complicated environmental regulations in front of a large group of people. I didn’t let anxiety take that away from me.
My anxiety was not my identity.
Sometime later, after a tough breakup, I overcame my fear of online dating and marketed my newly single status (and Barre bod) on Bumble, a popular dating app. I endured several failed dates with men who were just kind of okay. Specifically, I began dating my “type” again, never mind the fact that relationships with my type never worked out in the long-run.
Feeling exasperated with the dating pool, I asked my mom for advice.
She asked, “Why won’t you date someone fun and hot?”
I said, “Because that’s too uncomfortable. What if they don’t feel the same way about me?”
I’m not fun and hot.
Do you see my pattern here?
It’s easy to avoid an uncomfortable situation and settle for the status quo. Comfort zones are comfortable, but they aren’t “fun” and they’re most definitely not “hot”.
I accepted my mom’s challenge and only swiped right on men who met my mother’s criteria. Turns out, Hot Bumble Man matched with me and asked me on a date that week.
We’re engaged now.
And no, our relationship isn’t built on being “fun” and “hot”.
It’s different. We always have things to talk about, and he’s probably the most interesting man I’ve ever met. He challenges me in ways I’ve never known, and it’s because I avoided my type this go-round. Turns out, Hot Bumble Man understands me better than my type ever did.
If you struggle with anxiety like I do, try doing something you’ve always believed to be “impossible”. Find a new challenge. Who knows? You may discover that the reward far outweighs the risk.