Editor’s Note: Still Standing
By Heidi J. T. Exner
Wow! Despite a global pandemic, looming threats of WWIII, and almost pivoting off the hinge from online to in-person, to online, and back to in-person learning, we managed to make it to the other side in one piece, UCalgary Law! Big congratulations to my peers who are graduating this year. Our cohort survived the most ZoomU of all, and I like to think we are stronger for it. I also think the class of ’22 might be the most relieved to be done, though I understand all too well how it can feel bittersweet to begin new chapters. The Moot Times will especially miss ‘22 JD Duncan Pardoe, whose decadent beverages have become a staple in our little ‘zine in the last year. When I visit Vancouver, I look forward to calling him to meet up and toast to our post-school adventures.
It took me a while to think of what to say in this Editor’s Note. I sat in my pajamas and sipped my coffee for a good half hour pondering on what it was that I wanted to say, and what I should say. Often the two are opposites, but this time I drew blanks for both. I have been at a loss for words about so many things lately that one might imagine I would be more accustomed to this feeling, but I am not. On a personal level this year has been incredibly tough, and I am glad that I managed to limp across the finish line this semester. I might have been limping, but look at me – I am still standing, suckas!
So here we have it. Let’s talk about it. No, I am absolutely not going to talk about myself in specific terms, but I do want to address the importance of understanding our limits. Mental health has become a major topic of discussion in recent years, and for good reason. We are reporting more mental health issues than ever before, both within the legal profession and the general population. It’s almost trendy to have these issues, which I don’t fully understand. Undoubtedly, it’s a healthy step for individuals to be able to stand up and admit that they are human. It takes courage to stand up and expose vulnerability, and we should continue to encourage this. But what next?
Well, once we admit we are struggling, we have two options at that point: we can own our limits and prioritize work and healing accordingly, or we can lean on our limits to circumvent accountability. The first choice is the healthy choice. The second one is not. I know I am not making a lot of friends by pointing this out, but it is the truth. Perhaps we can extend the popular narrative about admitting we are struggling to encompass more than congratulating bravery, and include the critical question, “But what next?”
The world does not simply stop turning because we need to step back. What we really need is solid planning that can guide us to our goals, and to help keep us on track so one day we can jump back into the things we love unencumbered. Counselling and psychiatric help are great, but these people can only really help us manage the psychological and emotional aspects of our challenges. From my personal experience, I can say that resources are scarce when it comes to practical goal-setting and KPI identification to ensure our lives do not unravel while we are on our journeys toward better mental health. For example, there is a wide difference between saying, “Take care of your physical health,” and saying, “Here is a dietary planner, a physical activity schedule, and a sleep journal. Each week you can assess your strengths and weaknesses based on X, Y, Z, and make A, B, C adjustments as necessary.” A counsellor will say the first thing, but the second thing is for us to say to ourselves, even when we don’t have the wherewithal to think it (let alone do it).
Why am I talking about this? Because it matters. It matters a LOT! I am only still standing because I knew that I needed to take care of these things, and I barely managed to do this for myself. I would have loved this kind of help. I think scarce practical resources are one of the big reasons we see people leaning on their limits and falling behind. Law school is difficult under the best of circumstances, and it is next to impossible when we are struggling with mental health. Now we’ve talked (great!), so let’s do something about that (even better!). Here is my proposition:
The next time one of your friends or peers expresses they are struggling, don’t ask them what you can do. No one who is struggling will be able to answer that question properly. Tell them you can help them set goals and discern quantifiable steps to keep them on track. The great thing is that there are no special skill requirements for this; anyone – absolutely anyone – can do it! Can you manage your own life? Voila, you are qualified.
As someone who has hung by a thread to manage her own life, and who is only really emerging from this now, I will say that if anyone reading this is struggling and wants to talk, then I am happy to lend an ear, shoulder, and some practical help. We are in this together, and one thing that helped me was knowing that I was not alone. The thing that helped most was talking to my good friends and husband, who know me and understand that I needed tangible goals and someone who would help me be accountable for the promises I made to myself. I am an easy person to find (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and I am happy to listen and help. My friendships at UCalgary Law are extremely selective because I do not participate in gossip. Anything you want to talk about will remain confidential. I understand tough situations, and though I might not understand yours specifically, I can say that some feelings are relatable when we look into our hearts. You are not alone.
Now back to talking about the Moot Times! After this issue I will still be part of this ‘zine, but I will be transitioning leadership to new hands in the months to come. In fact, I took a step back in March to begin the process. We have a talented and dedicated executive team, and they have done a wonderful job with the Spring 2022 issue. The creativity, practical approaches, and passion that I see in our executive team and writers give me faith in the Moot Times’ continued success, and in the future of the legal profession. It feels great to see this amazing team taking flight from the nest, and it is a thrill to imagine where this ‘zine will be in one, three, and five years from now. Even in the upcoming summer months, I am excited to see how some of our new initiatives will pan out! I won’t give away secrets, but we are cooking up new ways to provide platforms for expression that extend beyond the written word.