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fourteen years {4/30/18}

Kelley Clink

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This year I didn't even remember. Not right away. Not until I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a tribute post from one of your friends. It knocked me off balance to see your name, your face, in an unexpected place. I admit, I felt guilty that I'd only been thinking of today as Monday. But then I didn't. I was up most of the night with the baby, your niece, and I'm sure I would have remembered after the fog of sleeplessness burned off. Anyway, it's not as if I don't think of you. You're always here. Sometimes a quiet shadow in the background, sometimes a giant, elbowing up front. 

You would have been 35, almost 36. I say this every year, but it never stops being true: you would most certainly have been bald. Maybe a little paunchy? I definitely am. I'm not sure what you would have been up to career-wise, but I often think of you as a lawyer or political strategist. You definitely would have been crusading for social justice, fighting for equal rights and speaking out against material excess. 

You would have been one of the leaders of the resistance. And shit brother, we really could have used you.

You would have been a spectacular uncle. I can picture the kids squealing with delight upon your arrival, barreling into you full-force the way only tiny humans can. Your nephew is whip smart, stubborn, and hilarious. He reminds me a lot of you. Your niece is a ball of sunshine--until you cross her. Then she's loud, formidable, and fierce.  

God, you would have loved them. And they would have loved you.

I haven't told them much about you. I'm not sure how to. How do you introduce them to someone who isn't here? Your nephew is old enough to start asking questions. I hope I'm ready to answer them.    

Spring was so late this year. All through March and April there were gray skies, cold and snow. I kept thinking it would never come. But it's 70 degrees today. There's a bird singing right outside my window. And if I get really quiet and listen, I can hear the wind chimes in my backyard. 

I wish you had waited a little longer. I hope you've found your spring.

happy spring! {3/20/18}

Kelley Clink

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Way back in autumn, I sent some of my work to a magazine I really love. I've been wanting to get published there for years but hadn't had anything that felt right, until I wrote a short essay about photography. I sent it off with some of my photos and the customary flutter in my stomach--proud of what I'd made, full of hope, but surrendered to the very likely scenario that my work wouldn't be accepted. 

You know, the usual. 

A few months went by and I didn't hear anything, which in publishing land means NOPE.

Disappointing, but no big deal. I can't tell you the number of times I've been rejected. I mean I literally can't. I kept track at first, but after a while my spreadsheet just got too unwieldy. You get used to it. You have to. It's one layer of the writer's shit sandwich. I thought about trying to find another home for the essay, or posting it with the accompanying photos on my blog, but I held off. Mostly because I've been busy with other projects. And also, having a second kid completely nuked my life. It's all I can do to remember to buy groceries and pay the gas bill. (Seriously, that gas bill is my kryptonite. I finally put it on autopay.) 

Anyway, it sat on the back burner for so long that I completely forgot about it. Until today, when the magazine let me know that my work was accepted. AND IT'S OUT RIGHT NOW!!!

I'm so thrilled to be featured in issue 15 of Bella Grace. My essay and photo are even in the little sample pics! If you're interested, you can buy a copy online using the link above. They also sell Bella Grace at bookstores.  

how to survive a chicago winter {1/22/18}

Kelley Clink

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This is the rule: you go outside when you can. You take off your coat and you put on your boots and you stand in the slush. You take a hundred golden hour selfies and none of them capture just how happy you are to see the sun, but one of them comes close. This is the rule: you love what you have. You stand where you are. You notice, when you remember.

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to tell the tale {8/25/17}

Kelley Clink

One afternoon about five or six years ago, I was searching the internet for suicide prevention advocacy. I wanted to be part of something, to make a difference. I'd participated in walks, I'd raised and donated money, but what I really wanted to do was share my story. I was writing A Different Kind of Same at the time, and  some parts of it had been published in literary magazines, but the larger movement of mental health awareness and suicide prevention intimidated me. I didn't have any professional background in psychology or social work. I wasn't famous. Why would anyone care about my story? As I scanned the web in search of a way to contribute, I found a project called Live Through This. The woman behind the project, Dese'Rae L. Stage, was a photographer and suicide attempt survivor. She was taking portraits of other attempt survivors and sharing their stories. These were regular, everyday people from many different kinds of backgrounds. They weren't doctors and researchers. They weren't famous. But their stories and faces were powerful.

