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How I Navigated Perfectionism and Postpartum Depression With Therapy and Mindfulness

“The first challenge was for me to acknowledge my own difficulty and accept that it was a struggle at all. I was so lost in perfectionism that, at first, I didn’t accept that I was struggling. Over time, I more openly sought out help and support from loved ones and friends.”

Hello! Who are you?

I’m Claire E. Parsons, a lawyer, wife and mother, mindfulness teacher, blogger, and author. I practice in the areas of employment and labor, local government, and litigation in the Cincinnati area.

I’ve been practicing law for about 15 years and teaching mindfulness to lawyers and professionals for about five years. I consider myself happy now but I’ve had to fight for it. 

The happiness came when I learned to accept who I was and follow the path I wanted even though it was different from what I expected. People ask me a lot how I manage to practice law, be a mom, and do the “extra” work of teaching mindfulness and writing.

The truth is that this “extra work” energizes me and lets me use the skills and traits I don’t get to use in law practice. It helps me feel like I am making a difference in my community in multiple ways and that means a lot. Even on hard days, I think that meaning is what makes me happy.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

My struggle was excessive overthinking, unchecked anxiety, difficulty asking for help, and a lack of self-compassion. This started for me as a kid. I would think for hours and days sometimes about possible problems and never ask for help. Even though I knew deep down that this was not normal, I was too ashamed and afraid to ask for help.

Usually, this problem went unnoticed because I got good grades, was good at sports, and outwardly seemed to be happy enough. In truth, I was lonely, scared, never felt good enough, and I had no ability to handle adversity because good results were how I measured my own worth. 

Though I have wonderful, supportive parents, I think some of this happened because I tried very hard to be the “good girl” in my family who didn’t make problems for other people.

Over time, this turned into perfectionism and an inability to ask for help for myself. As expectations and demands in life increased, the problems got bigger and I found myself overwhelmed frequently by trying to handle life all by myself. 

Though I got through college and law school, I had periods of depression which I managed with therapy and medication. Those provided some introspection and healing but real change for me didn’t happen until I had begun my law practice.

I still experience some of these same traits today. Some of these patterns I know are part of my personality, but the big difference now is that I am aware of my patterns and have better skills for responding to them. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

The worst moment with this struggle was when I developed a severe, but fortunately short-lived period of postpartum depression after the birth of my first daughter.

I was an associate in my law firm at the time in the first few years of practice. I was trying to manage a busy caseload and learn how to practice law.

My daughter was diagnosed with IUGR during the pregnancy and I had to do extra appointments to manage her growth. Ultimately, she remained small and I was induced at 37 weeks with a difficult labor and then I could not breastfeed her as I had planned. 

This situation threw everything about my identity into doubt. I felt like I wasn’t a good woman because I couldn’t grow and feed my baby. I felt like I had lost my career because I couldn’t focus on my law practice the way I had planned. The truth is that I felt worthless and ashamed.

While I had hidden some of my other experiences with depression, the lack of sleep after having my daughter caused me to break down. Though I am normally calm and reserved, I began crying frequently and my family became aware of my struggles.

My family pitched in to support me and help me get more sleep but ultimately my mother insisted I see a doctor about depression. It was a pivotal moment for me and one I am grateful for to this day. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

Things started turning around as soon as I called the doctor to talk about PPD, but my life direction didn’t really start to change until later. Therapy and medication helped me to stabilize and start to let go of some of the more distressing and intense perfectionist thoughts.

It also helped me to grow as a mother, develop a relationship with my daughter, and see how amazing she really was. About a year after her birth, though, I was back at work and totally overwhelmed. 

It was during this time that I started meditating. I started only at 1-2 minutes a day because it was all I could handle, but it immediately helped. It helped me just to stop and notice my thoughts. It helped me to rest and manage my stress and fatigue.

Later on down the road, my practice helped me to build self-compassion and face some of the more daunting emotions and patterns, like perfectionism, self-doubt, and loneliness.

Over time, I started building and relying on my community more, getting more involved as a leader in and outside of my law firm, and writing and speaking.

Eventually, my whole career and personal life felt different and it was because I was finally living life on my terms and treating myself with kindness. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Meditation was foundational to me because it helped me see what I was thinking. This put me in a position where I could challenge my thoughts, realize that some of my actions were mere habits that I could change, and listen to the inklings that I had otherwise ignored.

This helped me face and address the negative patterns and emotions (like doubt and loneliness) and act on the good ideas I had been habitually overlooking (like writing and seeking out more speaking opportunities). 

Another thing that changed was that I started to reach out and get help. The challenges I described above made me pretty lonely because I usually did things on my own. I started to change this when I let myself follow my passions by joining and leading organizations.

