Our Longreads Member Pick: Something More Wrong, by Katy B. Olson

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This week’s Member Pick comes from The Big Roundtable, a new site for narrative journalism founded by Columbia University professor Michael Shapiro. And they’re giving Longreads Members early access to a brand new story, which won’t go live on their site until next week.

“Something More Wrong,” by Katy B. Olson, is an in-depth look inside the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, New York. Olson explains:

I had always hoped to write about Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. I grew up in a neighborhood a few miles away from the New York State psychiatric institution, and, with all the whispered local rumors as well as books like Susan Sheehan’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning account, Creedmoor maintained a haunting and mysterious presence in my childhood.

My chance to go inside Creedmoor came in 2010, when my mother began working there part-time as a chaplain. After months of negotiating access to report on my Columbia Journalism School thesis, I began interviewing staff in December 2010; many mentioned Ward 3B and its suicidal ‘wild woman’ patients. Soon I was spending two to four days weekly, for six weeks, with the women of 3B: attending groups, doing arts and crafts, eating together, and, as the patients do, relying on aides and their keys to open every door.

In writing this piece, I wanted to understand what drives people to commit suicide. Alice, my subject, like all of us, searches for a reason to live. For some people, causes understood—chemical imbalances, childhood traumas, drug abuse, alcoholism—and many more undiscovered, the will to continue this search can crack and break. For those who have never battled demons like Alice’s, who have never questioned their desire to live, Creedmoor and the people it cares for are unsettling reminders of instincts we cannot—or do not want to—understand.

Though I’ve not come much closer to understanding what it is that makes the will to live so fragile, Alice herself has stripped the fear from me—the fear of Creedmoor and its historical nightmares, and the fear of confronting the very human instinct to give up, which lives in all of us.

Read an excerpt.

Update: The story is now free for everyone here

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