Instantly I knew--this is what I was looking for. 

I immediately started an email to Dese'Rae. I rambled and deleted and re-rambled and deleted again. Everything I wrote sounded awful. I saved a draft and vowed to work on it some more the next day. But the next day came, and the day after that, and a week went by, and then a year, and I didn't go back to it.

I was afraid that my story wasn't "good enough." That it didn't matter. That no one would want to hear it. 

And maybe, just maybe, I wasn't really ready to tell it.

A few years later, after I finished my book, I took my first unsteady steps into the world of advocacy. I wrote some articles, and a few people actually read them. I did some interviews, and a few people actually listened. It turned out I didn't have to be an expert and I didn't have to have all the answers--being willing to share my experience was helpful, and it was enough. And then, lo and behold, I met Dese'Rae L. Stage. 

Even though so many years had passed, and I'd done a lot of work to feel comfortable as an advocate, I was still nervous to approach her. Live Through This had become much bigger. It had been featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post; it had received grants and spots on national TV. But I took a deep breath and shyly asked if, maybe, I could be a part of the project, too?

Dese'Rae said "Of course, dumbass." (Not really, but I always imagined it was what she was thinking).   

Getting to know Dese'Rae and the other survivors has been amazing. Like finding a long lost network of family. Like finally finding my tribe. Suicidal thoughts and depression can be so isolating. Just knowing you aren't alone can change everything.

Yesterday my story was added to Live Through This, and I couldn't be more proud (even of the part that talks about my bowel movements). I survived. And I'm grateful every damn day.

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when a day without is really a day with {3/8/17}

Kelley Clink

I've been pretty quiet on this blog and on social media. I'm reluctant to mix my personal (which includes political) life with my professional life. Suicide and mental health are topics that transcend party lines--or at least they should be--and I don't want to drive anymore wedges into what's already looking like the Civil War, Part 2. So I'm slowing down, stepping back, and taking care of myself and my family. I'm calling my senators weekly, sending them postcards. Trying to stay informed without getting overwhelmed. Trying to listen, really listen, to multiple sides of the conversation without reacting. I'm also working on several advocacy projects, which have kept me pretty busy. 

Oh, and I'm about to have a baby.

This female fetus and I are wearing red today in support of International Women's Day/A Day Without a Woman, because I feel as strongly about the bipartisan-ness of women's rights as I do about the bipartisan-ness of mental health. In fact, I think those two things intersect, which I've written about before.

I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she feels safe and respected. Where she is paid fairly, and equally, for the work she does. Where she can wear whatever she chooses to wear, and express herself sexually however she chooses to express herself, without being judged, labeled, or assaulted. 

I want all this for my son, too. 

I want both my children to be able to embrace vulnerability. I want them to experience emotions without shame. I want them to be able to share what they're feeling, and ask for help when they need it. I want them to be supported and respected by the people in their lives when they do this, and I want them to be able give the same support and respect that they receive.

Actually, I want this for everyone. And I think we can do it. I think it starts when we stop seeing differences as otherness. When we recognize the humanity in everyone--even those we don't agree with. I think it starts with equal rights.

Solidarity, ladies and gentlemen. Let's do this thing.  

 

today {11/9/16}

Kelley Clink

Today I breathe deeply and try to sit with my thoughts. I name them as they go by. Anger. Sadness. Dread. Anger again. Helplessness. Confusion. Despair.

Did I already mention anger? 

I read Pema Chodron. She says, "We aspire to dissolve the myth that we are separate...Through our hopes and fears, our pleasures and pains, we are deeply connected."

I grieve the best way I know--I find a spare 10 minutes and take my camera to a nearby pond.

The sun is bright and warm. There are bare branches and curled leaves. There are also geese and ducks, a grandmother and grandson, a soft breeze.

