Dealing with Jury Duty with Mental and Physical Issues
Jury duty. Back when I was in another career and was a single mom to boot, I always asked to be released from serving jury duty. It wasn't that I didn't want to serve... it was that it was difficult to find a sub for several days in a row and I had no one to take care of my daughter. It was never an issue to get out of it.
So when I found out I had jury duty as a freelancer, I was torn. Like I said, I had always wanted to serve. It seemed like it would be very interesting to see what goes on in an actual trial (as some of my past obsessive periods concentrated on law shows and books).
However, I knew that a week (or more if I got chosen for a big case) would be extremely rough on my income plus, on the slight chance I was sequestered, it would be difficult for my parents.
The weeks before I was supposed to serve, I was extremely busy and let making the decision to try to get out of it slip away. Finally, with only a few days left before I had to be there for my first day, I realized it would be better on everyone to see if I could get out of it.
When I didn't receive a release from duty, I thought it was my procrastination that got me to that point. When I arrived, though, I found out that jury trials were still extremely backed up due to COVID-19. No one was released, no matter what the reason, as they needed every jury available.
So I resigned myself to going... only to hit one of the worst manic cycles I've ever experienced the weekend before I was to start on Monday. I got almost no sleep and as my mania usually involves anxiety and not euphoria, needless to say, I was not fit to make major decisions that could affect another's life for years.
I knew from my earlier research about the possibility of asking for a release that major mental or physical issues could cause you to be released so when a judge came in to hear excuses, I got in line.
This judge was extremely kind and told me that, yes, I was right, I wouldn't be fit for jury duty in my present state. He apologized profusely when he said that he couldn't release me, though. The judge in the case had to. He assured me it would happen but not until I got chosen for a trial.
So the wait began.
One article I read said that jury duty was a great thing for freelancers. You are able to work without the constant interruptions of a regular business day. I wanted to make the best of this situation, so I tried to have that attitude.
I had brought my laptop and lots of other work I could do. In theory, there wasn't a lot of difference between waiting to be called and working at home. But in practice, I found out it was very different.
Several factors made it difficult, including a less-than-ideal workspace. I had a vent blowing cold air straight on me. At the point I thought I couldn't stand being cold anymore, I walked around to find another spot with a desk only to find them either occupied or with the same issue.
I'm hot-natured but during this time I was absolutely freezing. I finally asked if I could run to my car and get a rainjacket I had in there for emergencies. Though it didn't provide warmth, it was a windbreaker and was able to deflect some of the air blowing on me.
Another was that I had to constantly listen for my name to be called. I brought earbuds so that I could review the recordings of interviews to find quotes for various articles I needed to finish. I couldn't use the earbuds because I had a big fear of missing my name being called and being embarrassed as they hunted me down.
However, by far the biggest issue was that I was manic... and at the same time exhausted. I know that typical mania means you can go without sleep for days and not be sleepy. My "hypomania" isn't like that. I need much less sleep than normal, but I get tired, sometimes really tired, the next day.
I usually can't go to sleep when I'm that tired, but the few times I'm in that horrible state, I often take some time off of trying to get work done and I do other things where I'm moving around and focusing on an activity instead of working at my desk. These are times I do some of my best cleaning and organizing.
Obviously, there was nothing to clean or organize in the large jury holding room. I just had to sit and try to stay awake and keep from shivering, while also not being able to accomplish any work tasks.
Every second seemed like an hour. They couldn't call me soon enough, as the earlier judge had told me that I could leave after the judge on a case released me. Group after group was called until there were only about enough left for one final jury pool left in the room. Finally, those few people left were called... and I was one of them.
Even though it was almost the end of the business day at this point, I was just ready to get out of there and get to a courtroom. Because of where my desk was (I had been able to find somewhere warmer after so many had left), I was second in line to the courtroom.
Then we were told amazing news! There wasn't time to start the next step in the jury selection process, so we were going to get to go home early. I was especially excited because I had a car inspection that I needed to get done and that gave me time to do it that day.
I held my backpack and waited as they gave final instructions on where to go the next day and which parking pass to choose depending on which parking deck you had parked in.
I heard these instructions... but then promptly forgot them. Between the lack of sleep, being so cold all day, the anxiety that I felt which didn't allow me to work to pass the time, and the overall stress of the day, I couldn't hold a thought in my head.
When they dismissed us, I realized I didn't know which parking pass to pick up. I asked the one person in front of me and got the correct one. Then we walked out. The person in front of me headed down the stairs.
I was incredibly confused. I thought we were going to a courtroom - so why did he go down the stairs.
Then I did something that embarrassed me to no end when I realized what I had done... I asked which courtroom we were supposed to go to. I was told that we were dismissed for the day and that we would find out in the morning.
That was one of the lowest points I've ever had directly resulting from my mental illness. I am smart... technically in the gifted category of intelligence. I had a 4.0 GPA with my Master's and I was the top student in both my bachelor's and master's programs. I was a whiz at math in school and won several math tournaments. I pick up new knowledge quickly.
Yet, I couldn't hold simple instructions in my head for even five minutes that afternoon.
I somehow made it to my car before I lost it. I cried and cried. I was so scared that I was losing it completely and that this could be the beginning of some kind of psychotic break.
I stayed there as car after car wound around the parking deck and left. Finally, I was calm enough and awake enough that I felt it was safe to drive.
The next day I ended up having to stay the entire day but once I told the judge about what was going on with me, I was dismissed and didn't have to come back.
What would I have done differently if I knew then what I know now?
I'm not sure. Though it wouldn't have mattered about being excused before the actual week of duty because no-one was excused, I possibly could have asked more questions when I tried to get out of it.
However, the more I think about it, I don't know what I could have asked. How would know to ask if it was freezing cold in there, or what happened if you were wearing earbuds and your name was called, or if you had bipolar disorder and arrived in a manic state?
I guess the only takeaway from all this is that even though it was a no-good, very bad, horrible day (and I wish I could have gone to Australia), I made it through. I didn't have the feared psychotic break. I got a little more sleep that night and the next day I knew to get there early enough to find a place away from the dreaded vents.
In other words, once again that darn serenity prayer came to the rescue. I tried to control those things that I could change but survive through the things I couldn't.
And like so many other bad memories I have, one day this will fade away and all I'll keep from the experience is that knowledge that I did, in fact, make it... and can do so again if/when needed.
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