Volume 10, Issue 2
Before I started law, I asked a JD-Graduate friend of mine what I should be prepared to expect at law school.
She said, “Imagine a group of Type A overachievers being thrown together in a pressure cooker.”
And I was like yeah fuck well, I’ve already written an honours thesis about suicide so I’m set. And I was, in the sense that I had already done hours upon hours upon hours of reading and spent plenty of nights in my pyjamas, crying in front of The Bachelor while eating peanut butter from the jar with a spoon. What has surprised me about the JD is a) how much I’ve come to love my peers and b) how much I compare myself to my peers. I had this mantra for a while that went: don’t fucking compare yourself to others, idiot, and now it is: DO NOT FUCKING COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS. DO NOT. STOP IT. Idiot.
Enter my anxiety. We’re best friends. We’ve known each other since before I embraced the fact that I am, and always will be, a sad queer girl. Ours is an uneasy relationship in the sense that she has been known to make me cry on the tram, but when bad shit actually happens she’s like “you’ve got this, remember? We rehearsed it.” And I say, “Yeah and I didn’t get to sleep until 4am that night.”
I am what you would call a functional wreck. Here, look:
Obligations exam? Probs failed (Didn’t).
New friends? They’ll realise I’m not funny and boring in a fortnight (Didn’t).
Ask a question in class? That’s a fucking dumb question (Wasn’t).
Ask her on a date? She won’t respond (Didn’t).
The fear of failure is there, and I’ve accepted that, thanks to genetics, it’s not going to ever disappear. What is harder to do is find ways of coping that are both sustainable in the long term, and not self-destructive.
Enter therapy. Everyone should have therapy. It taught me Mental Health 101 things like: exercise, sleep, eat more/smoke less, and practice yoga maybe. These are obvs standard existing things, but you would be surprised at how quickly a deficit in one can result in you crying on the lawns while listening to Childish Gambino (I’m a really big advocate for crying in public, btw).
The Law School has implemented plenty of programs that help in this respect (still not going to go running at 8:30am though), but the nature of the degree and nature of the field means that mental health issues have the capacity to run rampant if they’re not counteracted by an environment where students know that they can speak to people about whatever is making them feel a bit sad. It’s a tricky coin in the sense that, speaking to a lecturer or similar mentor is cool and can be helpful, but other times you just need to hear it from someone who knows how fucking horrible it is trying to read and understand a difficult concept (see: consideration, ADR).
What I’m getting at is that if not everyone, then certainly a large number of people, will have a day this semester where they are internally screaming or amazed that they got to uni on time. That’s so fine and we all know it’s fine, but also, no two people have the same means of dealing with their shit. If someone says, “I’m having a fkn shitty day mate,” and you say “Just stay positive and think of all the beautiful things in the universe, Namaste babe,” they’re probably going to think “Gee wow thanks, didn’t realise I could just posi-vibe my way out of my very real concerns about my student debt and employment prospects”.
I am certainly not anti-positive thinking, but mental health is one area where I do have the confidence to say: I know my shit, and this can be frustrating to hear. If the only answer to student wellbeing is to be happy and drink more green tea, there's a likely chance that a great number of the anxious/depressed student populace will feel more isolated. Be supportive, sure, but let people have control over how they respond to stress, and how they find means of coping with the next few years. See someone getting upset in class because maybe the discussion marginalises their experience? Say something. See someone looking kind of shitty in line for a coffee? Don’t say something, maybe they’re tired and don’t want to talk. See someone having a cigarette on a milk crate next to the entrance crying and obviously listening to Beyoncé? That’s just me. Come say hey.
Tilly Houghton is a first-year JD student who spends a lot of time thinking about bread, and Winona Ryder
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