It is hard not to feel defeated by the outcome of this election. There is so much work to do. The divide feels unbridgeable, the connections messy, painful and strained, like a tangle of barbed wire. 

But I don't want to let fear or anger rob me of joy. I want to live today just like I lived yesterday: hopeful. Resolute. Determined to fight against discrimination and teach my children to treat everyone with kindness and respect--even if they don't agree with them. 

I want to live today just like I lived yesterday: committed to taking off my armor. Accepting of impermanence. I want to have the courage to step over my ego into the space where real connection is possible. I want compassion to spread like ripples across the surface of a pond. 

I want Anne Lamott to write something funny and savvy that will help me believe this is possible. 

Oh, hold on a sec, SHE DID.

So for the rest of today I will stay close to the people I love. I will breathe in and out. I will read Anne Lamott as needed. And I will try to hold everything gently, with open palms.

AAS16: Disclosure Through Storytelling {3/31/16}

Kelley Clink

The American Association of Suicidology Conference is this week, and I have the honor of speaking on a panel about suicide attempt disclosure and storytelling. My fellow panelists are Dese'Rae L. Stage and Amelia Lehto. CHECK OUT WHAT THEY DO. They are amazing women.

I'm posting my portion of the panel here, so that folks who can't attend can read, and so that folks who did attend can check out links to the resources I mentioned. Please feel free to comment! Would love to keep this conversation going, as I think it's really important. 

Okay, panel starts…..HERE:

I first wrote about my suicide attempt ten years after it happened. I pedaled it as a short story for a fiction-writing workshop, but the only things I fictionalized were names. Page by page I laid it all out there, this thing that I’d never talked about with anyone. The emergency room, the juvenile psychiatric ward, the nurses, the doctors, the family visit. On the night of my workshop, my heart pounded and my stomach churned. What would the other students say? Were the details too real? Would they know it was true?

The star of the workshop was a brunette with glasses and Bernadette Peters curls. Her stories were poetic. They had structure. Plot. She obviously had some kind of creative writing experience. I had none. I simultaneously loathed her and ached to be her friend.

When it was her turn to give feedback on my story, she flipped through the pages and wrinkled her eyebrows. She sighed through her nose. She cracked her gum. “I mean, the writing is pretty good, but the main character isn’t believable as a human being.”

Isn’t believable as a human being. I was both crushed and exalted. My secret was safe! But I was a shitty writer! I joined a different workshop, a nonfiction workshop, and never looked back. It was time. If I was going to tell my story, I was going to have to tell it as me.  

*

I was sixteen when I attempted suicide. From the moment it happened, my attempt felt like a shameful secret—one I needed to keep hidden if I wanted to live a “normal” life. I didn’t talk about it. Not with my parents. Not with my friends. Not even with my therapist. They all knew, of course. I’d been hospitalized. I’d missed a week of school. But after being discharged, I only spoke of “looking forward.” I told everyone it had been a mistake, and that was that.

Frankly, I think we were all relieved.

It’s really hard to talk about suicide. I think everyone here knows that.

So, I never intended to tell my story. I went off to college and polished my proverbial clean slate. I was going to become an environmental engineer, or a lawyer, or an archeologist. I was going to travel the world. I was going to be tough and brave and kick ass. I was never going to breakdown again.

And it kind of worked, for a while.

It wasn’t perfect—not at all. I still struggled to manage my depression. But I kept up my ass-kicking, life-by-the-balls façade for years. About seven years. Right up until my younger brother killed himself.

My brother had first tried to take his own life in high school, just like me. He’d rebounded with an overachieving, ass-kicking attitude, just like me. He’d buried the truth about his fears and feelings, terrified that he was irreparably broken and unworthy of love, just like me.

But I still couldn’t talk about it. Silence is a habit. It carves deep grooves into which, after years, your voice disappears. I couldn’t talk about it but I needed to do something, because I was terrified that if I didn’t, I’d end up just like my brother.

So I started to write.

