Feeling Lonely, Suicidal, or Depressed during Bar Prep? Yesterday, I was on the phone for over an hour with a student who was feeling completely burdened by anxiety, depression, and loneliness during bar exam preparation. She felt lonely because she was a repeat taker. She did not tell any of her friends that she failed. She was also self-studying using an online commercial course, so did not interact with other bar takers. She felt anxious since she had taken the Michigan bar exam twice before and did not pass. She felt depressed, wondering what she would do if she didn’t pass this time, what she would do if she did pass, and if the fact that she took it more than once would be a permanent blemish on her record.
If you feel any of these things, you are not alone.
You may feel extremely lonely or depressed during bar prep.
This is true for first-time takers, who feel overwhelmed and who feel isolated from friends who are also either very anxious or difficult to be around. It is also difficult for first-time takers who take online courses and never interact with others. However, this can be even further magnified for repeat-takers, especially those whose friends have passed the bar exam or those who keep the fact that they failed the bar exam secret from friends and family members. Regardless of whether you are a first-time taker or repeat taker, you may find yourself avoiding people who you used to enjoy being around and making excuses to not interact with them.
If you feel lonely or depressed during bar prep, it is good to find one friend you can confide in. This can be someone taking the bar exam, someone who has already taken it, or someone who knows nothing about it. If you are keeping a past bar exam secret a failure from your friends, find one or two people (besides your parents!) to tell. Sometimes, keeping a secret can make you feel shameful or inadequate. If you tell your friends, you will likely find that they do not think any less of you, that it is in fact very normal to fail the bar exam, and that they can be an immense source of support.
Find someone who is loyal and trustworthy and you will be happy you reached out. Do not reach out to someone who will downplay it (“oh, that’s nothing”!) or immediately start talking about themselves (“one time I failed a test in school . . .”). You want someone who will listen to you, hear you out, and still recognize you as being an intelligent, hardworking, and worthy person! It is also a good idea to seek professional help or counseling if you feel lonely or depressed.
You may feel extremely behind or like you do not know anything.
Maybe you have not completed your commercial course’s to-do list. Maybe you have completed it but you don’t feel you got much out of it. Maybe you abandoned it a long time ago. Maybe you are stressed out because you have not completed enough practice exams.
This feeling is okay and it is normal. Feeling behind on assignments goes with the territory of the bar exam.
Remember, you do not have to perfect and complete knowledge of every single subject on the bar exam to pass the bar exam. You do not have to know everything about everything. And you won’t know everything. In most states, you need an equivalent of a “D” grade to pass!
If you are feeling very behind or overwhelmed by your course’s to-do list, come up with a schedule for the last couple weeks of bar prep. Tailor your schedule to what you need. Take an hour to truly consider what is best for you. If you need to review MBE topics, make this a priority. If you haven’t started practicing essays, make this a priority.
Tailor your bar prep study schedule to you and make it semi-detailed. (Click on the link for general guidance but tweak what you need to do to you!) As soon as you have a schedule, you will feel less overwhelmed and behind and more in control of your bar prep study plan.
You may feel a lot of pressure and anxiety to pass.
This pressure may be internal (“I have to pass or I’ll be so embarrassed.”) or external, from friends, family members, or colleagues. Sometimes, people face threats of being fired if they do not pass the bar exam. Or they face pressure from their parents who do not understand exactly what it feels like to be taking the bar exam.
If you are in this scenario, focus on what you can control: the effort. You cannot directly control the outcome. Practice visualization (and see this post for tips on how to do it!). Visualize yourself doing well up until the bar exam and going into the bar exam confidently.
It is also helpful to remind yourself that this is an exam. If worst comes to worst and you fail the bar exam, you can retake it. Even though it sounds like the worst thing in the world, it is not. It is an exam that you can redo. I often recommend that students read this note to those who fail the bar exam even if they have not failed. It will help put things in perspective. The last thing you want to do is have your anxiety about failing the bar exam paralyze you during the bar exam. Instead, recognize the exam for what it is — a test that you can redo if you need to.
If your family members, friends, or bosses make statements that make you anxious, let them know that you do not need the extra pressure. One of our students got hassled by his parents every time he took a break. He explained to his parents that it was impossible for him to study 14 hours a day without a break—and even if he sat down at his desk for 14 hours a day, he wouldn’t be learning much and he would burn out!
You may feel anxiety about passing.
Some students feel anxiety both about failing and passing the bar exam. If they fail, they will have to go through all of this bar exam studying rigamarole again. And if they pass, they will have to get a “real” job and move on from a place they might not have loved (but were comfortable in!). Passing can be just as scary as failing for some people because it means change will occur.
If you find yourself in this category of students, come up with a Plan A and a Plan B — for what will happen if you fail and what will happen if you pass. You can even come up with a plan for what you will do while you are waiting to find out your bar exam results. (See this post for more ideas on what to do while waiting for bar exam results to have all of your bases covered!) This will help you feel less anxious and more in control of your future!
It is also a good idea to seek professional help or counseling if you feel overly anxious or depressed. Your mental health is so much more important than an exam!
You may feel suicidal.
For some, the pressure, anxiety, and disappointment is overbearing. If you feel suicidal, please seek help right away. Call the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255). Or go to the emergency room at the hospital. (If you are wondering what will happen when you go to the hospital for suicidal thoughts, please see this post for an overview of what will happen when you go to the emergency room because you are feeling suicidal). It is a good idea to bring a family member or friend to serve as an advocate with you. Call a trusted friend or family member and ask them to help you find help. Do it immediately. This is an emergency that is so much more urgent and important than any exam. I cannot emphasize that enough!
Remember, too, that you are not alone if you are feeling suicidal thoughts. Lawyers and law students tend to suffer from depression and commit suicide in higher numbers than the general population. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that you get the help that you need sooner rather than later.
You are welcome to call us (248-228-5547) or email us ([email protected]) if you feel alone, anxious, behind, or depressed during bar prep. We are not mental health experts by any means but we have helped a lot of people get through the bar exam and are more than happy to talk to you.
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