Since childhood, Wendy Tamis Robbins experienced debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Her perfectionism pushed her to achieve in sports and academics, and her high level of achievement masked her mental anguish from public view. While she found success in her legal and political careers, Robbins was negotiating with her own brain to get through her days, minute by minute.
Robbins began writing her memoir, The Box: An Invitation to Freedom from Anxiety, while still in the process of recovery. It began as a series of writing exercises she used to make sense of her meditation practices. But it became an investigation into the mental and emotional barriers she constructed since childhood to protect herself–and a blueprint for dismantling the barriers that no longer served her.
In this episode of the Modern Law Library, the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles talks to Robbins about dealing with anxiety in law school and law practice; the positive reaction at her law firm when she opened up about her mental health struggles; and what Robbins finds unhelpful about self-help books. They discuss the difference between being “productive” and being mentally well, and how Robbins overcame her aversion to mindfulness as part of her healing process. They also talk about how people with anxiety respond when the dangers they perceive are real, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the months since the 2021 publication of The Box, Robbins has also dealt with a cancer diagnosis and many career changes, and she shares updates on her progress and projects.