*

{healing}

When people find out that I’ve written a book, and they find out what my book is about, they often ask me if the process was “cathartic.” I tell them that doesn’t begin to describe it. Writing saved my life. The page was a safe place for all the feelings, fears, and memories I wasn’t ready to share, both about my brother and myself. I had complete control over what went on there, who got to read it, and when. Dr. Art Markman (University of Texas) says that “the mind is most settled when there is coherence to our thoughts.” Research by Dr. James Pennebaker, also of UT, suggests that writing can provide that coherence.

It can, however, be overwhelming. Writing about a traumatic event, even one that happened decades ago, is bound to trigger some complicated emotions. Some research suggests that writing about trauma is most beneficial when it focuses on meaning and understanding, rather than simply reliving the detail of the event. I strongly suggest working with a mental health professional as part of your process. A mental health professional should be able to help you frame your experience in a way that encourages healing. 

I didn’t do this as much as I could have. I had a therapist, and I talked a lot with him about how hard it was to write, but I mostly kept the specifics of my work to myself. I bumbled through on my own, finding my own healing as I wrote. It was very, very difficult, and very, very painful. It took years, ultimately, for me to get the perspective I needed to make sense of my experience.

 

{advocacy}

Once I finally had that perspective, it completely transformed the way I saw my attempt, my depression, and myself. It brought me, finally, to a place of self-compassion and forgiveness. It freed me.

But I didn’t know if my story would help anyone else. I wanted it to, but I never imagined myself as an advocate. I didn’t even really know what advocacy was. I had a vague idea that it was a group of important people who knew things about legislation. I don’t know anything about legislation. My story isn’t glamorous or exciting. My story is like everyone else’s story—which, it turns out, is exactly what makes it important.

I discovered this when I wrote an article for Woman’s Day about being a loss survivor. Except I mentioned my own attempt in the article, and they mistook that as license to change my title to:

Ten Things I Want My Son to Know Because I Once Attempted Suicide

It was a great move, marketing wise. The Internet had all kinds of opinions about my right to be a mother. I posted a follow up piece on my Huffington Post blog that defended my decision to be honest with my son. But I was still stuck on the Woman’s Day title. Despite the fact that I’d written about my suicide attempt years earlier, and had since published a book that included it, I felt “outed.” I’d never thought of myself as an attempt survivor—or maybe it’s just that I hadn’t thought surviving my attempt was important. Not as important as the fact that my brother didn’t survive his. But the majority of the comments on my article and blog came from other parents who were attempt or loss survivors, who had experienced depression or other types of mood disorders, and who were struggling with how to share their background with their families. Thousands of people suddenly knew that they were not alone, and I realized my story mattered. Just telling it had made a difference.

It was the first time I realized the impact my story could have on others. It was also the first time I realized that I wasn’t alone.

 

{safe messaging}

When I started writing, I wasn’t involved with survivor communities at all—loss or attempt. I knew nothing about safe messaging. Anything I learned I picked up by random chance from reporting guidelines, common sense, and reading loss narratives.

I’ve learned from experience that the first step in safe messaging is to tell your story in a way that is safe for you. It’s extremely important to wait until you are ready. Being ready doesn’t mean it will be easy—it means that you feel comfortable revisiting your experience, and that you have the appropriate support network in place to cope with whatever feelings arise during the writing process.

The second step in safe messaging is to forget everything you know about safe messaging. That probably sounds counter intuitive. Hear me out.

If you are thinking about safe messaging while you begin to write, you’re going to censor yourself. You’re going to worry about every detail you add. You’re going to delete and revise, and eventually quit. Censorship is the enemy of creativity. Just getting words on the page is hard enough without worrying about what’s going to happen in the heads of people who might read them. Write for yourself first. Write for yourself second. Write for yourself fifteenth. Write for the world a hundred and ninety fourth.

What I’m saying is that safe messaging is the second to last thing you worry about. Proofreading is the last.

This, of course, assumes that you want to share your story, which you absolutely don’t have to do. I spent nearly a decade writing my book, and I can honestly say that if it had never gotten published, and no one ever read it, it would still be worth it. The act of writing it was that transformative. But if your intent is to share your writing, and you’ve reached the point at which a piece is going to be published or read by friends and family, then the Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a list of guidelines that can help you.

