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out loud {2/27/15}

Kelley Clink

What with having a four-month-old and all, I go to bed every night at 8:30. Needless to say, I didn’t watch the Oscars. I have since, however, watched Graham Moore’s acceptance speech, and eagerly read many of the articles that praise his honesty and support his message. I’ve also watched Dana Perry’s speech, dedicating her award to her son Evan, who died by suicide. “We should talk about suicide,” she said. “Out loud.”

Neil Patrick Harris followed that up with what media outlets called “a poorly timed joke” about Perry’s dress.

Here’s the thing: I’m not surprised. I’m not upset, either. That moment after someone discloses a loss by suicide? That’s a scary-ass moment. It’s big and it’s heavy. Frankly, no one knows what to do with it, even when they aren’t on live TV. I know, because I’ve been there a hundred times.

When people hear that I’ve written a book, they inevitably ask me what it’s about. Once upon a time I answered directly: “it’s a memoir about my brother’s death by suicide.” Nine times out of ten people looked shocked, panicked, or disconcerted by my response, as though they had caused me pain by asking. It got to where I would preface my answer with a warning: “I’m totally okay now, so don’t feel bad for asking…” That turned out to be just as awkward. For a while I tried keeping it vague—“mental illness and suicide”—but that just led to more questions. The other day I actually started laughing when someone asked me. She was polite enough to laugh along with me, though I suspect she thought I was a little unhinged. I felt a little unhinged. It had finally occurred to me that even though I’ve written a book about it, I still feel uncomfortable talking about suicide out loud. Mostly because I feel uncomfortable making people feel uncomfortable.

And that’s on me. Not society. Not Neil Patrick Harris. I actually think it’s kind of great that he treated Perry like any other winner. Perry agreed. “Just because we take on a serious subject,” she tweeted, “doesn’t mean we can’t have fun once in a while.”

So that’s where it starts: with poorly timed jokes about fashion. With us—survivors—speaking the truth. Being willing to walk into that big, heavy, scary-ass moment, over and over and over again. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And giving everyone the space to have whatever reaction they have.

I’m inspired by Moore and Perry, and grateful to them, too. My brother died by suicide. I tried to kill myself when I was 16, too. And from now on I’m going to take a deep breath and talk about it. Out loud.



a bit of news {1/28/15}

Kelley Clink

Hi all! Just a quick note to let you know that the latest issue of Redivider is available! The issue includes my prize-winning essay, "Inside Out." This is the first time I've ever won anything--except that one time I slayed Buffy trivia night and took home this sweet lunchbox:

It's a tough call, but I think the Beacon Street Prize is better. 

2015

Kelley Clink

This past year has been the best of my life. I found a publisher for my book, I got nominated for a Pushcart, I had a baby for crying out loud! I'm tempted to call it an embarassment of riches, but I'm not embarassed. I'm flabbergasted, awestruck, gobsmacked, and flooded with gratitude. 

One of my favorite writers, Susannah Conway, suggests setting an intention for the new year with a word. This time last year I felt lost. I'd just gone through my third round of IVF and I was waiting to see if any of my embryos were viable. I was still mourning my dog. My search for a publisher was so stalled I wasn't even getting rejection letters anymore. 

When it came time to choose a word for the year, the first thing I thought of was a mantra I'd borrowed from Cesar Millan. Our new dog, Sam, was big, hairy, and more than a little unruly. I was still recovering from hip surgery, and his sixty pounds of puppy energy were a challenge on our walks. According to Cesar, a pack leader needed to be calm and assertive.

These are not two of the top ten words anyone would use to describe me.

They may not even be two of the top fifty.

But I repeated them to myself on each walk and felt how my shoulders relaxed and my back straightened.

At first I thought that maybe those were my words. Then I realized that there was a word that encompassed both: confidence. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was a deeper meaning to confidence. One that I needed. One that I craved.

Having confidence in something or someone means that you believe in them. You have faith. There is an element of surrender to that. And in that time of uncertainty I needed calmness, assertiveness, faith, and surrender. I needed to believe in my strength and myself. I needed to believe in the universe. I needed to believe that I could handle whatever happened next, even if it wasn't what I wanted.

