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Filtering by Category: Suicide

say it loud {2/22/13}

Kelley Clink

This week I had two conversations with two wise, wonderful women, and both of them found their way to the same topic: how conditioned we are to keep our pain private. Whether we are mourning a death, the end of a friendship or relationship, the loss of a jo, whether we are anxious or angry about upcoming life transitions, whether we are sad for a reason we can't articulate or see, we somehow believe that others don't want to hear about it. Probably because, at some point in our lives, someone actually didn't.

Now, I'm not trying to point fingers at parents or teachers or friends. I'm saying that there is some truth here: it's hard to listen to someone else's suffering. Not because it is a burden, or because we don't feel compassion, but because it makes us feel helpless. Most of us (I hope) don't want anyone to suffer. And most of us, when confronted with another's suffering, don't know what to say. There isn't a handbook for this (well, there are probably lots of books that could help, but they aren't exactly being distributed on street corners). 

So, where does this leave us? With the scary-ass prospect of not only having to tell people what we feel, but also what we need. And the even scarier-ass prospect of being mindful enough to figure out just what the hell it is we feel and need.

I know. Yikes.

For a long time I thought it would be so much easier if, like Elizabeth McCracken wrote, we could summarize our transformative pain and put it on a card:

When I was a teenager in Boston a man on the subway handed me a card printed with tiny pictures of hands spelling out the alphabet in sign language. I AM DEAF, said the card. You were supposed to give the man some money in exchange. 
I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else's: Surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explains it for you. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know but I don't want to say it aloud. People don't like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card. 

But the more I think about it, the more I believe in the importance of saying it out loud.

I know. YIKES.

Here's my theory: the less afraid we become to share our pain, the less afraid others are to hear about it. In fact, the more we share with others, the more others share with us. And when we give ourselves (and each other) permission to be wounded, vulnerable, human, we create space for compassion.

Not everyone is going to get it, and that's okay. As one of my lovely friends said this week, if I share my story with someone and they aren't comfortable with it, it's their problem. Your compassion can extend to these people, too. Perhaps your story is too close to something they have also experienced, something that they are not ready to share. Or perhaps they just feel helpless. Whatever the reason, I'm 99.9% sure it isn't because they don't care.

It's taken me nearly a decade to understand this. And I spent more than half that decade pretending I was fine because I thought it was what everyone wanted to hear. I thought it was what I was supposed to feel. But when I started telling people about my pain--out loud--my life changed. My grief changed. My heart changed. And I began to heal.


the next big thing {1/8/13}

Kelley Clink

Just before the holidays I was tagged by Barbara McDowell to participate in something called The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Just what is a blog hop, you ask? Well, this is a blog chain that originates from She Writes. Each person tagged answers a series of interview questions and posts them on his/her blog or website while also linking to five other writers. Those writers then answer the questions, post and include links to five other writers and so on and so on. Unless you are like me, and fall pitifully short of five writers.  

Here we go!

What is the working title of your book? A Different Kind of Same. 

Where did the idea come from for the book? The book is a memoir about my brother's struggle with bipolar, his suicide, and my own experiences with mental illness. I knew as soon as he died that I wanted to write about him, but it wasn't until a few years later, when I sat down and wrote a draft about cleaning out his apartment, that the book began to take shape.

What genre does your book fall under?  See above, re: memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  Macaulay Culkin circa 10 years ago would be perfect to play my brother. I'd probably cast Ellen Page as me (people say we look alike, and she's the right age for the time period). Frances Conroy (also 10 years ago) would be great as my mother, and Paul Giamatti would be great as my dad. James Franco would crush it as my husband.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  See above re: idea for book.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  I would LOVE to find an agent, but it hasn't happened yet. I am not averse to self-publishing. We'll see what happens.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  Three, maybe four years?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  Yikes, no clue. I have yet to find a memoir about losing a loved one to suicide written by someone who has also attempted suicide. I am inspired by the writing styles of Anne Lamott and Lauren Slater, so maybe that gives you some idea?

