On March 24, 2017 I received a text message from a friend that felt like a physical blow to my chest. I fell onto my bed and wept. My wife came over and held me, and then gently asked me what had happened. I replied, “Amy Bleuel has died”.
Amy and I never had the opportunity to meet in person, but we messaged each other on Facebook occasionally. Amy is the reason that I have a semicolon tattoo on my left wrist. If you didn’t already know, Amy was a 31 year old graphic artist who founded Project Semicolon in 2013. In Amy’s own words, ”The idea behind the tattoo is to say that your story isn’t over yet…that you are the author of your story, and you are choosing to continue.” Amy started Project Semicolon to honor her father, whom she lost to suicide. Project Semicolon’s mission is “to encourage love, and inspire hope and support” to others who struggle with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury.
Amy was no stranger to depression, self-injury, addiction, and mental illness. These struggles have been a taboo in our society. We don’t like to admit to them to anyone. But the secrecy around these illnesses keep us from getting help. The very worst secret that anyone can keep is despair. Despair can kill us. Amy blew the doors off of secrecy with a simple, tiny tattoo. A public declaration of ink on the skin, that says, “I am that too”.
I have not been a stranger to the battles that Amy faced. I too, have known depression, addiction, and thoughts of suicide in my own life. Amy’s work inspired a chapter called “Taboo Tattoo” in my new book on personal growth and spirituality. What inspired me most about Amy was her self-disclosure, and the meaning behind the tiny logo that she created. A semicolon. If you pay attention, you will notice little semicolon tattoos everywhere, now days. And if one of us who has personally faced this dark place sees someone else with the same tattoo, we smile. Sometimes we hug each other. We know each other, even if we have never met. Trust me.
I grew up in a community where suicide was often viewed as a moral failure. While there is a growing understanding of how mental illnesses may precipitate a suicide attempt, for many there is still a residual judgement that lurks around suicide. We may think less of those who have chosen a period instead of a semicolon. At best, suicide has been thought of as a symptom, and not a disease.
But according to the DSM-V published in 2013, suicide itself is a disease. This means that suicide is really like a heart attack. Yes, a heart attack is a symptom of an underlying illness, like disease of the coronary arteries. But a heart attack itself is an illness in it’s own right, that kills people. We don’t judge someone who dies from a heart attack. Why should we judge someone who dies from the disease of suicide?
Amy faced the disease of suicide squarely, and even survived several attempts. She continued writing her sentence. She bravely fought the disease that eventually took her life, and her father’s life. She has many survivors who honor her by continuing her work, and I am one. I am a proud member of Project Semicolon. Thank you, Amy
Anytime we work on our own personal stuff, it is possible to uncover things from the past that make us feel bad. Sometimes, really bad. So if feelings of despair ever come up for you, please talk to someone about what you are feeling. Despair is only an emotion, but it is the worst secret that anyone can keep. If you feel an impulse to do self-harm, or if suicidal thoughts come up, please tell someone. If you have realized that you need help, tell your doctor. Open up with a friend. Be honest with another professional. Or if you prefer to talk on the phone to someone who doesn’t know you, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
There is even a way to text for help: Crisis Text Line is open to people of all ages, and it provides free assistance to anyone who texts “help” to 741-741.
I encourage you with all my heart: help is available for you.