Throughout 2014, I repeated my word whenever I worried. I told myself that I had confidence in my work. My doctors. My body. My baby. It didn't always banish the rabid bats from my stomach, but it always gave me pause. It gave me a moment to let go. 

As this unbelieveable year wound to its close, I began thinking about what my word for 2015 would be. It was hard to choose one: there are so many qualities I'd like to develop, so many people I'd like to be. I decided that what I'd like most for 2015 is to slow down and give thanks. And then my word came to me: appreciate. For me, appreciation contains gratitude, mindfulness, and a dash of celebration. I'm hoping to make it a daily practice. We'll see how it goes.

Happy New Year.



inside looking out {12/11/14}

Kelley Clink

It turns out that spending years longing for, and trying to have, a child doesn't change the fact that taking care of a newborn is really, really hard.

Who knew?

Extreme exhaustion and new (nearly constant) demands strip away all your normal defenses and pulverize your ego. From a spiritual standpoint, this is supposed to be some kind of glorious gift. One of those learning/growing/surrendering opportunities. Unfortunately, like most of those opportunities, it royally sucks. (The exhaustion and crushed ego suck, that is, not the boy. He's pretty fantastic.) Add a history of depression to this mix and what you end up with feels…scary. Like walking a tightrope between two buildings without a net scary. 

Normally, when life flips upside-down on me, I eventually remember to slow down and breathe. The problem here is that it's hard to get enough time and space to gain perspective. Hell, it's hard to get enough time and space to take a shower. But today I realized that I don't necessarily need as much time and space as I think I do. I may not have 20 minute chunks lying around for meditation. I may not have hours for photo walks, or books, or quiet contemplation. But it only takes a moment to stop and breathe. It only takes a second to return to the present.

Today I made a list of simple ways to reconnect with the present--a walk around the block, a deep breath when the baby cries, noticing the smell of his head, the weight and warmth of him. But the easiest thing on the list to share was photography. 

One of my favorite ways out of the dark is to pick up the light, one piece at a time.


gratitude {11/27/14}

Kelley Clink

Thank you science.
Thank you resilience.
Thank you perseverance.
Thank you patience.

Thank you insurance.

Thank you body.
Thank you spirit.
Thank you faith and friends.

Thank you every ounce of pain that broke my heart wide open enough for this love.

I am grateful.

you are here {10/6/14}

Kelley Clink

As I prepare to give birth (TOMORROW!!), I've been thinking a lot about fear. 

Traumatic events--be it deaths or illnesses, violations of trust or physical injuries--leave a psychological scar. The more traumatic the event, the deeper the scar. I picture these scars as actual, literal dead spots on my brain, places where neural pathways have been forced to detour. In the years since my brother died; since I've struggled with a gastrointestinal disorder; since I've undergone physical therapy, surgery, and more physical therapy for an injury; since I've experienced multiple rounds of treatment for infertility and two pregnancy losses, I've developed quite the network of detours.

These detours are Fear and Anxiety. Somewhere, in the midst of facing life's challenges, my brain started to believe (or hope, anyway) that it could avoid pain if it predicted it. I could prepare myself for disaster and disappointment ahead of time, I thought. And so began my habit of cataloging Worst Case Scenarios. 

The logical part of my brain (which thankfully still exists, though it is sometimes cut off by road blocks) knew that this would never work. Bad things, hard things, kept happening, and they kept hurting. All my detours did was make the time between events (good or bad) miserable. They functioned like literal road detours: they were cumbersome, winding, and inconvenient. They were frustrating. They seemed to lead nowhere. And yet I'd been using them for so long that they'd become the actual path.

This pregnancy has been difficult for me. After so many failures, success feels too good to be true. From what I've heard from other women who have experienced pregnancy after infertility, this is common. It's hard to trust that something we've wanted for so long and worked so hard for is possible. There have been times, many times, over the past 38 weeks that I've let myself follow those sneaky, snaky backroads. 

And what I've learned is this: that's okay. 

When I'm able to be mindful of the detours, when I am able to recognize the patterns of fear and anxiety in my thinking, when I am able to acknowledge those patterns without judgment, the road disappears. The road doesn't need to exist. The moment is what matters, and it is a space both defined and infinite. 