Who or what inspired you to write this book? After my brother died, I searched like crazy for books that dealt with the suicide of a sibling. The pickins were slim. After reading the few I could find, I realized what I was really looking for was a manual for my own grief--which, obviously, no one (other than I) could write.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?   Life changing moments in psychiatric wards and Taco Bell bathrooms. Believe it or not, this book might actually make you laugh. I hope.

Now that you’ve had a peek into my writing, please stop by and visit the only other blogger I know: Gillian Marchenko

succinct {12/30/12}

Kelley Clink

Saw this Adrienne Rich quote in the NYTimes magazine today. This is what I was trying to say in my last blog post, only tighter, more poetic, and written 30 years ago:

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other's despair into hope?

You yourself must change it.
what would it feel like to know 
your country was changing?

You yourself must change it.

Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?

stemming despair {12/23/12}

Kelley Clink

This article, by Andrew Solomon, appeared in today's Sunday Review section of the New York Times. By the second paragraph, I was on board:

Adam Lanza committed an act of hatred, but it seems that the person he hated the most was himself. If we want to stem violence, we need to begin by stemming despair.

In the days after Newtown I too had thought about Adam Lanza as both the perpetrator and a victim of the tragedy. I thought about his family, the people who cared for him that were still living, and wondered how they would possibly deal with the way he'd ended his life. I thought about his brother. I wondered how I would feel if my brother had chosen to take the lives of others before taking his own. And, though I knew it would be an unpopular, maybe even unfathomable reaction, I felt compassion for Adam Lanza. I kept it a secret, because everyone around me was showing anger. Even the Buddhist service I attended to honor the victims did not list Lanza (or, for some reason, his mother) among the dead. The pictures of Lanza in the media made his actions even more bizarre. This young man looked more terrified than terrifying. What had happened to him, I wondered, to cause such violence? 

Solomon goes on to define the spectrum of perpetrators, the range of difficulty in predicting behavior, and, of course, the hindsight that prompts an outcry. The mad scramble to assign blame. Who failed? Was it the parents? The educators? The mental health professionals? Finding a fixable root for the cause allays the terrifying reality:

[P]eople are unknowable...We have to acknowledge that the human brain is capable of producing horror, and that knowing everything about the perpetrator, his family, his social experience and the world he inhabits does not answer the question “why” in any way that will resolve the problem. At best, these events help generate good policy.

So what is the answer, then? How do we stem despair? Solomon doesn't venture a suggestion. He falls back on the old, tired "better mental health screening for children." I'm not saying that we shouldn't be paying more, closer attention to our children. We should. But screening children won't solve anything. Treating children might. As might treating ourselves. 

As someone who entered the mental health system as a teen, I can tell you this: it was frightening, cold, impersonal, and filled me with shame. I only knew that there was something "wrong" with me. I believed I was broken. Psychiatrists did not educate me in medications or options. Therapists were a world apart from the psychiatrists, and they didn't offer any practical advice on how to deal with problems or feelings. I was treated as though I was a problem that needed to be solved. I felt like it was my job to get "well," and the longer it took, and the more I relapsed, the worse I felt about myself.

These days strides are being made with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, but I'm not sure how widely used they are, especially in regards to children. Here's the thing, though: they apply to everyone. Life is hard. We all need positive, productive tools to cope. What if they taught mindfulness in schools? What if they taught acceptance and impermanence? What if children, teens, and adults with depression or anxiety or bipolar or any other form of mental illness weren't singled out, pulled aside, and made to feel like they were missing something that other people had? We are all trying to learn to be kind, to be loving, to be gentle with ourselves and each other. Maybe some of us just need extra tutoring.