 

{friends, family, and strangers}

So, I mentioned sharing your writing with friends and family. If you’re anything like me, this idea is way more terrifying than sharing your work with total strangers. And, in fact, I participated in writing workshops for years before I showed my parents or husband anything I’d written. In some cases, your writing may be the first place that friends and family find out what you really experienced. At the time I showed my husband the first draft of my memoir, we’d been married seven years. When he got to the chapter about my time in the hospital, he was shocked. I’d never told him about it.

I’m extremely lucky that my family was supportive of me sharing my story. Not everyone has that experience. Some people may be angry that you’ve chosen to tell the truth. Some may be scared. Some may try and tell you that you got the story wrong. Be prepared for people to have all kinds of reactions, and lean on your support network when you need to. Take other people’s feelings into consideration, but remember, at the end of the day the story is yours to tell as you see fit. 

{I do want to note here that once you tell your story publicly, it no longer belongs just to you. If you publish your work, you will face criticism. Some of it will be directed at your writing, and some of it will be directed at you. The good news is that the longer you work with your story, the easier it is to separate yourself from it. You aren’t your story—your story is just something that happened to you. And other people’s opinions of it don’t matter a fraction as much as your own.}

 

{how to get started}

If my rambling hasn’t turned you off, and writing still sounds like something you want to do, I’m going to share some tips for beginning. I adapted this from an essay I wrote for Writer’s Digest called “Seven Tips for Writing about Trauma.”

1. Free Writing

Writing by hand, in a journal, was the most comfortable place for me to start. There’s less pressure when writing by hand, and less temptation to edit. I’ve found that the most helpful practice in journaling is free writing. Free writing is when you set a timer and write non-stop, making no changes. If you spell something wrong, keep going. If you can’t think of what to write, you write, “I can’t think of what to write.” You keep writing that sentence until you think of something else to write. If you’re having trouble getting started, you can use writing prompts. One of my favorites is from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away. Start with the phrase “I remember…” Write for ten minutes. If you get stuck, just keep going back to the phrase. Then, do ten minutes that starts with “I don’t remember.”

2. Small Goals

Using a timer and keeping your goals small is really helpful. I started by writing just 15 minutes a day. I still use a timer, over a decade later. It makes the whole thing feel more manageable.

3. Be Patient and Gentle With Yourself

The work you are doing is hard. It’s not always going to feel good. It may take you a long time to complete. Be kind to yourself along the way. Treat yourself to long walks, naps, warm baths, bad TV, and good cookies.

4. Reach Out to Your Support Network

When I began writing, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, so my husband, parents, and close friends didn’t know why I was suddenly more sensitive. After telling my loved ones about my project, I received the space and support I needed to deal with the difficult emotions that came up during the writing process.

5. Walk Away When You Need To

There were times during the writing of my memoir when my emotions became overwhelming. When that happened, I took a break—either by working on another part of the book or taking a few days off from writing completely.

6.  Read       

Other books that have helped me over the years are The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Abigail Thomas also has a small book of writing prompts called Two Pages. But it’s important to read about more than writing. Read books that inspire you. Some of my favorite memoirs are The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominque Bauby; Wild by Cheryl Strayed; Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas; and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.

7. Find Your Tribe

Whether you connect with other survivors, take a class at a local college, or join a writing group full of people who have nothing in common, it’s imperative to find a community. Writing is lonely. Life is lonely. Get yourself some people.

 

when your knees hit the floor {1/13/16}

Kelley Clink

Yesterday I FaceTimed with a book club. It was a great group of women who were friendly and engaged. They had prepared insightful questions, and made me feel welcome, even though I was kind of awkward and super nervous. I can't shake the belief that I'm rubbish in person. I think a lot of writers feel this way. Like, I'm happy to respond to any questions you have, just give me six months to write fifteen drafts of my answer. But overall (I think) I managed to sound coherent. Until one woman asked, "How do you deal with the feelings of guilt and helplessness?"

That shut me right up.

