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Father IJ Chan-Gonzaga and Sister Susay Valdez (ALS Guidance Counselor)

Law School Secret to Mental Health and Wellness

Mental challenge is not something all of us are comfortable discussing over, as if it is something to avoid at all costs. As the fictional character Hermione Granger once said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” Just the same, not being able to discuss what you are suffering from increases its power over you. It is continuous until it consumes you and you finally find yourself in a place where you can no longer retrieve yourself. But it does not have to come to that point.

I remember Father IJ Chan-Gonzaga from when I had him as a professor in my Theology class last semester. His class would be a breath of fresh air for my block after grueling hours of studying and reciting for our major classes.

I recently visited his office to talk about mental health, and he introduced me to Sister Susay Valdez, who apparently, is the school’s Guidance Counselor! Surprised? Same. They admit that very few of the student populace are aware that Ateneo Law School actually has a Guidance Office amidst being mentioned during the Orsem. Students probably forget about that detail precisely because of the stress and pressure they have to go through as early as the Orientation Seminar.

The three of us had a meaningful talk about mental health of students in law school. From what I gathered, there are 3 important things we have to focus on to survive our day-by-day struggle, whether suffering from mental challenges or not—love, sleep, and relationship.

 

Love

It is the most important form of love—self-love. (Romantic love is also important but that’s an article for another time)

Every bad recit and every failing mark would surely distract you from giving your best at studying as you will tend to think the thing you could have done better. You may express what you feel first by writing it down, shouting, crying, or even drinking a bottle of beer (no shame about that). But after expressing, you need to bounce back and redeem yourself.

“It is in the lingering when you can be hooked into, it is where you find yourself stuck.” “It’s the best way to cope: the ability to let go what’s done,” he says. Survive life in law school one day at a time. Every time we finish a class is already an accomplishment itself. Give yourself some credit because you didn’t say “pass” and fought your way out that professor’s question you knew nothing about.

Remember you are strong and able enough to last in this law school. You even survived those weeks you thought were “hell.” Here you are, still fighting to get that J.D. We may not always finish strong but we always finish.

 

Sleep

If Fr. IJ was very particular about something, this has to be it—sleep. Speaking from his experience, he sleeps off every failure in law school and once he has taken his nap, he’d have a fresher mind to focus more clearly on things he can change. Besides, who doesn’t like sleeping? Just don’t do it in excess or else you’ll be cramming all your cases and commentaries in one hour or maybe less.

On the more scientific side, Sister Susay says that sleep deprivation always leads to mental health challenges especially depression. When you lack sleep, your physical self, breaks down and leads to other breaking as frustration and being highly irritable. A Harvard researcher Dr. Charles Czeisler found out that sleep deprivation adversely affects concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical capacity. Studying hard does not have to mean that you will deprive yourself of something so essential like sleep. Otherwise, it will be counter-productive reading texts you cannot fully understand because your mind is drained.

 

Relationship

We humans cannot survive alone. We need each other to keep us sane. Sister Susay, as a psychologist says that one of the contributors to mental conditions is when you keep it all on your own, then you break down that way.

It’s a tendency. When we have a problem, we tend to isolate ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden to other people who are probably going through a lot worse than we do. But it’s sharing our worries and failures that what brings us closer together, so don’t be afraid to open up.

Being able to articulate what you feel to another person is a step closer of overcoming it. Admitting to yourself and to your friends and loved ones what you are going through is facing the problem itself. To name it is to own it. Once you learn to “label” it, that is when the healing process starts.

Even in the worst days in law schools, never sacrifice quality time with family. Fr. IJ, speaking from experience, “I don’t have time” is a big lie. Never compromise time with loved ones. When you do, you forget that this is all for them.

In times when you feel like giving up law school, look back to the effort you have put up just to get where you are now. All those sleepless (and even drunken) nights, self-pity, and all kinds of suffering will be all for nothing if you let go now. Reminding yourself why you are in this institution put things into perspective. If becoming an Atenean lawyer is what you always dreamed of, nothing can stop you. Not even your mental health can take that away from you. Just ask yourself “Para Que?” #

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