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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.



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.



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!

prevention month {9/2/15}

Kelley Clink

As you may (or may not) know, September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This year September 6-12 has been designated Prevention Week, and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day.

This is obviously a cause that is important to me. I do believe suicide is preventable, and I think one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective things we can do to prevent suicide is to talk about it. This year I'm partnering with BookSparks and their #SPEAKOUT campaign to bring attention to suicide awareness. All month long I'll be posting about suicide prevention, postvention, mental health, and everything in between. I would be honored if you would join me. Here are five ways you can take part:

1) THIRTY PERCENT of all proceeds from A Different Kind of Same purchases made on September 10th will go directly to Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors, a non-profit organization that provides healing support for people coping with the shock, grief, and complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one to suicide. Buy the book on September 10th and then email us your receipt.

2) Help us spread the word on your own blog. Download this badge and use it in your posts, include it on your sidebar, and link it back to this blog.

3) Facebook it: Update your Facebook cover photo

4) Tweet it: Update your Twitter cover photo and profile pic and TWEET THIS: I'm helping @BookSparks & @Kelley_Clink to #SpeakOut for suicide prevention and suicide loss survivors!

5) Brand it: Download our #SpeakOut Graphics and share them on your social media platforms using the #SpeakOut hashtag and tagging @BookSparks and @kelley_clink

Keep checking back in here and on Facebook--we have lots planned for this month. And please share your stories, thoughts, and hopes. Together we can save lives.

something beautiful {8/7/15}

Kelley Clink

Today's assignment: write about something beautiful, like the way your baby's head smells after he's been in the sunshine. Like how you could see all your grandmother's fillings when she laughed. Like how August mornings are fresh and cool, and evenings are electric blue, and your windows frame the tops of trees so all you see is green.

Like how right now, this very second, there is silence--then a bird sings, and you breathe.

sorry about that, jacksonville {7/14/15}

Kelley Clink

Part of the publicity push for my book has been radio interviews. As a writer, I’m used to having days, weeks, months, even years to perfect my message. I think and fuss and think some more, until I’ve figured out exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. Like pretty much all the other writers I know, I got into this business because I don’t like talking, and I’m not that good at it. So yeah, radio? Terrifying.

My first interview was with Dr. Liz Holifield at 411 Teen on WFSU out of Jacksonville, Florida. It was a pre-recorded segment done via phone. I spoke to her ahead of time about what kinds of questions she would ask, and I asked other advocates about good resources for teens. Then I made myself some notes to ease my nerves. When the scheduled time for the interview arrived, I was at my desk in my office with the notes. I was ready.

But, for some ungodly reason, the reception was terrible. As Dr. Holifield began the introduction, the connection started breaking up and I only heard every third word. I got up from my desk and scurried around the room, hoping the problem was on my end and that the satellite gods would smile down on me with a stronger signal.

They did not.

I rushed down the stairs, into the hallway. I ran from bedroom to bedroom, and finally ended up on my knees in my closet, where I convinced myself that the reception was somewhat better. I jammed the phone into my ear, closed my eyes, and prayed that I wouldn’t have to ask Dr. Holifield to repeat herself.

Then I realized: I DIDN’T HAVE MY NOTES.

The interview lasted an hour—some questions came through loud and clear, while others were a chopped mélange of words I had to piece together. Still, I remembered most of what I’d written down. By the end I was sweating, my knees aching, my head spinning. Then, Dr. Holifield asked me to give listeners a final thought.

My mind went blank. Nothing. There was nothing. I blurted out, “Don’t take it all so seriously!” and immediately smacked my palm against my forehead. Don’t take it all so seriously? Really? I’ve just spent an hour talking about suicide and mental health and my final advice to people is not to take it too seriously? I quickly followed up with “ask for help, there’s no shame,” but it was too late. My final thought had been recorded, would be broadcast, blasted out into the universe to echo on into infinity.

Don’t take it all so seriously.

My therapist later pointed out that I was probably giving that advice to myself, which makes sense, and made me laugh. There I was, kneeling in my closet, so afraid to make a mistake, so afraid to tell Dr. Holifield that I couldn’t hear her well that I’d worked myself into a frenzy. And really, in the grand scheme of life, it’s pretty good advice. A lot of my depression and anxiety come from taking things too seriously. But it’s not the way I wanted to end my interview. I thought about it a lot over the next few days. What would I say, if I could do it again? There are so many great (or better, at least) possibilities. What I landed on was this: Whatever is going on with you, whatever you’re feeling, say it out loud. It isn’t easy, believe me, I know. But it will help.

Sorry about that, Jacksonville. I hope you didn’t take it too seriously.

   Image from  The Design Sheppard


Image from The Design Sheppard

from oprah's couch to my bed: redefining success {6/5/15}

Kelley Clink

When my galley copies arrived a few months ago, friends and family asked me: “What’s it like to hold your book?” I got the feeling they imagined it was a transformative moment, something akin to holding your child for the first time. I’m a terrible liar, so I told them the truth. Meh. Shrug. “It’s okay.”

I was as surprised by my lack of reaction as they were. Hadn’t I been working for this moment for nearly ten years? I had, and there was a time during that decade when holding my book would have been as big of a deal as people expected. For the first six years that I worked on it, my book was my life. Unlike many writers I knew, I didn’t come home from a long, soul-sucking day in an office and try to squeeze in a few words before bed. My time was not siphoned by the chaos of family. There were no children to feed or clean up after, no soccer games or PTA meetings. I was married, but my husband worked. So all day, every day, it was just me, my grief, and my laptop. 

