Vulnerability is Not a Weakness

My name is Moe Bsat and I struggle with anxiety.

My struggle began in Law School. It started with weight gain, depressive moods, excessive drinking, and a lack of sleep. In my last year of school, I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was filled with the pressure of doing well in school in order to set myself up for future success. Mental health issues have always been the dirty little secret within law school. Everyone knows the pressures of good grades, securing an articling position, and getting a job out of school; this pressure destroys a lot of young lawyers mentally. I was no different.

Nike Home RunMy third year began with a singular driven purpose, to get on Dean’s List, because I knew that would be what I needed to succeed. I threw myself wholeheartedly into it. I would get angry at myself, I’d get depressed if I wasn’t getting the results I wanted and it eventually led to severe bout of insomnia. I kept noting the lack of sleep and mental exhaustion but attributed the consequences to all my work. “This is what it’s supposed to be like”. There is this external pressure from the field to put your head down and put in the work. This is the preparation for those 90 hour work weeks. Mention to a law student or a young lawyer that your future may hold 90 hour work weeks and they won’t even blink. People understand that the job is filled with these expectations. Law school is no different. The pressure is there. I was falling victim to that pressure. While I was doing well and achieving what I wanted, I started to feel scared about what was happening to me.

The hardest part about mental health is admitting that you have a problem and that you need help. Especially if you come from an environment that discourages vulnerability and an “ironman” mentality. It’s hard to ask for help.

I couldn’t turn my brain off. The little bit of sleep I could muster, I dreamt about the work I needed to finish or the work I didn’t finish. I knew it wasn’t healthy. I didn’t know who to turn to. For a long time, my family was really closed to talking about our feelings. It was still taboo to talk about your mental health in 2014-2015. The stigma around mental health was a lot more prominent then and it wasn’t part of the national conversation. I eventually hit a breaking point. I was sleeping an hour a night for a month straight and it was debilitating. Towards the end of the semester, I approached my parents and told them I needed help. It was hard to not cry when I reached out for help. I didn’t know what they would say. I told them that I needed to talk to someone or get medicine because I know something was really off. What happened next truly surprised me.

My mother was a nurse and she is familiar with the effects of drugs on mental well-being, so without hesitation, she said “what can we do to help you” She urged me to look at alternative methods to deal with my mental health before I went with the traditional medical route. My mom and dad helped me in creating a plan to move forward healthier. They continually checked up on me and were a great source of support. They told me to rekindle running (I’d stopped running in law school), they encouraged a better diet, stepping back from my school work and told me to look into yoga. I incorporated meditation into my daily life to help with the stress. Day-by-day, things started to improve. The simple act of reaching out ignited a process of recovery and recognition.

I know others that are entering or are currently in a demanding professional field face similar difficulties with vulnerability. It’s hard to be in a field that is filled with external pressure, let alone the pressure you put on yourself. The pressure I put on myself is often the worst, but it was a turning point to recognize what the pressure was doing to me.

The hardest part about mental health is admitting that you have a problem and that you need help. Especially if you come from an environment that discourages vulnerability and an “ironman” mentality. It’s hard to ask for help.

Today, running continues to be a huge source of therapy. Pursuing a work-life balance has also been important; I explored a different path within field to allow for me to prioritize my mental health and a balanced life. Today, I continue to urge people to use running as an addendum to your mental health well-being; there is nothing a long run can’t help you work out or at the very least bring a sense of tranquility.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned going through that difficult time is learning how to speak up. Today I will still have bouts of major anxiety and it will manifest itself in negative ways, but luckily I’ve learned to recognize when it’s beginning to come on and I’ll seek out a kind ear. Vulnerability is the first step and often the most difficult, but if you can reconcile your ego with the frightening thought of vulnerability, you can begin a positive step towards well-being.

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Moe bsat is a soon-to-be-lawyer who is passionate about social justice. Currently Moe is articling at the Centre for Spanish Speaking people, gaining invaluable experience working with indigent clients. He is an advocate for physical and mental well-being, and practices this in his daily routine, particularly through running. A conversation with Moe will likely be about his next training goal, his favorite latest podcast episode, basketball highlights or where he’d love to travel next.

Resources to ease anxiety:

  1. Running. Run often, even if your run is only 20 minutes.
  2. Listen and read about other people’s struggles and how they’ve dealt with their issues — Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting by Marshall Ulrich, The Rich Roll Podcast, Kevin Love’s essay on The Players’ Tribune, your friends.
  3. Find a practice that lets your mind settle. For me it was meditation for a while then running became that vehicle. Restorative yoga does wonders for me as well. It could also going on a long walk somewhere quiet, whatever allows your mind to find a sense of calm.

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