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the pit {3/12/15}

Kelley Clink

My wonderful and talented friend Gillian Marchenko is working on a book about depression. The other day she posted this on Facebook:

“Oh dear, this weekend I did all sorts of 'real people' things; friends threw me a surprise birthday outing, I helped with a baby shower, I traveled with my older girls to visit family... Now, I'm home. I'm exhausted. And I have to work on the revisions of my depression book due Friday. You know when you are standing on the edge of the pit, looking in? For some of us with depression, we get to that point in our journey when we know we are close, and we need to handle ourselves with care and drink hot drinks, take baths, breathe, and pray, and ask God for help. Well, I'm there today. And I really want to focus and write. If you are the praying type, will you pray for me? I also want to thank God... b/c I know not all of us are there yet when we see the pit and can take a couple steps back. If that's you, let us know. We'll pray for you too.”

Sometimes, even though I have been living with depression for 20 years, I fall right into the pit and I don’t even notice until I land on my face.

I don’t have bipolar disorder, but my moods and energy have always cycled between high and low. I think this is normal for most people, but the fluctuation is a bit more frequent and intense for those of us with mood disorders. I don’t remember when I began to recognize my rhythm, but at some point I realized there were times when I felt more capable and productive. Knowing these episodes would be followed by a down cycle, I would ride those waves of energy until they fizzled, washing me up on hard ground in a heap. Even then I would drag myself a few more meters for good measure, until I was too tapped out to tackle even the smallest tasks. Say, going to the grocery store or washing the dishes. I would retreat and recover, sequestering myself for days, weeks, or even months, doing little more than watching daytime television.

There’s an addictive component to this crash and burn pattern. The wave is intoxicating. The wave builds on a myth of self-worth. We live in a society that values accomplishments—and has very specific ideas about what constitutes an accomplishment. Long hours, large paychecks, corporate titles, and advanced degrees? Yes. Hot drinks, warm baths, deep breaths, and prayers? Not so much.

I think the great fear of people with a mood disorder (well, my great fear anyway) is that if we aren’t accomplishing as much, as quickly, as the people around us, we are considered failures. I’m always sure I’m being judged. So I try to work more, work harder, work until I burn out, forgetting that my brightest and most helpful offerings come when I slow down.

I know now that self-care is a necessity, not a luxury, and that there is no greater achievement than taking good care of yourself. Because if you aren’t being kind and gentle with yourself, if you aren’t respecting your boundaries, you won’t be able to fully participate in this thing called life. Oh, and you will be completely miserable. This applies to anyone and everyone—whether or not you have a mood disorder.

I still fall victim to the siren call of the wave, sometimes. Sometimes I still fall into the pit. And I’m going to try not to feel guilty about doing what I have to do to climb out. Even if it doesn’t look like much to the rest of the world, I know those baths and warm drinks are a huge accomplishment. And that day, that day after I climb out of the pit and remember to take a deep breath in the sunshine? That, my friends, is a major award. 

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. 


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. 

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