You see, this group of women lost one of their members to suicide last year. They were right there in it, in the messiest, stickiest part of grief. 

I floundered. There was a lot of "Ummmm," and "Wow, that's a good question," and a few pathetic ramblings about grief as evidence of deep love. I finally said I'd like some time to think about it, and that I would email them my response. "I want to give you guys a really good answer," I said.

The problem was that I already knew the answer, and I was worried that it was crappy. Nearly twelve years out from my own loss, I still want to believe there's something we can do to escape all that pain. There should be a handbook, a manual, or at least a list of helpful suggestions. I know there are a few things we can try: we can read books about grieving; we can talk to our friends and family about what we're feeling; we can pray, or meditate, or go for walks in quiet places; we can volunteer with suicide prevention efforts. These are all things I did, and they helped, some. But the truth is that the only way to deal with guilt and helplessness is to feel them, to let them soften us, to let them be part of our grief, and to be as gentle with ourselves as possible. 

It's awful. It's really, really uncomfortable. It hurts. It takes a long time. And it isn't fair. 

All last night I pouted and grumbled about it. I didn't want to be the bearer of this shitty news. I wanted to be the hero, the sage, the one who knows where all the land mines are buried in the field of grief and, most important, how to dig them up safely. Then I remembered a quote that one of the other women shared at the end of our meeting, from the author Marianne Williamson. "Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart," she read. "A humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor." 

And I realized, "who am I to stop anyone's knees from hitting the floor?" The intent--to decrease someone's suffering--is pure, but the action robs the survivor of the validation their grief needs. The most powerful, most helpful thing I know to do is to tell the truth, even when it isn't what I want it to be. I also remembered that when you stop trying to chase away the guilt and the hopelessness, they have room to become kindness and compassion. They can lead you to empathy, and love.

Your knees are going to hurt like hell. You're going to think you might never stand up again. But you will.

I hope this answers her question. 


like cracks in a porcelain sky {12/7/15}

Kelley Clink

Today's prompt for December Reflections was branches.

It was a perfect day for this one. The sky was flat white, and everywhere I looked I saw capillaries, and pencil sketches, and general Suessian whimsy.

I've never spent so much time looking at bare trees--it's amazing how different they all are. I think they're actually easier to tell apart now than they are when they have leaves.

Do yourself a favor this winter: look up.

a (long overdue) update {12/2/15}

Kelley Clink

Holy smokes--I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted! Apologies. Marketing is hard work, and prevention month was a flurry of activity. I published two essays (one with To Write Love on Her Arms, and one with BrainChild Magazine); interviewed Ronnie Walker, the founder of Alliance of Hope; and I was interviewed by Deborah Kalb of Book Q&As and Annette Gendler of the Washington Independent Review of Books. I also participated in BookSparks #speakout campaign, where I donated a portion of proceeds from book sales to Alliance of Hope.  

Jesus, look at all those links. Don't click on all those links. You'll fall into an internet black hole, and when you come out the other side your kids will be old people and humanity will be living on Saturn.

It probably goes without saying that I needed to take a break in October. Not that I actually did, mind you. I just did a bunch of other stuff that wasn't book related. Then I took a break--for like a week. Then I caught some kind of mutant zombie apocalypse virus and stayed in bed for two days. And now, here I am. 

And holy shit, it's December.

 

Life will do that to you, if you let it. And it's hard not to let it. It's hard not to put your head down and dive straight into the current. It's hard to take a step back, look up, and breathe. It's even harder when Amazon has this stupid graph that shows your sales flatlining. Thankfully, I decided to stop looking at that graph. I remembered that I didn't write a book to become famous, or moderately successful, or break even. (Good thing). I remembered that I'm happiest when I'm slowing down, paying attention, and writing about life.

So yeah, I've been doing that, and it feels good.

I also accidentally started doing Susannah Conway's December Reflections. I didn't mean to. I just wanted to follow along and look at everyone else's pictures, but then I got inspired, and you know how that goes. If you want to see what I'm shooting, follow along on Instagram.

Happy December, everyone!


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