Managing mental health as a young professional with a chronic illness (Mental Health Awareness Week)
Hi, I’m Laura an Apprentice Solicitor. I started working at Digital Law in July of 2018 and started my apprenticeship with BPP in September of 2018. Since then, I’ve been working full time at Digital Law whilst also studying and working towards a law degree and my professional qualifications to qualify as a solicitor – only 3 more years to go! Whilst juggling this I also suffer with endometriosis, a chronic disease where tissue similar to the lining of the womb is found elsewhere in the body.
I won’t lie – I want to be really honest here. Being a young professional in the legal industry is tough and that’s without my illness. My job can be tiring, mentally challenging and that’s just the start. I sometimes have to work overtime in order to make sure I meet deadlines and yes, it’s often stressful. You may say “well you signed up for that when you joined the course”. That’s true but that doesn’t make it any easier. Having an illness at the same time makes it even more challenging. This is all before I try and manage my university work too. That is a different story. There are times where I can be up until the early hours of the morning trying to get some last-minute revision in or to make sure I meet my submission deadline on time.
There are often days where I wake up and my body has no energy to move. There are often days where I get out of bed and want to go back because I’m in that much pain that I feel physically sick. There are often days where I feel low because of stress from work or my illness. But I’ve learnt that all of this is okay. I’ve learnt (or should I say “learning”) to put my mental and physical health first because that’s what is important.
I wanted to write this post to show that even though there can be tough times, and days where a feel low and defeated, the plus sides to being a legal professional in this industry can be amazing. I mean how many people can say that at the age of 21 they have worked in a law firm for 3 years. By the end of my apprenticeship in 2024 I will have gained 6 years of experience. I’m only 21 yet I handle my own case load (with supervision of course), lead calls with clients and much more!
As I said, I am learning ways to put both my physical and mental health first. This is something that my employer is helping with and I hope everyone else’s is too. So yes, I wanted to share some of the ways I try to improve both my physical and mental health whilst still giving my all at work.
- Step away!
This may seem simple, and I’m sure most people will have mentioned this, especially during the lockdowns but it really does help me.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed, whether that be because of work or my physical health, I take a step back, go for a walk, grab a coffee or simply just move away from my desk for half an hour. This helps me refocus my mind before I can tackle the task in hand.
- Remember the phrase “there is always tomorrow”!
Some may say, especially my colleague Amelia, that I am a workaholic. I mean it’s not a bad thing I suppose however, it does mean that at times I do prioritise work and often work too much. Although I am still happy to work overtime when need be, I always try and switch my laptop off when it turns 5pm, even if I am working from home. Remember, there is always tomorrow. Unless it’s urgent, try not to stress and don’t overwork (easier said than done, I am still learning).
- Allow myself to have sick days or down days! Even if this means letting people down.
Like I mentioned above, there are often days where I have very little physical energy because of my illness and there are days where I feel physically sick because of the pain. Working from home over the last year, although it has had its downfalls, has really helped with this.
My illness has no patterns and no rules. I can’t tell when I’m going to be in pain. Because of this, I can go to bed fine and wake up in the morning and have no energy to go to work. This is when I simply text my boss and say “I’m working from home”. I’m lucky enough that my work, and my bosses, are very flexible about this, even more so since the start of the pandemic. They are very understanding and don’t make me feel guilty when I need some time at home, even if this does mean having to miss out on a client call or 2.
So yes, that’s how I try and manage both my physical and mental health whilst dealing with the stresses of a young professional in the legal industry. As I said, I’m still learning and I’m sure I will figure out how to balance work and home life more as time goes on.