Tomorrow I enter the unknown, and whatever combination of joy and fear it brings. But today? Today I am nervous and scared and excited. Today I am here.

you've got this {9/16/14}

Kelley Clink

Greetings everyone! I've so missed my camera and posting daily to this space, but I've been working hard on finishing advance copies of my book and preparing for the impending arrival of Little Bee (three weeks to go!). Just wanted to take a quick break today to publicize a campaign on Healthline. The site, called "You've Got This," is a place where people living with bipolar disorder can post video messages of support and encouragement to those who have been newly diagnosed. For each video uploaded, Healthline will donate $10 to the non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms, an organization for people struggling with depression, addiction, and self-injury. 

I was 16 when I was diagnosed with depression. Back then the internet was little more than a glorified AOL chatroom. I didn't know anyone who had experienced depression. I didn't know anyone who had to take medication for a mood disorder. I hadn't even read The Bell Jar yet. I had no idea what having depression meant for my future, but I assumed it couldn't be anything good. 

I was wrong. I was really, really wrong. 

I am so grateful that so many people are sharing their stories. I'm grateful that so many organizations are giving us spaces to do that. And I hope that we continue to reach out to others, to let them know that living well with mental illness is possible, one step at a time. 


goodbye, august {8/31/14}

Kelley Clink

So I flaked out on the end of the August Break. I had a really good reason, though--I've been working on a post for my publisher. It's for a series called Behind the Book, and wow, writing about writing my book? Not as easy as I thought it would be.  Probably because while writing a memoir about losing my brother to suicide was incredibly healing, it was also slow and raw and painful, like digging glass splinters out of my heart with my fingers.

It's been ten years since my brother took his own life. I was 24 at the time. Fresh out of a graduate program in literature, I believed words were the answer to everything. I would write about my brother eventually, I knew. What I didn’t know was when I would do it or what I would say. The first year without him the grief was too hot and too sharp to touch. I worked a series of low-paying jobs and zombie-walked my way through the days, waiting for the pain to ease enough for me to approach it.

Of course, that didn't happen.

Here’s the thing about avoidance: it doesn’t work. The more I tried to ignore my grief the larger it swelled. By the second year after his death it had grown so big it eclipsed everything else. I quit all my jobs. I isolated myself from friends. There were some days I couldn’t even leave the house. I knew then that I didn’t have a choice—I was going to have to write my way through. And it was going to hurt like hell.

I developed a routine.  In the morning: breakfast.  A run.  A couple hours of mind-numbing TV.  Lunch.  A little more TV.  And then the long walk down the hallway to my office, where my brother’s journals waited on my desk.         

If it was a good day, I’d spend a few hours reading his words, combing my memory, taking notes, recording observations, and trying to jam together a few more puzzle pieces.  If it wasn’t a good day I’d write about how hard it was, how angry I was, how tired I was, how little made sense.  I’d wonder what the fuck I was doing, why I was wasting my time, why I couldn’t just move on with my life.  If it was a bad day I would cry.  And if it was a really bad day I would stay on the couch after lunch and watch reruns of Law & Order until the sun set and my husband’s key scraped in the lock.  Those days came far more often than I wanted them to, and I made them far worse than I needed to.  I berated myself for being a failure.  I let my husband do the dinner dishes, popped tranquilizers, and went to bed feeling hollow, weak, and ashamed.

That’s what my life looked like, every day, for about four years.

Yikes.

Here’s the good news: it got easier. All those thoughts and feelings started turning into a narrative, and as the story began to emerge my grief began to soften. The more I made sense of my and my brother’s pasts, the longer I was able to sit with my brother’s death, the more space there was for me to breathe again. To laugh. To dance.

Another four years have passed since then, during which I’ve survived a life-threatening illness, infertility treatment, and a major injury that resulted in two years of chronic pain (second memoir, anyone?). Yet somehow it wasn’t until I started working on this post that I realized that writing this memoir is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It forced me to face the darkest, most frightening parts of my grief and myself.

And then, it brought me back to life.



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