Building Deep Connections


Building Deep Connections

In previous columns, I’ve written about what I’ve done to heal from mental illness. For example, I discussed taking time off work, doing counseling and spending more time with family and friends. In this column, I’ll write about what caused me to regain (and retain) my mental wellness.

There are three things that were key to me regaining and retaining my mental wellness: self-awareness, self-compassion and connection.

I’ve previously written about the wellness program I created with my counsellor. Part of this program included doing some personal growth work, much of which was focused on building curiosity about myself, including my patterns and tendencies. In other words, building self-insight and becoming more self-aware.

I also worked on developing self-compassion. This is critical, particularly as you grow your level of self-awareness and self-insight. Most of us do not have difficulty showing compassion for others. However, many of us have difficulty extending that same level of compassion to ourselves. We hold ourselves to incredibly high and often unachievable personal and professional standards, and then are very hard on ourselves when we perceive that we have not met them. We also tend to judge ourselves when we feel normal human emotions, such as fear.

Building self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with building self-compassion. You cannot truly have one without the other.

How do you gain self-awareness and self-compassion? In my experience, the key is connection. By connection, I mean meaningful interactions or relationships with other people that are characterized by things like curiosity, authenticity, empathy, safety and vulnerability. As we become more connected with others and become more curious about them, we become more curious about ourselves, which in turn causes us to be even more curious about others, and so on. As connection deepens and walls start to come down, we start to realize, for example, that many of the fears we have are not unique to ourselves, but are in fact shared by almost everyone, which helps us develop self-compassion.

How did self-awareness, self-compassion and connection help me achieve and maintain my mental wellness?

I’ve previously noted that being a closeted 2SLGBTQIA+1 person was a significant barrier to seeking treatment, as I was unwilling to disclose my sexuality to anyone, including treatment providers. The main barrier to coming out was fear. I feared that I would not be accepted by some, and that being openly 2SLGBTQIA+ would negatively affect my career. Connection helped me gain self-acceptance and ultimately the courage to get past my fears and come out, which was the single best thing I did for my mental wellness.

As an articled student, I told myself that I was not smart enough, not articulate enough and that I did not belong at the firm. I was driven by fear. To compensate for my many perceived deficiencies, I refused to set boundaries — I was going to work harder than everyone else. This approach contributed significantly to my mental illness. Building deep connections with other lawyers helped me realize that I was not alone in having such fears, and that many of us have imposter syndrome. I began to identify and accept my strengths and — with a dose of self-compassion — my areas of weakness. Most importantly, I learned that having fear is okay, but that we can’t be driven by it. Building deep and meaningful relationships with other lawyers — colleagues, fellow volunteers, mentors and even opposing counsel — has been instrumental in my professional growth and is vitally important to maintaining my mental wellness.

I am convinced that the key to addressing our profession’s mental health crisis is connection. The beauty of connection lies in its ability to start a chain reaction. A single connection can lead to multiple connections. So, my question for you is this: who are you connecting with next?

1. The National Study on Wellness in the Legal Profession found that people who are Indigenous, racialized, women, living with a disability or 2SLGBTQIA+ experience psychological distress, burnout, depression or anxiety at levels that are much higher than the general population of legal professionals. |