I also got a great mentor through one of the organizations and, for the first time, got advice and input from someone instead of doing everything alone. 

In combination, meditation helped me develop some basic self-care strategies so that I could get in touch with who I was and manage difficulty and stress.

Once that was established, I could then grow and expand over the minimal requirements of my work to network, market, and lead in my community.

Over time, this engendered more happiness because I was doing the things in life that mattered to me and felt like I had a real stake in my community. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

At this point, I have learned to do so and have done so extensively and in public. I have shared this story several times in articles, my blog, my book, and often in presentations and interviews. Doing so has been liberating in many ways but it has taken time and a lot of courage.

The first challenge was for me to acknowledge my own difficulty and accept that it was a struggle at all. I was so lost in perfectionism that, at first, I didn’t accept that I was struggling. 

Over time, I more openly sought out help and support from loved ones and friends. And, then, I started to write. At first, I wrote only legal articles for trade magazines. Then I branched out to other topics, like law practice, and eventually to discussing life topics.

After numerous articles and several years, I wrote about mindfulness for the first time and a mentor encouraged me to present about mindfulness for a professional women’s summit. 

This was the first time I spoke about my struggles with stress and mental health and talked about mindfulness practices in public. The session was a hit and it taught me how valuable stories are, so I kept sharing them. 

People ask me all the time how I am able to write so much and my most common answer is that writing is a mental health practice for me, just like meditation. Part of this is just getting thoughts out of my brain, but the other part is learning about and sharing my life with the world.

I don’t think everyone else must share the way I do to be happy, but I encourage anyone who reaches out to me to write or create in whatever way is calling them because it has been so impactful for me. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

The thing I always come back to when asked this question is that there is hope because things can change. With anxiety, you often feel like you can’t control anything because there is so much uncertainty in life and you can’t control your own thoughts.

With depression, you may feel hopeless and like your sadness will never end. For a long time, I thought being unhappy, lonely, and afraid was just who I was. 

When I had my daughter, though, I realized that I had to find a way to be happy. What was really amazing was that I didn’t have to change who I was at all to find happiness. Instead, I had to change my behaviors and patterns.

Once I learned to manage my stress and anxiety, seek out help, let creativity into my life, and open up to the world, I couldn’t believe how different life felt.

This is not to say that every day is wonderful or that I am never down. I still struggle with low moods or hard times like anyone, but now I have skills and resources and I know I am not facing life alone. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

First, I want to say that I read a lot so this was really hard for me. I do book reviews and resource recommendations on my blog frequently and many favorites are covered there.

There are, of course, some authors that I have come back to over the years again and again and they include the following: 

  • Tara Brach was the first meditation teacher I followed and read extensively. Her podcast and books helped me realize that there was nothing wrong with me and helped me start to heal. 
  • Laura Vanderkam was a writer on time management who helped me during the crazy years with my kids as little ones. Her books and podcasts helped me to keep things in perspective and realize that I could do a lot even without unlimited time. 
  • Kelly McGonigal is a wonderful scientist and storyteller. She has helped me understand everything from willpower to habit change to compassion better and how the smartest people really can break down complex things in a simple way. 
  • Malcolm Gladwell has given me the confidence to see connections and ideas that other people don’t see and to actually say them out loud. He has helped me understand the value of checking assumptions to see if they are really true. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can find more about me and mindfulness on my blog, Brilliant Legal Mind. The blog is on various social media platforms as well, including Facebook, Instagram, X. Threads, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

My books, Mommy Needs a Minute, and How to Be a Badass Lawyer are on Amazon and other online booksellers. I am active on LinkedIn and would love it if you reach out or connect. 

Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?

(This is a question I get all the time, so I am offering it here.)

Weren’t you scared when you started talking about mental health and mindfulness? How did your law firm and clients react? 

Yes, I was totally scared. I am still scared to this day. But one good thing (if you can call it that) about anxiety was that I got a little bored of being scared all of the time, so I stopped listening to it.

As it turns out, clients were understanding and my professional contacts have been supportive. In reality, I have found more benefit from my law practice from my other life of teaching mindfulness than detriment. 

I assume that there are some people out there who think I am strange or don’t get mindfulness, but that’s true about a lot of things. I trust in the practices, I have seen them work, I know that they are backed by science, and my worries force me to be humble and realistic when I teach.

I don’t push mindfulness on anyone, but I do try to make it more accessible to people new to the concepts.

This has helped me form new relationships and build confidence in myself. In the end, teaching mindfulness has helped my law practice so there really hasn’t been a conflict between the two things. 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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