My story…

Hi!  Welcome to my little space on the internet!  I’m here to share my journey to health and happiness.  I’m a recently married attorney and the proud owner of an incredible Great Dane named Sunday.  Here’s a little about why I’m here and how it happened.

A couple years ago, I started to feel like something wasn’t working for me in my job as a public defender.  On the outside, everything seemed great.  I was in a place where I was growing, learning, challenging myself, having successes, and moving up in my career.  By the time I left the office, I was a respected trial attorney, even if I still had a lot of growing to do. I was extremely proud of my accomplishments.

So what was the problem, you ask?  The simple answer is that I was getting sick. Not sick like something that could be diagnosed, although I did get my fair share of colds and flues every year. But sick in the sense that something was just off. I never slept through the night and often woke up in a panic, my mind racing with what I had to do the next day or what I had said wrong the day before during a hearing or a trial. Each day, I woke up feeling wretched. I was exhausted beyond belief, my stomach was often in knots, and I was usually mildly dehydrated or hung-over from drinking too much wine the night before (the only way I could turn off the pressure for a short while).

I would drag myself to the shower and go through the motions of putting on my suit, blow-drying my hair, putting my makeup on, downing as much coffee as I could stomach, and getting out the door to be in court on time with sometimes up to 75 files in my arms to be addressed that day. Part of me thrived on this routine, because here’s the thing: I was passionate about helping people in need.

Prior to being a public defender, I was a teacher in an inner city middle school. That only lasted one year and is a story for another time, but it’s significant in that I’ve always been drawn to helping others in dire situations. When I was a child, I have distinct memories of reading books about slavery, immigrant families, orphans — any stories I could find of people struggling against an injustice. I was fascinated with the beauty and strength of the human spirit when faced with what were, to me, incomprehensible challenges. I desperately wanted everyone to be treated equally and fairly. I often felt like my life was too easy and I actually wished for tragedy to strike, as bizarre as that sounds.

Looking back, I think I yearned for the kind of personal growth I felt that struggle would bring. As a result, I created my own struggles in many areas of my life, both personal and professional. I sought out careers where I would be face to face with the struggles of others. I wanted to feel what they felt. To experience their story. To meet them with love and compassion. To use whatever skills God gave me to be a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. I felt that if there were others who were struggling, that the least I could do was to struggle alongside them. So I did. And I thrived. For a little while.

Being a public defender is a largely thankless job. Your friends and family usually don’t understand why you would defend “those people,” and ask you all kinds of inane questions like, “Did you ever have to defend a person who you knew was actually guilty??” (Side note, I defended hundreds of people per week. So yes. I defended thousands of “guilty” people. Most were not guilty of every crime they were charged with, and all had a human story behind their actions. My job was to find and advocate for a fair result, and for a trial if they wanted one, because that’s a right that we all have as citizens of this country. If the right disappeared just because you were guilty, it would be meaningless!) The nature of this work is adversarial; the prosecutor is obviously working against you, but often so is the Judge.  A lot of the time, even your very own client is against you, fighting their own battle with mental illness or drug addiction and unable to see that you are their only advocate and best friend at that moment.

After experiencing this taxing situation day in and day out, I started feeling the syndrome they warned us about: compassion fatigue. The feeling I had for all my clients, the empathy, the realization that I could only do so much to help and that help was sometimes not even recognized by the person I was helping; it all took its toll on me. So after a while, despite thriving in those moments in court where I did feel appreciated, accomplished, amused or full of the addicting adrenaline that litigation brings, I began to deteriorate. I lived under such pressure that I stopped being able to see things clearly. I started viewing life through a fog of the inevitable next unpleasant task on my list, or the impending trial that would require me to be at my best.

The strength it took to perform on that level day in and day out was becoming too much for me a couple of years ago. But it took me a long time to admit it. I didn’t want to give up. So instead, I plowed forward, taking on more and more responsibility and moving further and further away from the voice in my soul that was screaming, “Stop! Slow down! This doesn’t feel right!” My deterioration started with insomnia, continued with too much alcohol and emotional eating, and got worse with the realization that when my friends or family members talked to me, I wasn’t able to pay attention to what they were saying. When the question was posed to me, “what are some things that make you happy?”, I could not think of a single thing. The only time I felt relaxed and carefree was after several glasses of wine, which always turned into crippling anxiety when I would wake up at 2:00 a.m. sweating about the next day.

In my quest for perfection and achievement, I succeeded at a lot but I also lost myself completely. I no longer knew what made me happy or saw a way out. During the weeks before I quit, I sat in my windowless office feeling totally immobilized, numb, and stuck. I remember thinking, “what else could I possibly do?” I couldn’t imagine a different reality for myself. And that was when I knew I had to leave.  I had to trust that my eyes would open once more to the things that I love, to my relationships, to my passions, to myself.

The day I decided to quit my job was the day I realized I had lost sight of my choices in life. Lost sight of my potential to do other things. It dawned on me in that moment that I have the power to help others without harming myself in the process. And that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be more helpful if I’m taking good care of myself first. Our job in this life is not to be a martyr, or to sacrifice everything we have for another. Our job is to SHINE. To connect fully with our true selves and let that person out!! Standing in front of a jury and giving a closing argument is scary. What’s even more scary is opening up to my true calling and letting others see the real me, with no role to play and nothing to hide behind. But it’s necessary in order for me to live my passion and inspire others to do the same.

The longer I am away from the job that was out of alignment with my true self, the more my outer walls are coming down, and it feels totally liberating and amazing. You all deserve to fall in love with your life every, single day! I want to help you figure out how to eat, play, exercise, meditate, and work in ways that make that happen for you. You should be having a passionate love affair with your one wild and precious life! Because you deserve it, gorgeous! And the world deserves your best you!

xo,

Rachel 

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