You may have seen tattoos or Pinterest posts or FB posts with a semicolon and never quite known why it was there. The semicolon ; has become a symbol for suicide awareness, largely propagated by Project Semicolon.  “Your story is not over.” I think this is brilliant. If you Google image search for semicolon, I don’t even know how many images pop up with inspiring quotes, or tattoos clearly used as inspiration or remembrance. A lot of people play with it and write “warr;or” or “l;fe.” The ; is such a good pick for this because suicide attempts (often just referred to as suicide even if it is incomplete) are like breaks in the fabric of your story, but then you have the chance to pick yourself back up and start another related sentence. I was broken; I was healed. 

Suicide is a taboo subject, still, even though the statistics are staggering. I think more veterans die to suicide than soldiers die in combat. This is unacceptable. PTSD, depression, bipolar, what have you, are all treatable. Every single disorder. If only people got the care they needed and weren’t afraid to ask for help. Another issue many people run into is funding care. My own therapy is expensive because the therapist who I really get along with is out of network. I know plenty of people who just went without therapy and medication because they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor. Friends in Britain complain constantly that the NHS is slow and impossible to navigate successfully. Getting into a DBT program in the UK or America can take up to 6 months, sometimes longer. I honestly don’t understand. These issues are like heart disease or congenital thyroid issues or a broken leg: they’re just ailments that need treatment, we need not ascribe any other valuation to them. But instead of equating mental health issues with physical issues, the vast majority of the world says “it’s all in your head,” “you’re crazy,” “nothing can help you,” or “shouldn’t you be in a hospital?” The world says, “it’s demons in your head,” “you’re touched,” or “that’s just the way you are.”

I very frequently wear a semicolon tee shirt, that I love. I also always have on a little silver bracelet with a hand stamped semicolon. I’m actually considering it as my next tattoo. It means so much to me to be supported by friends and family through my severe depressions and most recent suicide attempt. I want to acknowledge that although that was a big moment in my life, it was not the end and I am carrying on. But I am one of the lucky ones. I could have just as easily died on that hospital floor if my neck had broken any differently or been paralyzed by my broken back. I also have the ability to afford good health insurance, which kept my family from needing to dole out an excessive amount of money to pay for my hospital bill. I can afford the meds and therapy that I need. And I am so grateful. In another situation I would likely be homeless or dead, but definitely untreated.

I have always been pretty good at advocating for myself. I think that’s part of why I am not really afraid to share my story or to ask for help when I need it. (I was hospitalized 6 times in the last 4 years, usually at my own admission of needing help.) But it can still backfire. Like with the ladies who I was trying to work with a few years ago who yelled at me about “just getting out of a mental hospital.” I mean, come on. We all know (at least I hope we all know??) that a psych ward is not the same as the cultural concept of the “mental hospital.” It’s just a place, granted a locked place, where people receive treatment for illnesses. I don’t see how this affords any room for judgment, to be honest. You don’t back away and look askance at someone coming out of the cancer ward, but people do when you’re coming out of a psych ward.

Mental health awareness is definitely on the rise. Even in the last 10 years the visibility of mental health awareness campaigns has increased noticeably. I’m sure most people could name a few organizations that help in this area. (To Write Love on Her Arms, Project Semicolon, Bring Change 2 Mind, #End the Stigma, etc.) Mental health education is becoming more prevalent as well. If we start teaching kids about mental health the same way we do physical health, they will be much more equipped to deal with it themselves, either personally or with a friend or family member. This has already begun.

I know the conversation is ongoing: “What if we treated mental illness like the a physical ailment?” Here’s the thing: it is physical. First, “mental” illnesses usually come with tons of physical side effects. When I’m sort of manic or going a little nuts, I can get akathesia, which basically means I feel like I want to scratch all the skin off of my body because everything inside of me is jiggling and wants to escape. When I’m depressed I get aches, pains, stomach issues, appetite issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, etc. And more to the point, absolutely everything about “mental” illness comes from physiological issues in the brain, be it circuitry or neurochemistry. Different parts of the brain actually differ in size in people with bipolar, PTSD, BPD, or depression from healthy people. These are PHYSICAL issues, we just don’t think about them that way. We can’t see a chemical imbalance or a faulty circuit (yet) like we can see a broken bone, so we don’t process it the same way. Cause and effect. Humans like explanations. Believing in something you can’t see can be difficult, but if we educate ourselves and others, this shift from “mental” to “physical” might happen. Already there is a debate in the field of psychology about “neurological” vs “psychological” disorders (for instance Huntington’s vs bipolar), with the distinction that one presents more physical symptoms than emotional, though most neurological disorders also have emotional components. People with Parkinson’s very often suffer from co-morbid depression. The lines are blurred and drawing lines limits us.

Which brings me back to the semicolon. I am proof that life goes on after a suicide attempt. That people can be accepting and supportive. That getting help is not a weakness, but a strength. That sometimes an end can be a beginning.

13 thoughts on “L;fe”

  1. You have such wonderful insight into what confuses so many.Yes, things are getting better, but we’ve got a way to go as far as getting out the messages about getting treatment & help, as you say, just as any other illness. I am sure that you are helping others as you write, and you are a beautiful writer.Thank you for sharing.

    1. You are so sweet! Thank you for the compliment! And I agree, we have a long way to go but I hope as more and more people come forward to talk about their experiences, the stigmas will fade and people will feel safe to seek the help they need.

  2. Thanks for your honesty and vulnerability. This is exactly what the world needs to know. I love that you point out how our mental issues often manifest physically! I feel like a completely different, broken, sick person when I’m in a depression cloud. I’m really glad you’ve found a treatment that works for you and that you’re still here to tell your story! I’ve often admired the semicolon tattoos, but I’m too chicken for all that needle action. A bracelet or other jewelry piece would be perfect though!

  3. This was really nicely written and a real eye opener too. I had never heard of the semi-colon being used thus. Thanks for writing it, you have a gift for it 🙂

  4. Hi, I am a 3 time suidicec attempt survivor. Last attempt, 2 1/2 yrs ago, I died and was revived.
    I then had 34 TMS Brain Treatments (transcranial magnetic stimulation of the Brain). Cost me$10,000 out of pocket. I have not had a day of depression since. What a God Send!!!
    I know now that God did not take me because he had a plan for me to help others who are where I was 3 times in 5 yrs.
    I want to start or participate in a Group who suffer from Severe Depression and Anxiety and who have attempted suicide or are thinking about it. I want to help and share my long journey of Depression/Anxiety that led me to 3 suicide attempts .
    Can you help me or make some suggestions ?
    Thank you.

  5. This article was very helpful. I had a depression before and thanks to my Loving husband for helping me to face and concurred my fears and problems and also thanks to my friends who introduce me Cannabis as my relieve. And I do some research that it can be Alternative Meds because Cannabis oil is produced by extracting the resin of the female cannabis plant using a solvent. After the resin is dissolved in the solvent, It is evaporated leaving a concentrated extract behind. CBD Oil is a type of oil that contains CBD but does not contain THC which can give you a high efficiency. Like this strains on kylekushman.com/topic/potassium-silicate/. there is a lot of benefits and differences a cannabis or MJ.

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