Public Defender 101 – Rule 29: Learn to take care of yourself

Let us be honest. Public Defender work is not for sissies. Between the long hours, the crushing caseload, the unreasonable demands from prosecutors, clients (and their families), and judges, and the fact that we deal with the unsavory aspects of “civilization,” this line of work will kill you, if you let it or at the very least, it will wreck your health, both mental & physical.

I know from personal experience. When I started practicing in November 2000, I weighed around 200 pounds. During my first two years of being an attorney, I spent more time on the road to go to court & to see my clients in the local county jails than I did at my home because I worked in a circuit that comprised five counties. Moreover, when I was not in court or on the road, I spent a lot of time at the office. I obsessed over every case. I thought that if I researched the legal issues enough or if I was clever enough, I could win every case. When my novel arguments and theories failed, I took it personally, and I brooded over every defeat. To add a cherry to this shit sundae, I neglected my health. I did not go to the doctor, to the dentist, or the eye doctor. I drank a lot just to unwind from work. I had a large bottle of Jagermeister in the freezer and a six-pack of beer in the fridge at all times. I ate a lot of junk food.

While my body was able to keep up with this abuse, my mind was not. I snapped during the summer of 2002. I had a meltdown. I crashed & burned at my job. I had to resign as means to avoid being fired for my declining performance. While I was able to find work again as a public defender, I had not learned anything from my experience. I blamed my former boss for not providing a proper work environment for a new attorney; I blamed the fact that I was alone and away from my family for my inability to handle the stress from this line of work; I blamed everybody, but myself. For my arrogance, the toll that I would inflict on myself would continue.

In the latter half of the summer of 2003, I was at work, and while I was eating a snack, I felt a tooth come loose, and I swallowed it. I found a local dentist, and I went there immediately. I learned from him that not only did I have a missing lower canine; I was in need of major dental work. From 2003 to 2010, I had to have at least one major dental operation done. All of this dental work (and money) for two years of abuse & neglect. Yet, I had not learned to take care of myself.

From 2003 to about 2009, I continued to go drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of junk food. As you can guess, I ballooned in weight. Around 2009, I weighed anywhere from 240 -250 pounds. In that same year, something just clicked in my head. I needed to make some changes. Since then, I lost weight, and I am back down to 200 pounds. My overall health is very good. I will not bore you with the details of what I have done over the last three years to bring these changes about. I will not delude you into thinking that somehow I have figured out the secrets of how to be a great public defender. I am still learning how to be a better person so that I can be a better lawyer / advocate for my clients. What I have learned over the years is that I have been an example for others, and in most cases, I have been the example of what NOT to do. With this rule, I know that I have been the prime example of what not to do.

4 Replies to “Public Defender 101 – Rule 29: Learn to take care of yourself”

    1. John,

      Thank you for your comment and thank you for the compliment. I hope all is well with you in your neck of the woods.


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