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Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

You can say it.

You can tell me, “I’m sorry you’re no longer a lawyer.”

Just yesterday, someone messaged me about my book. She was enjoying it and wanted to reach out. I first met her last spring. Sean and I were out for an event with a group of doctors and were enjoying the evening, so I felt no need to say, “Hi, I’m Jackie. I used to work as a lawyer and then 2018 hit. And … well … it’s kind of a long story.”

Joke was on her. She probably thought I was normal.

Just like anyone else who is new to me, my weirdness, and my super-duper overwhelming horror story, aka Unwillable, she seemed a bit unnerved by it all. And she asked me, “Do you ever feel weird, knowing that all these people who are reading your book know so much about you?”

It didn’t really give me pause. I gave my standard answer of: “When my brain turned on, I woke up to a lot of openness about my story; To reclaim my life I had to take over the narrative; By claiming the story, I wrote the ending; I wanted to be one hundred percent honest, so my authenticity wouldn’t be questioned.” And the always catchall: “There’s nothing glamorous about AE and all its collateral consequences.”

This morning I was at the dentist. It came up again. A woman told me: “I read your book - it’s almost like it’s not real - can’t believe that happened to you ….” And a little later, she mentioned that she knew a lawyer. She started to say, “I can’t imagine …” and then began saying something else, and then landed on, “I know you can’t do it anymore, but …” and then she completely trailed off.

I knew what she was trying to say. I also recognized that she seemed nervous around me. I believed she had genuine intent, but didn’t want to seem like she was prying or to hurt my feelings.

This has happened to me before. Quite a few times actually. People start to tell me that they cannot believe I lost my career as a lawyer. They correctly note that it wasn’t just a job for me, but a way of life. They don’t ask it, rather they say it: “Your identity was wrapped up in it.” Also true. They ask rhetorical questions like, “Didn’t you work really hard to get where you were?”

Yes. Yes, I sure did.

Sometimes people really struggle to say, “Holy shit!

“You lost your job, your career, and a law firm that you owned. You lost your childhood dream. You lost the calling that you were good at. You lost all the money you put into your education. You lost your livelihood. You lost what you loved.

“You lost your day-to-day life.”

Yes. Yes, I sure did.

It’s all in the book. I worked hard. Took student loans. Drove an old car with an inoperable heater. Lived in shoddy places, even as a young lawyer. Read until I thought I’d lose my eyesight. Set the goal of my law firm making one million dollars and worked like crazy until I knew we’d hit that goal and my personal goal. I took a lot of grief as a young woman, but got up every time and fought back. I grappled hard to get where I was going. And as much as it stressed me to the point of no return, I really did love it.

And I lost it. All of it.

I lost the future I had planned. That Sean and I planned together. That Sean sacrificed for as much as I did. We were a team, with each of our roles for the good of the family. And that was one hundred percent disrupted by AE.

Some people try to say a little of that or all of it. Some say none of it, but I feel it. Most people start to say bits, but they trail off. It happens to me, Sean, and to my parents. It’s like people can’t bear to finish the sentence: Jackie lost …

everything of her old life associated with being a lawyer.

But here’s the thing–I know that. I know all of what went into my career and all of the painful losses that started in 2018 and have gone on for a while. I know how hard I worked to get there before it all fell apart. I know it’s not my fault. I know bad and unexplainable things happen to good people every day.

It’s like grief. You can mention a deceased person’s name to a loved one. If I talk about Adam to my friend Amber, it’s okay. Amber knows that Adam died. She hasn’t forgotten that. I didn’t remind her of something that she hasn’t been living.

Same with me. I haven’t forgotten what happened. I’m well aware of it.

Don’t feel like you have to mince words on me or be afraid. Admittedly, I used to cry all the time when anything related to my lawyer-losses came up, but usually not in front of people. I’ve come a long way from those days. (Except when a new-to-me doctor asked me the other day if my brain works. That evoked powerful emotions. I’m not a fan of that line of questioning).

Everyone deals with grief and trauma differently. For me, the only way I’ve been able to deal with it is to be open about it. Grief stricken people talk about their loved ones, because they haven’t forgotten them and they don’t want us to forget, either. Talking about past trauma has helped me take away its sting and its power.

I promise that by mentioning my old life, you aren’t digging up a gremlin or picking at my wounds. Intent always matters with me. When you have good intentions, you can’t go wrong.

It’s okay. You can honestly say, “Jackie, that must really suck.”

It’s the truth.

And I know it, too.


"It’s sad, so sad It’s a sad, sad situation And it’s getting more And more absurd

"It’s sad, so sad Why can't we talk it over? Oh, it seems to me That sorry seems to be The hardest word" ~ Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word by Elton John


/ / The JM Stebbins blog is an autoimmune encephalitis blog from former lawyer and autoimmune encephalitis survivor, Jackie M. Stebbins.

Jackie M. Stebbins is also the author of Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim my Brain, a book about autoimmune encephalitis, resilience, hope, and survival. / /


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