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The Next Day

2004-03-31 - 6:18 p.m.

Guest Book

Last Five Entries:
The Party's Over
July 11, 2004
The Next Day
My Nervous Breakdown
True Confessions: My Life as a Female Impersonator
March 15, 2004
Bite Me
February 29, 2004



I knew that after I posted about my meltdown yesterday, I would get a bunch of guestbook entries offering support. I was in no condition to check yesterday, but I just checked today, and thanks to everyone.

I spent some time talking to Hoover today, and he and I have determined that what happened to me yesterday was probably more of a panic attack than a nervous breakdown. I'm still not recovered from it, but I did eat food today, which is something I haven't done in a week, and that's good.

This morning I had a trial. It was supposed to be a child custody and support trial, but an agreement between the parties on custody was reached at about 4 p.m. yesterday, so the trial was only on support. The negotiation of the past seven days on the custody matter, and my spiral into a panic attack, happened concurrently. I don't know how to put things briefly. Objectively, my client was being unreasonable in the negotiation, not following my advice, making unreasonable demands, and refusing to sign agreements once he agreed orally to them. In my head, I was thinking, I'm a failure to not get him to agree, I'm a failure because I'm not doing enough to make him happy, a custody order governs the relationship between a father and his children and I'm screwing up his life and theirs for not doing better, and that I wasn't prepared enough for trial if the agreement wouldn't be done. So, I'm ruining lives and I'm a fraud as a professional.

I started obsessing about the case, thinking about nothing but that case, for a week. Really, that was all that was ever on my mind. I couldn't do anything else. I couldn't read; I tried. I couldn't talk to anyone (outside of working on the case). I continually checked my messages (because my client and I did indeed talk after hours and until late hours often). I couldn't watch television, I couldn't play computer games. When I wasn't physically working on the case, I was curled up on my bed in a ball, thinking about it. In the past seven days, I have eaten about 6 slices of bread and one of those 'powerbars'. I've been sleeping about 12 hours a day, though none of it has been restful sleep. In the past few days, I've barely had the energy to move.

So yesterday morning, when I found out that yet again that my client had done something to torpedo the custody agreement- on the eve of trial- that's when I lost it. I started crying uncontrollably. First I picked out a psychotherapist out of the phone book and scheduled an immediate appointment. Then I called Hoover and told him what was going on, that I just couldn't handle it anymore, and begging him to get me out of this and all the legal work I was doing for him. Hoover promised me that after tomorrow, I could get rid of this case (even though I still have other work I'm contracted to do for my client), and that he'd take on anything else I felt I couldn't do.

I went to the psychoterapist, and we talked for about an hour. We determined my problem was that I set high standards for myself, and if something happens that I don't meet them, I start fearing that I will be discovered as a failure, and then that fear cycles back into preventing me from doing things to meet my standards. I think that's right.

When I got back home from the psychoterapist, I talked to everyone involved in the case and we worked out an agreement on custody at the last second. Leaving still a child support trial, for which I had also completely unprepared. That was something of a relief, because it's a lot easier to wing it on a support trial than a custody trial.

(Though I have in the past, many times, won custody trials on no preparation. When I was at legal aid, I had a lot of people come to me at the last second to ask me to represent them the day before trial, and I got very good at winging it. An unprepared me is still better than most prepared attorneys. This fact has been of absolutely no comfort to me.)

I still obsessed all night about the trial, though. Not preparing, just obsessing. I had nightmares about it. And I had a long time for nightmares, because I spent about 12 hours in bed.

My strength was so low today that I didn't even think I would make it to trial. I had trouble walking to my car. I was shaking while I was driving. At court, I was having trouble standing up.

Right before trial, I talked to opposing counsel to see if we could agree on support at the last minute. She was trying to get me to agree to use an astronomically high number for my client's income based on voodoo math that I still don't understand. At that point is when the adrenaline shot hit me. That old thrill of being in court came back to me one last time. And I say one last time, because I've resolved that I'm never doing it again. And then I started unloading a lot of arguments to reduce the support. Fortunately, we were called into court about a minute after that started, because I was ready to go.

It's hard to say that I won and the other side lost, since a lot of the arguments I made to reduce the support were rejected. However, those same arguments were arguments that I told my client last week would fail in court, in convincing him to settle on support.

(However, one of the arguments, in trying to kick out the money she was paying to a relative for 'child care', really was supported by the excellent cross-examination I did, and legally, based on the requirements of the statute, it should have been rejected. The Judge, however, included the money anyway because if she actually hired a professional child care center to watch the kids, she'd probably be paying even more money. And, by the way, I did tell my client before trial that even if I did prove that this money she was paying to the relative didn't qualify legally as a child care payment, the judge would give her the money anyway, because she'd pay more for real child care.)

Even though my arguments were rejected, I still consider myself to have won because (a) I defeated opposing counsel's argument to jack up my client's income figure and (b) I accurately predicted the final child support number before trial, whereas opposing counsel was way high. In fact, about halfway through the trial, I wrote down a number on my notepad in front of my client, and that number was exactly, to the dollar, what the Judge awarded. My client was impressed, like I was psychic. (I actually thought I had it within about $50, I shocked myself by getting it exactly right.)

So I was feeling good after trial. I called Hoover, who happened to be going out to lunch with one of his employees, and I joined him. He gave me the further good news that he had already talked with the new partner in the firm (we'll call him Bluto), and Bluto has already agreed to take the rest of the case from me. (Property distribution stuff.) Oh, and I also ate a meal, for the first time in a week.

I'm still obsessively worried, that something is going to happen that Bluto won't take the case (even though I've already talked to him, and he's already trying to call my former client to talk to him). Bluto was going to call me about the case too, and I'm still kind of hanging on the phone ringing, for the past two hours.

But I did manage to bring myself to check my e-mail, and I saw all the notices that people had been signing my guest book, so I thought I'd try to concentrate on making an update.

I have a huge problem. I get fear of failure in doing things that paralyzes me. And it's nonsense, because it's often things I've done a million times before, and I'm good at doing. It may have already killed my pursuit of my M.S. because I haven't gotten my thesis done. It's squeezing off my income, because I don't feel like I have the competence to practice law any more- I can't have someone's life in my hands and then collapse and fail them like yesterday. I wonder how it is that I ever held a job and supported myself in the first place, and if I'll ever do it again.

This past week has been just one incident, it will come back.

But I have eaten, and I'm not crying, so these two things are positive. I have survived, for the moment. Just survived. Now I have more worrying to do.

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