I was a lawyer long before I was ever diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was my identity: Terri L. Cheney, Esq., attorney to the stars. I didn't realize back then that an identity can also be a stranglehold, a noose around your neck that never stops tightening no matter how hard you try to get free.
The last several years, the bill for my California State Bar dues has arrived in my mailbox in early December. In fact, with eerie accuracy, it has always arrived on my birthday. I put the envelope in a conspicuous place on my dining room table, then I promptly proceed to ignore it until the day before it's due. Not that I don't think about it in the interim; I think about it a lot. I wonder why the hell I'm forking out almost six hundred dollars each year to stay active in a profession I never, ever plan to practice in again. Six hundred dollars is an awful lot of money. What exactly is it I'm buying?
I could go on inactive status and pay a fraction of that amount. Or I could drop the Intellectual Property and Litigation sections I belong to, and reduce the bill significantly. But I don't. I cling—to what? To a memory of when I was actually practicing law and made enough money to feel safe and secure? To the little frisson of pleasure I feel when I introduce myself as a lawyer to someone who hasn't been taking me seriously? These are pleasant things, to be sure, but they're not worth six hundred bucks.