“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
For those of us facing extreme financial stress, Mr Micawber’s words from Dickens’ David Copperfield may seem all too true.
Life seems to be all about balancing the books. Pressures of debt, routine deadlines and constant demands from others weigh us down. Anxiety levels rise. Arguments become commonplace. That extra drink seems so tempting.
The increasing outward pressures seem to light the blue touch paper to unfamiliar and uncomfortable conflict. Things in life that seemed predictable become slippery and unreliable. Our sense of agency and self-control can evaporate.
We can slip into denial. “This isn’t happening.” “Everything will be sorted as soon as I can get those bills paid.”
Normally phlegmatic lawyers become unaccountably angry with clients, other lawyers, staff, their families …
And then we try to bargain our way through the process: “Maybe if I speak to the bank.” “What if I were to go insolvent?” Or, perish the thought, “What if I just borrowed a bit from client account?”
Sometimes things become overwhelming and we tip into depression. “I can’t get out of this hole.” “My practice will have to fold.” “I’m a failure.” “It might be simpler if I weren’t here.” And then, probably a long way down the road for many of us, we may come to accept what has happened whether for the better or the worse.
On top of this, some can experience a kind of separation anxiety. From the self that we were. From the lawyer we aspired to be. From the person we would like others to see.
Yes, the external pressures of professional practice heightened by inescapable financial demands can feel enormous. But for most of us who go through this, the internal pressures can be even more tormenting. Managing a budget with difficulty can be bad enough, but when the flame is fanned by guilt, shame and self-reproach, things can seem unbearable.
Pretty gloomy stuff, eh?
But what if we had fast forwarded to the acceptance stage when we first began to recognise that things were getting out of control? Maybe simply by reading this and realising that you are not alone in your experience may help you to stand back and see things a bit more objectively?
As lawyers we prize independence, self-sufficiency and privacy. It goes right against the grain to admit that we might need help ourselves. The first step is usually the hardest.
There are people and organisations that can help and do so in confidence. Speaking to a trusted friend or a partner and sharing what you are going through can help. Maybe talk to your GP if you feel that the anxiety is too great to handle or if you are slipping into depression? LawCare runs a confidential helpline. SBA The Solicitors’ Charity is here to help.
In the real world Mr Micawber’s alternatives of happiness and misery are overly simplistic.
But maybe by asking for help and taking what feels like a risky step might set us on a journey in the right direction?
Angus Lyon is a psychodynamic counsellor and formerly practiced as a solicitor for over 35 years. He is the author of A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress (Ark 2015) and a co-author of Central Law Training’s new Wellbeing for Lawyers course.