And maybe that's not a sufficient answer either. The truth is, I don't know how to stem despair in anyone but myself, and it took me 33 years to figure that out. But I do know that mental health is not an exact science. I know that children are in a constant state of change and development, and I worry that chasing after them with clipboards and diagnoses will do them more harm than good. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our children is to become a society of mentally healthy adults. Perhaps if they see us reacting to the world with more understanding, more curiosity, more compassion and less rage, their own fears and insecurities will feel less overwhelming.

We can change policy. We can change procedure. But first and foremost, we have to change ourselves.

at the end of the day {10/19/12}

Kelley Clink

Last night I turned out the lights one by one, until the world shrunk down to the puddle of reading lamp next to the bed--a circle too small to hold back the fears and desires I'd managed to ignore during the day. They spread like the dark, settled like the dark, and I was reminded of nights after my brother's death.

There were no easy moments in my grief. There were, however, easier moments. Those were most often the middle of the day, when thoughts about my brother could be buried by distractions: work, errands, exercise, television, books, chores. Evenings were a shaky sigh of relief, a weight dropped the moment before muscles quit. Mornings were harder: the fact of his death the first thought in my conscious mind; the realization that I'd have to do it all over again, figure out how to live another day without him.

But nights were the worst. All my day distractions stripped, the thoughts I'd been fleeing reared up in retribution. I'd lay down, close my eyes, and wonder about his last conscious moments. I'd press my hands to my throat, to see if I could feel what he felt. I'd catalogue all the ways I had failed him. I'd strain my ears in the quiet, sure I could hear death coming next for me.

Eventually, thankfully, the sleeping pills would kick in and wash my mind to a blank.

I can't remember when this changed. The first night that something else--an argument with my husband, work nerves, or even excitement--kept me awake. The first morning that, instead of Matt, I thought of breakfast or how much I had to pee. There wasn't a day when the grief magically disappeared.

There was, however, the day when I realized the grief was gone--and had been so for some time. I was sitting on a beach in the sun in northern California, alone, watching the Pacific crash against the earth. I was thinking about how my brother had never seen the Pacific. The thought didn't stab me, it was just there. Just a thought. I asked him to come and sit with me, to watch the waves and feel the sand and the sun and the expansiveness of sky, air, wind. 

On the drive back to the apartment where I was staying, I rolled down the windows of the car and let everything in. I felt so alive, so free, that my heart swelled enough to stretch its seams. It was a different kind of ache, but I knew that somehow it came from the same place.

what to say {9/26/12}

Kelley Clink

Yet another friend of mine has lost someone to suicide.

First off, let me say for the record that I hate this. In addition to that: I am genuinely surprised when it happens, as if the fact that I don't want anyone to ever have to go through that kind of grief is enough to have eradicated suicide from the planet. Clearly it isn't. The latest statistics (from 2009) show that the suicide rate is at an all time high.

This breaks my heart. Every time someone I know becomes a survivor of suicide, I want to scream NO! and push them back over to the other side of the line. You know that line--the one that cuts across your life like a canyon, dividing it into Before and After. But I can't. The most I can do is apologize, offer an ear and a shoulder, and wander around in a state of shock for a few days.

I still have a hard time believing how bad I am when it comes to dealing with loss. I want to be that person who knows exactly what to say to make someone feel supported and comforted. I want to be that person who knows that they are supposed to drop off a casserole or clean a bathroom, send a card once a month or take someone out to the movies. Instead I open and close my mouth a lot, like a fish, and say things like "I wish I knew what to say."

Here's the thing: when I hear that a person I care about has lost someone to suicide, I try to remember what it was like in those first days. I try to think specifically about the things people said or did that were helpful. And that's how I end up with a fish face. I don't remember anything anyone said or did. I was so blown apart, so broke down, that nothing touched me. I remember wishing many months later that there had been more cards, more care, more people asking me how I was doing (how I was really doing).

But the truth is, there are no magic words. The closest I can find, the ones I say the most and the ones I really want to believe, are: "you are not alone." And then there are the ones I save for later, which I know unequivocally to be true: "it gets better. So so so much better."

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