I started writing this post in April 2021. It is now January 2022. But I’ve left the original April writing as is for context of what has happened over time below, with a line break to show the differences in time in the writing.
This is no disco inferno.
This is an inferno without the disco.
Ironically, in February 2021 I was attempting to achieve better work-life balance. I’ve been on hiatus from writing not because I’ve been attempting better work-life balance, but because I haven’t been able to and haven’t been in the mood to write anything from exhaustion of the work, a new relationship, new house etc. I haven’t done much else outside of work to be honest except waste my time mindlessly. I didn’t care for much in my personal life if the occasion required too much effort, which was the case for most things.
My resilience has deteriorated. I haven’t been able to concentrate as much as I used to in a working day which culminated in a panic attack on a Friday morning, 1 working day before I was due to start the list of jury trials in a particular Court that week. The incident was irritating (not to me of course, because I needed that reality check) because that day I had 3 Court hearings, 3 submissions deadlines, 2 backup trials to prepare for the following week and 1 file to review. I did none of them because I took a few days off trying to recover and troubleshoot from my panic attack.
Looking after my mental health shouldn’t be an inconvenience. But that’s how I treated it and myself to be honest at various times, hence it slowly crumbled away whilst I gave most of my energy to my work. I fore gave the activities that grounded me in the present and allowed myself to spend too much time in my head, a significant feature of the type of work I do on top of my personality type to do so. Hence my now sad admissions of anxiety and an anxiety attack. I say sad because I thought I usually take quite good care of myself, but it’s sobering to now accept that whilst I can, I haven’t done so.
Thankfully my partner was there and helped me immediately create space for myself. I shouldn’t need him to do that but sometimes I need people around me to remind me to assert myself.
I don’t think my anxiety attack was a bad experience in hindsight (in the moment it was total shit, I thought my career was going to take a massive hit from being seen as “weak” or “mental”). The anxiety attack was the red engine light that flicks on before something worse happens.
How I dealt with it:
- Talk to the health coach (ex-nurse) at my GP
- EAP – counselling
- Talked to my bosses to discuss the workload and what support I need
- Talked to a mentor/senior to discuss how they dealt with work stress (recommended by a colleague)
- Talk about it, write about it, and reflect on it
- Do things that I used to, that made me feel healthy and grounded
I have a number of views on the above and how effective they actually are for the type of trauma-informed workplaces.
On the last method, I think it’s important to honour time to properly relax, and make sure the stress from acknowledging “I’m tired” doesn’t increase because of the activities that keep you grounded. Sometimes I’ve found a way to get grounded is simply to be still and pause. That might look like doing nothing to some (and doing nothing is GREAT given capitalism drives us to constant productivity). I also enjoy it as an act of resistance these days, which is an excuse and sometimes is. When I sit still and pause, I usually like to be outside or even just in my backyard. Admiring the natural environment around me and giving myself time to let my thoughts slow down in pace a little.
Unfortunately I’m not the only person who has had difficulty with mental health lately in the profession. A recent article has been released about the Aotearoa Legal Worker’s Union survey on mental health amongst some in the legal profession (there were some 245 people who participated in their survey). I’m aware the law society are conducting another stream of research on this (“Work on Wellbeing”). A survey report from one of these law society streams showed that those surveyed viewed quitting their job as a last resort to managing their mental health circumstances.
I had been thinking about quitting my job for some time because I wasn’t sure I was as committed to this work space right now, whilst in the throws of a whole lot of lifestyle changes. I do not see many prosecutors having children which was something I wanted to consider in the next few years. I also had a lot of personal cultural goals (to master 2 different languages and respective cultural practices/protocols) I wanted to achieve which I knew for sure I couldn’t achieve with such a full and inflexible workload. And I also wanted to do further study which I for sure wouldn’t be able to do in whilst in this position. Whilst the role was enjoyable, the team were great and the culture was good, these personal things are also a priority for me.
The health coach did not give me any advice about quitting my job. In fact, she used to be a forensic Court nurse so had experience with stressed lawyers running about the Court house trying to deal with their workloads. So I didn’t ask her about that. But I knew my heart wasn’t completely in the role so I started looking for jobs shortly after the panic attack. Which could be reactionary but I also think, it was a reality check with the personal goals context in mind.
Fast forward to January 2022, it’s now been months since I formally left my role in criminal law. Prosecuting is such a difficult but rewarding role and right now, I don’t have the capacity to commit to it the way that I want to, with my other goals and lifestyle desires in mind. So I quit.
At this point in time, it’s been the best decision for me and I am happy.
In the lead up to quitting, I did an 8 week career coaching programme called “Make your move” by Suki Xiao who is a career coach based in NZ. The programme predominantly focuses on assisting you to reflect on your current career, find your career direction and improve your self-love and self-confidence. I had quit my job the week before I started the programme and was almost at an all-time low of self-doubt as to my direction and self-confidence because I took on some words from some seniors and others in the profession a little too seriously.
The programme shifted my mindset about my career a lot, to one which is less tied to titles and one more focused primarily on learning and utilising my natural strengths, whilst offsetting my natural weaknesses. I’m in a career where the pipeline is rigid and hierarchical so it can be difficult not to frame leaving particular specialties in my profession as “failure” or “weakness” because you essentially have to ‘start again’ to some degree. My trying a new area is not failure when it’s framed as an experiment towards learning whether these new spaces better amplify my strengths and values. Also, I’m not defined by my career only, my career amplifies or dulls my idiosyncrasies, is the way I earn for a living and is something that I do because of my interests which is of course a privilege.
Obviously all of the above is also to validate my decision making as I’m going against the grain of what most in my previous position do. It’s just another step to validating and asserting what I want to do.
I’m now working in family law and have a whole lot of career learning milestones alongside the above personal goals in mind and learnings which I still want to apply from the programme.