On Breaking, and Learning How to Care Less

I have written about my law school journey a number of times on this blog – how I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic reproductive health condition in my 1L year, and the havoc it has wreaked on my law school journey ever since. I had plans to return to campus this fall – I even wrote about my excitement here on Impact. But less than a week into commuting to campus I came home one day and my back and pelvis muscles and gone into a full spasm from driving. I was diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction – a condition that affects your pelvic nerves and muscles which is common among endometriosis patients. Basically, when your body has been in pain for so long, your muscles are constantly bracing for more pain, even when the disease is gone, as mine is. As a result, they clench, or spasm, resulting in pain that can radiate up into your ribcage and down to your knees.

Needless to say, I was not as ready to be back on campus as I had hoped. I reluctantly made the decision to take one more semester off.

I was relieved, but restless. I had to start pelvic floor therapy, which proved to be both productive, and harder than I expected. I had hour-long sessions every week, after which I had to rest for a full 48 hours. On top of that, while the nearly five-hour surgery I had last January provided relief from my endometriosis symptoms, my hormone levels struggled to return to normal. In a last-ditch effort to right my system, my doctor prescribed a “medical curettage” – essentially the same treatment one would undergo to induce a miscarriage or a medical abortion, but in my case sans pregnancy. It was every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

It was also my breaking point.

I spent two weeks in so much pain that at times I couldn’t take a deep breath. I felt like I couldn’t keep going; like I wanted to quit. For the first time since I started getting sick in 1L year, I stepped back from everything I was working on: from my research, from my freelance work, from my insistence on responding to emails almost immediately. I know this sounds nonsensical – that this was my first real time off, considering I took two semesters away – but in that time I racked up 200 pro bono hours in the If/When/How Judicial Bypass Project, wrote a number of articles for major publications, and worked part-time as an assistant to Carol Sanger (I discussed my inability to take time off in my column before).

But for those two weeks I did little more than sit on the couch, and watch Netflix, and wait for the whole ordeal to be over. After burning through Great British Bake-Off, a salve for truly any ill, I queued up Schitt’s Creek, a fun cult hit written by and starring Eugene Levy and his son Daniel Levy about a wealthy family that loses it all and has to move to Schitt’s Creek, a decrepit town where they’re forced to live in a motel.

In one episode, David, their high-strung son who dresses exclusively in black and white (me, in this scenario, in case you were wondering), needs to renew his driver’s license. When he talks about how nervous he is, his flighty but endearing sister says that he shouldn’t worry because, “Nobody cares, David. Like, no one.” She explains how inconsequential David’s driving test is in the scheme of things; how it won’t make a difference to the instructor, and that there’s no need to get himself all worked up over something that “nobody cares about.”

While Alexis’ advice seems callous on the surface, when David got into the car with an apathetic driving instructor who texted the whole time, he realized she was right and when he saw how low the stakes were, he calmed down and passed the test.

One of the reasons I had been reticent to take any time off when I was sick, was that I was afraid that if I did the mentors with whom I had built relationships, the organizations I had fought to impress, the professional network I worked my butt off to build – that they would all give up on me, that everyone would judge me. It’s the same reason I answer emails within a few hours almost without exception, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve asked for an extension in my entire academic career. When it comes to my professional and academic success, I am a perfectionist and I care deeply about what others think.

But what I realized in those two weeks that I stepped back – that I allowed myself to respond to an email the next day instead of as soon as I got it, that I took whole days off from writing or researching, or sending out pitches for freelance articles – is that my whole world didn’t collapse. My mentors were still there when I got better, my employer was both immensely understanding and quick to offer support in whatever way they could (shout out to the amazing team at If/When/How) and when I came back to everything two weeks later, it was all as I left it.

In short – nobody cared. But not in the insensitive “texting-while-conducting-a-driving-test” way; in the “the people around you want what’s best for you and genuinely want you to succeed but they also realize you are human and they also have busy lives themselves” way.

And so, my advice to you – incoming 1Ls or current 2Ls, or whoever else finds themselves irrationally worried that a minor slip up, or the very human request for some time off will derail your career: care less. Give less expletives. I know this sounds counterintuitive, and probably frankly, a little irresponsible. But hear me out – as law students, we are already hardwired to care about our work and our reputations, a LOT. And to be frank, we are prone at times to be slightly self-important. So for us to care less does not mean we don’t care at all, it simply means we might care a human amount, instead of a superhuman amount – it means we might understand how relatively small and inconsequential those moments we replay in our heads at night really are.

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Because the truth of the matter is – nobody cares if you fumble that cold call, or if you take 24 hours instead of ten minutes to respond to that non-urgent email. Nobody cares if you skip bar night to catch up on your favorite BBC crime drama, or if you take a mental health day. Nothing is so consequential that you need to work yourself up over it, or prioritize it over your health, or your wellbeing, or your loved ones, or the little bit of fun that you definitely deserve.

Not only will you find your world and your reputation still intact, you will also find yourself feeling more confident and more empowered in your decisions and your work without living under the constant self-scrutiny of hyper perfection. Caring less has a curious, and counterintuitive effect where you suddenly feel more strongly about your self worth, because voila! just like that, you have quieted that loop of self criticism playing in your head, and you can finally see clearly how hardworking and smart you are.

One thought on “On Breaking, and Learning How to Care Less

  1. Pingback: Beyond the Pain of #Endometriosis w/ @Ms_creilly #1in10 — #KatieSpeakShow Ep129 4/14/2018

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