Excerpt of Adapt & Overcome

By Jeff R. Hawkins, ISBA President 2014-15

This ISBA Prez Blog installment is an excerpt of my comments during the Assembly Luncheon at the 2014 ISBA Annual Meeting. A more complete version of the comments will appear in the next issue of Res Gestae. I am posting this excerpt to promote the State Bar’s upcoming CLE program “Disability in a Diverse Legal Community” scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown. Read on to see why this program resonates so personally for me.

Three years ago, my wife and I watched a PBS program called “ADD and Loving It.” The program featured a pair of professional comedians that discovered at middle-age that their uphill battles for achievement and success were compounded by their inability to focus and block out distractions like more able-minded people. At first, I laughed at their self-deprecating humor, but I quickly realized that I too had lived for 45+ years with a mind that was significantly impaired by Attention Deficit Disorder, commonly down as “ADD.”

I had always struggled to read and retain information, or to block out a distracting sight or sound during a conversation, but it never occurred to me until then that those struggles were symptoms of a significant impairment. A few days after watching the video, a psychologist and my medical doctor determined that I had substantial attention deficit impairment and my doctor prescribed medication to help me overcome the problem.

Most people cannot imagine the life-changing experience of diagnosis and medical treatment of incurable mental health impairment. Our law firm, like many others, track individual staff performance. Within one month of treatment, my statistically measurable work productivity almost tripled and a lifetime struggle to live and work with a perpetually clouded mind ended.
Recently, I shared my story with an old friend and high school classmate during our 30-year class reunion. On reflection back, he said it suddenly made sense why he could cruise through classes without studying and make the same grades that I had to study nights and weekends to match. On that point, I can trace ADD to my earliest experiences with school discipline when one teacher paddled me for reading ahead and being unable to find my place when it was my turn to read. I realized why teachers wrote comments on my report cards like “Jeff is a very bright boy, but he daydreams too much,” and why a well-wishing note in my yearbook from one of my high school classmates described me as a “space cadet.”

People have shared similar stories with me about their distraction and academic performance problems. Unfortunately, some of them have suffered under oppressive labels like “weird,” “slow,” “stupid,” or “lazy,” that filled those poor people with miserable feelings of inadequacy, insignificance, and self-loathing. I have seen great brilliance and creativity in many of those people, but they lacked the powerful compassion and support with which my parents, wife, and other family members and friends spurred me to achieve excellence throughout my life. In fact, many of you have no idea how thankful I am for your encouragement that helped make my achievements possible.

Diagnosis and treatment helped me overcome my disability, but other ISBA members remain shackled by physical, mental or social burdens without relief. We have more than 12,000 members in the Indiana State Bar Association, and statistics indicate that some of those members struggle with undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, ADD, bipolar, autism, and other “invisible” barriers to the kinds of personal and professional fulfillment that more able-minded and able-bodied members take for granted.

Many impaired legal professionals suffer through unstable careers and volatile personal relationships. As the staff of the Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program and the Indiana Disciplinary Commission could tell you, too many seek elusive relief through self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Fear of stigmatization and marginalization often discourages these people from seeking and receiving help. Think about it for a moment, can you imagine how difficult it is for one of our members to admit that they suffer from mental impairment? I can tell you that crossed my mind, but my own liberating experience inspires me to plow the way for others to discover life after impairment.

Let us commit ourselves to extend grace and compassion to friend and foe, and to help impaired lawyers, judges and other legal service professionals achieve more enlightened, fulfilled and productive lives. May we strive together for all of our members to live life with full mind, body and spirit so that our progeny will credit to our generation the first steps toward the enduring mental, spiritual, and sociological prosperity within our profession and the people it serves.

Lawyers, judges, paralegals, librarians, administrators and other coworkers in our industry with extraordinary potential for positive societal influence can make a difference in places throughout Indiana like Gary, Elkhart, Salem, Covington, Madison, Bluffton and Bloomfield. If a daydreaming, small-town lawyer like me can influence this organization enough to elect him president, anyone can be an influential change agent within the Indiana State Bar Association. Therefore, I encourage each ISBA member to pursue excellence and make a difference. Be the change agent that helps others adapt and overcome adversity, and then the rule of law will endure through your contribution.

Please join me at the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown on Thursday, Nov. 20, as we learn together about “Disability in a Diverse Legal Community.”

Thank you.

Jeff R. Hawkins
ISBA President 2014-15

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Let’s talk about lawyer mental health | ISBA Prez Blog - January 7, 2015

    […] summer of 2014. My comments at the 2014 ISBA Annual Meeting and in the ISBA Prez Blog in November (“Adapt & Overcome”) featured my own relatively recent experience of discovering significant executive function […]

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