Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Sometimes life knocks you down. That’s okay, we get up. But sometimes life knocks you down and repeatedly kicks you in the gut, for months on end, until the idea of getting back up seems unfathomable. That’s what happened in 2020, while I was running for office.
January 2020 started with an arbitration where I was a party. If you’ve ever been a party to litigation, you know how stressful this is. As a litigator, I honestly didn’t have a clue what my clients were going through. I came home on the second night, knowing I was in the right and knowing what I would say to myself if I was my own lawyer, but none of it helped. It was the first time in my life where I thought to myself, “If I could just become unconscious for a few weeks, just so I can stop feeling this way, I would.” I told my husband on the phone that I felt like a failure as a mother and a wife. (Note: the arbitration had nothing to do with any of that, but anxiety doesn’t care about logic). My son overheard me and walked into the room. He said, “Mom! You’re a liar! You are not a bad Mom. You’re a GREAT Mom,” and he hugged me. Children are amazing. Or maybe my children are amazing. Probably both.
While this was ongoing, from December 2019 to February 2020, I was studying for the California Bar. In February, I took the bar. But as I got to the office after returning from California, I was met with another dramatic event which made me so sad it broke my heart. March saw another heartbreaking event. April yet another. Every week and every month, something new happened. In May I found out I passed the California bar. The good news was short lived; I was already in the midst of so much negativity and overwhelm that the achievement barely registered. In early Summer (June or July) an attorney left the firm, leaving me with a caseload of 45+ cases to manage. Family law trials switched to WebEx, at an accelerated pace to make up for the lost time in the Spring. Many weeks, I had three ½ or full day trials a week. There was no space for a break and no time to breathe. (Although I would soon find out that not being able to breathe actually feels very different). In July or August, we hired an attorney to replace the departing associate. He spent a week with us during which I did all I could to be warm, welcoming, encouraging, and helpful. After five days, he called my boss, told him to fire me and asked for my job. Want to talk traumatic? That fits the bill. (His request was politely declined, and he chose to leave). Summer continued in the same vein, leaving few weeks of calm. Every morning, it felt, my inbox had a grenade with a pulled pin: Boom, here’s some more bad news. And then, sometime in September, I thought to myself, “If only I got sick, I could take a few days off.” Well, my friends, careful what you wish for.
On October 7, 2020, while in DC, I had a massive bilateral pulmonary embolism. And guess what? I didn’t even take a day off. Isn’t it ironic, as Alanis Morrissette would sing. I’ve written at length about that event in my own blog, Argue Like a Girl, so I will skip over the details. What did happen is that I flew back from DC, landed on Friday, and my eldest son was hospitalized on Sunday. He had developed an abscess in his knee joint and needed to be operated to clean it out. I moved through the days and nights like a zombie, trying to process what had happened to me, dealing with work obligations, and trying to be there for my children. My husband took the first hospital night, but I took the next two. It turns out that being in a room with one kid, with no obligations other than work, ended up creating a space for both of us to recover. Through these four days of chaos I received even more emotionally devastating news from the professional sphere. On the night my son was released from the hospital I turned to my husband and said, “I’m broken.”
And while all of this was happening, I was trying to raise four children in the midst of a pandemic and run for office. I don’t know what lies at the end of the rainbow but I know what happens at the end of bandwidth: emptiness. It is with this emptiness that I headed into the final stretch of my campaign for House District 56.
The experience of running for office was difficult. What I can say, for starters, is that it is incredibly lonely. People may say they support you and people may offer to help, but only very few do it. In some ways, the absence of help is understandable in light of everything else we were collectively trying to manage. While certainly my capabilities were being stretched to the limit, other peoples were as well.
I can also add that as a first-time candidate, finding the right people to help on the campaign was inordinately difficult. Multiple times I was convinced that people I hired were going to really help me, only to find my campaign coffers lightened by their compensation and my campaign no better off. When I eventually discussed this with a person who I respect and who always tells it like it is, she answered, “Yeah. That’s pretty common for first time candidates.” Well, now I know and I wish I had known before. But if you didn’t know, now you know.
The real eye-opener, though, was the realization that running for office is fundamentally designed for people who don’t have children or who have someone else to watch them. That’s just the truth of it. I was expected to attend multiple events per week, at night, for hours at a time for the opportunity to speak 60-90 seconds at the end. These events cost money when childcare is needed and it quickly stopped being worth it: $80 of babysitter for a 90 second speech is not viable. So eventually, and this is a piece of advice to anyone reading this contemplating a run for office, I just took my kids with me. I saw it as a complete breach of protocol and I have not seen other candidates do the same thing, but when I did it nobody seemed to mind. To the contrary, my kids dropped off literature door to door while I gave my stump speech, they ate with me at the dinners, and they hung out eating cookies at late night meetings. I wouldn’t drag them everywhere (they have lives of their own and need rest) but the option of bringing them with me, at least occasionally, opened up possibilities and alleviated stress.
When it came to running in the last four weeks though, the October 7, 2020, pulmonary embolism and the series of events that took place after that changed things. There was simply no track left. Not because I didn’t have the energy or the will but because nearly dying changes priorities and makes it impossible to go into overdrive again. There was an instinct of self-preservation that kicked in to keep me safe. It was gentle, it was kind, but it was intractable: when I wanted to do “just one more thing,” it said “No” and I didn’t. In the last few weeks of the campaign, I distributed literature, hosted campaign material pickups at my house, and delivered yard signs. However, when the little tyrant inside me switched off the lights and turned around the “Closed” sign, I knew I was done for the day.
On election day itself, I was in day two of a four-day bench trial, via WebEx. I represented an ex wife suing her former spouse for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I didn’t even think about the polls until I got home and my husband had created “Returns Central” with my yard signs all over the living room. I sat with my children, and my husband, in trial mode, watching the results. It became clear I had lost, but with a good showing of nearly 40% of the vote. How did I feel? Relieved. While I had started my race with the best of intentions, at the right time in my life, by November 3, 2020, losing was not the worst outcome. I knew I needed rest, I knew I needed to find some calm, and I knew I needed to find another way to serve—for now.
Sometimes life knocks you down and kicks you over and over in the gut. Whether you get up right away, or take a minute to get there, it may be that all you can do in the immediate aftermath is survive. In my case, it was both figurative and literal.
If you choose to run, feel free to reach out. I will gladly talk and, more importantly, lend a hand.
Giugi Carminati is a social justice litigator, handling cases ranging from family law and domestic abuse to police shootings and other civil rights violations, including violations resulting from unlawful immigration practices. She founded The Woman's Lawyer, a domestic abuse and sexual assault victim's advocacy law firm and is now Managing Attorney, W & SW United States, for NDH, LLC, a human and civil rights law firm. She is a founding member of the CWBA Publications Committee's The 1891 blog. She is also on the Colorado Community College Systems Board and is Vice President of Denver Mamas. Giugi is also mother of four children and speaks four languages.