• the semicolon project

Most of the time I can keep you at bay, just underneath the surface.  Most people don’t know your depth, strength or intensity.  If I can ask them how they are, you get deflected.  I’ve become an expert at keeping you hidden.  A smile.  A laugh.  Remembering a funny experience sometimes works. Distracting myself with a book or a movie is usually a last resort.  But the thing is, even with all the skills and strategies I have been taught, you never completely go away.  It’s like you are there waiting sometimes, for someone to hurt my feelings or for something not to go well when I was counting on it.  In those situations you can rear your ugly head and crash into my thoughts like sticky black goo, weighing me down and drowning out every morsel of positive energy that I try ferociously to hang on to. You knock the delicate balance of my emotions on its ass, and when I am off balance the heavy, sticky black goo goes everywhere.  Left unchecked it multiplies and becomes bigger than I am, some days leaving me feeling like I can’t breathe and I have to fight to keep my head above water.  Will it be too much this time? Will I drown?

I don’t talk about it much, at least not to people who aren’t professional.  In my experience, very few others understand.  Most people think depression simply means I am feeling blue, and all I have to do is “perk up” or “snap out of it” and I would feel better.  I wish it were that simple.

I make a point of telling my caregivers what my triggers are.  I have found that is better for everyone.

I don’t trust easily and my emotions are out of whack sometimes.

Over the years I have realized that my psychiatric diagnosis is a characteristic of who I am just like I have brown hair and freckles and a slightly crooked front tooth.


I think it was when I started first grade that my love and fascination with writing began.  It was while I was learning how to write the letters that formed words that a new layer of the English language became real to me.  My first attempts at writing letters produced boxy and awkward results, but with practice, I got better and eventually I was ready for the next step.

Punctuation was fun.  That is what added flair to the words.  If they needed to be dramatic, they could stand alone or be followed by an exclamation point.  If a sentence was too confusing or rushed, a comma could be expertly placed to clarify meaning.  A period completed a thought.  And then there was the symbol that has always fascinated me.  The semicolon.  I was taught that a semicolon could tie two thoughts together.  It was stronger than comma because with a semicolon the reader needed to pause, but have an expectation that there was more to the story.

I have never met Amy Bleuel in person.  I didn’t know her story until a few months ago, but in my opinion, she just rocks.  And many lives are being changed because of it.  According to a story on the internet, her father committed suicide in 2003, when she was 18.  She got a tattoo of a semicolon to honor his memory.  A decade later she started Project Semicolon, which describes itself as “a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.” As to the significance of the symbol itself, the organization writes on its website, “a semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life;” thus, in the case of these tattoos, it is a physical representation of personal strength in the face of internal struggle.”

The idea is that people who are dealing with some form of psychiatric illness can choose to get a tattoo of a semicolon somewhere on their body.  Then, if there comes a time when they are feeling overwhelmed or suicidal, they can use the tattoo as a visual reminder that they need to pause.  Their feelings will pass, and there is more to the story than what they are feeling in that moment.

I love this concept.

Recently someone that I had trusted did things that hurt my soul.  The betrayal was intense and the sticky black goo gushed forth and engulfed me, flooding everything in its path and making everything else hard to see.  The nights were the worst.  When there were no distractions and nothing that I had to get done, my mind would replay conversations we had relentlessly and leave me wondering what I did wrong.  It’s hard to be logical when it feels like black goo might swallow you whole.  But every day I told myself I had to hold on for one more day, sort of like putting one foot in front of the other when you simply don’t know what else to do.  I am healing still, and it will be a very long time before this particular situation doesn’t bother me anymore.  I am not going to say that the weeks since have been easy.  That wouldn’t be true.  When I think back to the set of circumstances that has caused me so much pain, many tears are still shed now and then.

But I have come to understand there are just some things about other people that I will never understand.  And I have to keep going.

I might get a tattoo of a semicolon on my hand just to remind me; there is more to the story.  And, no matter what happens, I am not quite finished yet.