There was a girl in front of me in yoga class yesterday with a long piece of text written on her side. I was squinting to see what it said. I almost pulled out my readers, but then I realized we had mirrors in front of us so she could see me struggling to try to read her skin. I thought I’d better return to tree pose.
I find all tattoos intriguing. Even the tacky ones that cover an entire body. They always tell a story that I want to hear.
I am especially intrigued when I see a semicolon, because I know, without having to utter a word to the person who has that specific kind of tattoo, that he or she is a kindred spirit.
Project Semicolon began in April 2013 when founder Amy Bleuel decided that she was going to start a movement of hope — communicated in a simple semicolon tattoo in honor of her father, who took his life 10 years earlier. She posted this announcement on social media outlets:
On April 16, 2013 everyone who self harms, is suicidal, depressed, has anxiety, is unhappy, going through a broken heart, just lost a loved one, etc., draw a semicolon on your wrist. A semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.
However, when the first Semicolon Day drew more than 500,000 participants, she realized that the symbol was not just about one person, but a global community of human beings longing to continue their stories and live lives that would inspire others to continue on as well.
Not only is Bleuel a survivor of suicide, she herself has experienced debilitating depression, so much that she has self-harmed at times, and even tried to kill herself. She is familiar with the choice between the period and the semicolon. And is therefore a perfect mental-health grammar guide to educate others about their choices, and to inspire them to pause (and begin again) instead of end.
I had the privilege of speaking with Bleuel this morning. I’ve been following her movement for two years now. Three people forwarded me articles about her this week, so I decided to track her down myself in hopes that I could ask her a few personal questions about the movement, and about her story in particular. I started by asking her about her faith since the movement is faith-based, although she is certainly inclusive of non-believers.
“It was my faith that kept me alive,” Bleuel says. “Considering all of my suicide attempts, I shouldn’t be alive. God intervened. People told me from an early age that I had a calling. I never believed it. Now I do.”
Her faith isn’t a magic cure. She never fell to the floor and rose with new DNA. It involves work and doubt and lots and lots of persistence. Like me and most people with mood disorders I know, she still struggles. It was somewhat reassuring to hear that, given that she has become a media figure and role model for people trying to stay alive.
“I thought I had it all together when I launched this movement two years ago,” Bleuel says, “but I didn’t. I’ve had to pull it together. Now that I’m a public figure, I have to rise to be the person people think I am.”
Her ministry, though, helps her become that person. “Although I still struggle, I am helped immensely by helping others,” she says. “I have made a promise to people that I will stay on the right path. I now am accountable to the people who follow me to make good decisions.”
She also attributes her good health these days to her loving husband of one year. “I can’t have him walk in and find me dead,” she says. “I lost my dad that way, and I could never do that to my husband.”
I congratulated her on all the media buzz this week about her movement. She’s been featured all over — from Mashable to USA Today — and she had another interview with a newspaper lined up after she hung up with me.
“What is the one message that you haven’t been able to communicate in other media outlets, the very thing that could keep someone alive?” I asked her. “What would you like to say to the person who is contemplating ending their life with a period?”
“Don’t believe what you feel in that mindset,” Bleuel says. “There are people who love you and care about you.”
That is, in essence, Project Semicolon’s vision, which includes these words:
The vision is that for the first time conversations are being started.
The vision is that everyone comes together as a community and stands together in support of one another.
The vision is hope, and hope is alive.
The vision is LOVE.
You are not alone. Your story isn’t over yet.
The next time you are in a coffee shop — or maybe in the middle of tree pose at yoga — and notice a semicolon on the wrist of your neighbor, give him or her a wink and say, “I’m so glad you stayed.”
Join ProjectBeyondBlue.com, the new depression community.
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.