Coping with the 1L blues

Ontario Law Student, Class of 2015

I really struggled through parts of my first year of law school. During the months of December and January, I was upset most days. This was mainly due to the anxiety that came from my sense that I was being given more work than I would ever be able to get through. We were repeatedly told that first year marks were extremely important and as much as I always have a “do what I can” mentality, that pressure got to me. I was also getting a strong message that success equates to a career as a corporate lawyer on Bay Street. That view did not suit my interests or desired lifestyle. The disconnect between these two visions made me feel isolated and unsure of my decision to attend law school.  While my close group of friends was very supportive of one another, I also found the class as a whole very competitive.

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“If I couldn’t handle the first term, how was I going to get through 3 years plus articling?”

Ontario Law Student, Class of 2016

My biggest struggle with law school was that I didn’t realize how much of a mental and emotional toll it would have on me. From the infamous bell-curve to the super-humans that were my peers, my confidence took a huge hit. I tried telling myself “obviously they accepted you because you can do it.” But as my first term progressed and we hit midterm season, I started breaking down more and more. I felt like everyone was getting it and I just wasn’t. I couldn’t keep up with the workload, I didn’t understand what was going on in class, and my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t eat or sleep properly.

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“You’re not alone”, they said. “Everyone gets stressed”, they said.

Ontario Law Student, Class of 2015

 

I am a proud nerd. I always loved school. Sitting down and pouring over texts came easily to me. As did paying attention in lecture and taking notes. I was thrilled when I got accepted to law school. It had been a dream of mine for a while and my hard work paid off.

When I started law school, my attitude slowly began to change. My class attendance was irregular and I was vocal about not caring about school. I goofed off in class when I did attend. At first, I thought that the fact that I didn’t care was healthy. Law school is known for making people care too much. I was not letting that happen to me – I was beating the system. Fellow students were consumed by their work, spending every free minute in the library. I laughed at the guy who asked me in October if I started my summaries. While everyone appeared to be working a lot harder, I was living it up, spending hours talking to friends during my free time and binging on television shows at home.

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Mental illness is not a sign of weakness

Rebecca Lockwood,
Osgoode Hall Law School, Class of 2014

In October of my first year of law school, a counsellor explained to me I was suffering from anxiety and depression. I knew something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what was going on or where to turn.

My doctor referred me to this counsellor after I broke down during a routine check-up. She inquired about my general health and asked, “How are you doing these days?” With that question alone, I began to sob. She sensed something was up.

Although my counsellor wasn’t a psychiatrist and thus her diagnosis wasn’t official, it had the same effect as one. Coming to understand what I was experiencing brought both relief and shame. I was relieved to know that spending entire days in bed crying wasn’t my new “normal” state of being. I had been afraid this was going to last indefinitely. I was ashamed because I felt weak, like I had failed to live up to people’s expectations, including and especially my own.

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The Rough Guide to Your First Year of Law School and Self-Discovery

Mona Zafarian, Osgoode Hall Law School, Class of 2015

“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try” – Seth Godin

Completing my first year of law school made me feel simultaneously exasperated yet enthralled. I was left with the lingering momentum to learn and discover, but I needed a new way to channel my inquisitive energy.The summer of 2013 gave me the perfect, uninterrupted chance to rediscover myself and cultivate my interests.

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