Because I’d quit working to write, I funneled all of my self worth into my manuscript. When it sucked, I sucked. When it was a mess, I was a mess. If it failed, I would be a failure. At the time publication was my validation, and because I was a masochist, and Oprah was still on the air, her couch was my benchmark. Anything less than Oprah’s couch, anything less than a New York Times Bestseller, would be worthless.

In some respects, my expectations were lowered organically. By which I mean I had no other choice. Offers of representation from agents did not come pouring in. I was not miraculously plucked from the slush pile. Oprah did her last show, and no one even told me what happened to her couch.

At the same time, I made a concerted effort to redefine success. I’d finished my second draft around the six-year mark, and my grief had resolved. In that pause before the editing process started again, I took a deep breath and looked, really looked, at where I was and what I was doing to myself. My expectations had made me miserable. My life felt tight and small. There was no room for anything, or anyone, else. I needed to loosen my grip.

That grip-loosening happened organically too, in the form of a life-threatening illness, an injury that required surgery, and several years of infertility treatments (another book, anyone?). As shitty as it was (and it was really, really shitty), it was bigger than the book. It was my health, my body, my son. The book was important, but it wasn’t my life anymore—and I didn’t need it to be. My life was my life, and it would be even if my book never made off my hard drive and into the world. I’d written the book, and that was huge. The book had shepherded me through my grief, and that was huger. The hugest thing of all was learning that my worth didn’t lie in my work. I have value even if no one reads a word I write. Moreover, I have value even if I never write another word.

This is big talk from someone who has been hiding under her covers for the last week. You know that dream where you’re naked in public? Turns out publishing a memoir is exactly like that dream. Only it’s real, and you have to walk around emotionally naked for the rest of your life. Guess I’m not as detached from my book as I thought I was. The good news is that whether it becomes a New York Times Bestseller or a basement bargain, whether Oprah resurrects her couch just for me or my only rave review comes from my mother, I know I’ll be okay.

As I write this, there is a copy of my book on the chair next to me. Maybe I was holding it back, just to be sure. To cushion my heart in case it wasn’t real. But it is. It’s real. I can pick it up and hold it in my hand. I’m finally starting to feel the glow, you guys.

I did it. I wrote it. It’s done.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be under the covers.

whirlwind {5/31/15}

Kelley Clink

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I'd planned on posting a lot more often. That didn't happen--but it wasn't because I wasn't busy spreading the gospel of mental health. I just happened to be spreading it elsewhere. First off, I wrote an article for Woman's Day. The response from the article sparked a panel discussion on HuffPost Live, which lead to a Huffington Post Blog. In the midst of all that, Amazon started shipping my book. Also: my kid started crawling.


Needless to say, I'm pretty exhausted. I've taken the last few days of May to tend to my own mental health, which means slowing down, getting enough sleep, and binge-watching Bloodline in my pajamas. (Why didn't they wrap it all up and make it a one season show??? There's nowhere to go but down.) The book is important, of course. The advocacy work is important, too. But I've learned over the years that the most important thing is my health. It's easy to work and obsess until we fall apart. It's a lot harder to put ourselves back together. 

So, here's to a quiet week before the whirlwind picks up again this weekend at the Printer's Row Lit Fest. Tables 327 and 329. Come say hi! 

a room of our own {5/4/15}

Kelley Clink

Back in March, Slate published an article on artist James Leadbitter's newest workMadlove: A Designer Asylum. According to the article, Leadbitter, a British artist and activist, has "endured stays in many public hospital psychiatric wards during his long struggle with mental illness." The bland, uncomfortable surroundings felt more like punishment than treatment to Leadbitter. He wondered what the ward would look like if it were designed by patients, and the inspiration for Madlove was born. 

For those who don't know, which is probably most of you, psychiatric wards are usually pretty grim. I was in one in the fall of 1995. There were grates on the dirty windows. Fluorescent lights buzzed. The book shelves held nothing but battered board games. We ate on plastic tables. We sat on pleather couches. Nurses watched us from a glass cube in the corner of the room.

And this was the children's ward. 

At a time when we were thoroughly broken and frightened, recovering from or on the verge of suicide attempts, when life was hard and sharp and everything hurt, we were locked in a place devoid of softness. 

Leadbitter is right: punishment is the perfect word. I spent a week feeling that by being depressed, by attempting suicide, I had committed a crime. I went home thinking that if I couldn't get rid of my depression I had better at least pretend I had, otherwise I'd end up in the hospital again. And I never, ever, wanted to go back.

What would the experience have been like if my fellow patients and I had designed the ward? What if there had been beanbag chairs and strings of colored lights? What if there had been concert posters on the walls and a bottomless bucket of art supplies? What if we'd each had our own room with a large window overlooking a forest, or a mountain, or a beach? What if there had been a small park for us to walk in? (Did I mention we weren't allowed outside?) What if there had been overstuffed armchairs and books by Kurt Vonnegut? 

Maybe we would have felt less hopeless. Maybe we would have felt less ashamed. Maybe we would have known that what we were experiencing was okay, and that if it happened again there was a place for us to go that was safe and comforting.  

Madlove is an abstract rendering of the feedback from hundreds of people: patients as well as architects, designers, and mental health professionals. The beta version looks like a cross between a kindergarten classroom and a Dr. Seuss illustration. It isn't practical, but I guess that's not the idea. The idea is to get people thinking, and talking, about how to change the way we care for those with mental illness. 

In the words of Leadbitter, "It ain't no bad thing to need a safe place to go mad." What would your safe place look like?



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