Professional Development: A Lawyer in Recovery

  • October 30, 2020
  • Jessie Gomberg

Someone once told me to be very careful about disclosing that I am in recovery. The phrase he used was cute but ominous: “you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

I’ve chewed on that now for two years. It makes sense to me that many people cannot speak openly about mental health conditions or other disabilities in their professional lives and it makes even more sense that this occurs frequently in law. One of the more heartbreaking stories I learned was that Justice Gerald Le Dain resigned from the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 because of the unfortunate belief that someone with depression could not be a good judge.

I’ll probably never be a judge, but I am someone who has felt the pressure that Justice Le Dain likely felt. I often cursed myself for being weak if I could not rise to the challenges that I presumed other people did with grace.

Mental illness runs in my family. My grandmother committed suicide before I was born, and my uncle did so during my lifetime. I was 13 at the time and I did not yet appreciate that the complex biology that had  imprinted me would eventually lead to my own diagnosis of major depression. I was 16, and I was immediately hospitalized over March Break upon revealing plans of suicide to a doctor. I came back from March Break and re-entered school.

I was scared but I was also relieved. By the age of 16, I had been holding my breath for quite a few years. I’d spent much of my adolescent life feeling “apart from” – apart from you, no matter who you were or how much you told me that you cared about me or that I was not alone. It was a lonely and painful existence, but I had a diagnosis, so I was cured.

That was not how it actually worked for me and I am sure I am not alone in that experience. Over the course of the next 9 years, my depression took me to predictably dark places. I adopted coping mechanisms that did not serve me. I attended therapy regularly throughout my undergraduate and master’s degrees, but alcohol was always there, and my excessive consumption of it became a progressive illness of its own.