I am not alone because I have in-laws who have given me the freedom to practice law while living with Bipolar Disorder.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2000 after six days of not sleeping or eating. During that severe manic episode, I walked in Heaven on Earth, felt like I was the Second Coming, and trembled with love like a tuning fork. I spent three weeks in a psychiatric hospital, and I struggled to regain a work and personal life in the face of my new label. Luckily, I have always been steadfast in taking my medications, though it took 12 long years to find the right balance.
In 2001 I decided to go to law school, against the advice of my therapist, who warned of the stress and addictions that plague attorneys. Because I had been a straight-A student and three sport athlete in high school, I thought I could breeze through. Wrong. It was very tough for me and I swung from euphoria to depression as if on a bungee rope. Depression comes on like a thief in the night and only when you rise from its darkness do you realize how pervasive it was. When depressed you are stuck in a cruel mental suspension: you don’t think things are that bad but you don’t think they can get better.
I made it through law school, but failed my first bar exam. I passed the second time around and married the love of my life, another lawyer. After settling in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I bounced from one law job to the other, terrified my bosses would find out I was mentally ill. To get pregnant I came off all my medications, which precipitated another trip to heaven on earth, which is where God shared with me the revelations that led me to believe I could save the world. Though I recognize that as trademark manic religiousity, I still think I have found a new faith that could change our lives.
After 18 months of post-partum depression, my husband and I moved to South Arkansas to be close to his parents. His father is a lawyer too and he welcomed me to the family law firm, where I could practice on my own flexible schedule and work from home so I could spend time with my two sons. I’ve been lucky to have an understanding employer who gives me the freedom to run my own Social Security Disability practice and engage in all the usual rigors of the law, like researching and writing briefs, meeting with clients, and arguing cases in front of judges. In February I argued a case in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest court you can take a Social Security case. I feel no less of an attorney for only working 15 hours a week. Rather, I feel like a complete professional because I love what I do and have a loving family who helps me manage my illness. Family support, the proper medications, and a tremendous psychiatrist have afforded me life, real life, after diagnosis. I have published a book about my story called Through the Open Door: A Bipolar Attorney Talks Mania, Recovery, and Heaven on Earth.