painted by me
Trigger warning: depression, suicide
The semicolon, a form of punctuation whose use is not well understood by many (myself included), is used “to make a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop” (Semicolon, 2019). In recent months, I have come to appreciate the semicolon for a reason that is related to, yet different from, the original definition. Have you ever seen someone with a semicolon tattoo? Chances are there is a more meaningful reason than because that person just adores punctuation and grammar, right? That’s correct – the semicolon is “about mental health and destroying the negative stigma attached to it. If you’ve seen a person with a tiny semicolon on their wrist or arm, you’re facing someone who has overcome serious mental health issues – from depression and anxiety, to schizophrenia – and has chosen not to end their lives, but rather to move forward anew” (Bushak, 2015). Put in even simpler terms, “the semicolon is intended to encourage people to keep going in life” (Grisham, 2015).
The reason I am so passionate about this topic right now is because I have struggled with depression the last few months at a depth I have never before experienced. To say I hit rock bottom is an understatement. To say I have had no energy to climb out of that hole is an understatement. To say I have wanted to close my eyes and never wake up is an understatement. It’s an ongoing struggle as I work my way through one of the darkest times of my life. I don’t bring this up looking for attention or a pat on the back for getting out of bed this morning – I bring it up to communicate that this is real life for many, many people. We paste on a smile each day so we can go into work or school and act like a normal person (whatever “normal” means). We splash our faces with cold water to reduce the swelling from a night of hopelessness and tears. We put on makeup to draw attention away from the dark circles under our eyes.
To those who may know someone experiencing the suffocating effects of depression, check up on them. Don’t let the makeup and cheery smile fool you into thinking they’ve “gotten over” depression. I’m a firm believer that depression never truly goes away. It’s more of a remission, or “a period of time when an illness or disease becomes less severe” (Remission, 2009-2019, emphasis mine). It seems like it’s gone, but there’s always a high chance that it will come back bigger and meaner than ever before. Make sure you check up on the people in your life who may or may not be in remission.
To those who are the ones lost in the deep, dark forest of depression…I SEE YOU. You are not alone. I know it seems like life isn’t worth living. I know it seems like God has abandoned you. I know it seems like you don’t serve a purpose. I know it seems like no one would notice if you just disappeared. I know it seems like you will never be yourself again. I know it seems like your life is meaningless. I know it seems like you don’t have the strength it takes to get out of bed and shower. It seems like it. But it is a lie that has been woven and spun to perfection by the demons inside your mind and heart. It simply is not so. Remember the semicolon…I beg of you.
Remember the semicolon. It is so simple, yet so profound. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important the “low lows” of our life can be. They can literally either make or break us. If they break us completely, we may end up choosing a period instead of a semicolon. But, my dear, how I do hope you choose the semicolon. I don’t say all of this flippantly as someone who has never struggled between a period and a semicolon. I plead with you not to choose a final and irrevocable period, but know I am pleading because I too have to beg of myself to choose the semicolon. If we give ourselves permission to keep fighting, to keep holding on for one more minute, and then another and another, we can experience transformation.
“Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
“I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart; you’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.” – William C. Hennan
Transformation is hard. Transformation down right sucks. They don’t call them growing pains without reason. We know where we would like to be – happy, motivated, energetic, making a difference – but first have to cross the hot coals that stand between us and our destination. Would it be easier to give up and end it all? Yes. Would it be selfish to end our suffering? I honestly don’t believe so. HOWEVER, just because something is easier doesn’t make it right. You will get through this day, just as you’ve gotten through each day leading up to this one. Sometimes getting through the day is all in the little things. Taking a shower. Eating a lunch that we love. Taking an extra five minute break or two to walk outside and soak up the sunshine. When you are at your lowest low, try to focus on the little things. I certainly understand how overwhelming it can be to focus on other, bigger matters – you can deal with those later.
You will make it.
Let me tell you one other thing that has made me realize the importance of the valleys and facing difficult transformation. I. Have. Worth. So do you. Just because every significant other I have ever had has treated me in a way that makes me believe the opposite, this doesn’t mean I am worthless. Start every day by looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself that you are a beautiful person, that the world is a better place because of you, and that you were put here for a reason. That reason is not to take the easy way out. That reason is to face your demons, become who you need to become, and maybe even help those around you who are unable to face or fight their own demons.
“The softest people I know are the strongest people I know. They have stories that could have broken them, but they manage to take all of those pieces and reinvent themselves.” – Unknown
Your scars, whether physical, emotional, mental, or all of the above, make you the unique and special person you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Above all, don’t let yourself tell you otherwise. Don’t listen to yourself on the days that you want to give up. Tell that still, small voice to go take a hike when it whispers that you would be better off dead. It’s simply not true.
A friend encouraged me the other day by telling me that all this pain and heartache is not reducing who I am, but rather building me up and turning me into a stronger person. This can only happen, though, if I grit my teeth, roll up my pants, and walk my way across those burning coals toward the future I want for myself. If I shut myself inside and do nothing to better my mental state, I will surely succumb to the wishes of those demons. Thankfully, I have wonderful friends, an incredibly supportive family, and an amazing psychiatrist who understands the power of the right combination of medication.
Let’s talk about medication for a minute. There are definitely two opposing views – people either have faith in medication or people stay as far away from it as possible. Let me share from my own personal experience. I have been on and off antidepressants for my entire adult life. The reason I go off of them is usually because I feel a sense of weakness because I have to rely on my “happy pills” (or “crazy pills”…I call them both names, depending on how I am feeling). I want to be able to get up in the morning and be able to get through a day without needing pharmaceuticals. But I always go back to them. Is it because I am weak? Is it because I am a lesser person than people who can manage life without medication? Certainly not. My psychiatrist told me something that really made any aversion to medication crumble for good. She told me, “When you are depressed, you aren’t thinking rationally. We need to get your brain chemistry stabilized so that you can go to therapy or practice self-care and actually be in a place to experience the benefits.” It’s not a sign of weakness to take medication. I believe that if you are facing a period or a semicolon, and medication is all that might stop you from choosing the period, go get on some GD medication! People tell me they don’t want to deal with the side effects or remembering to take a pill every day. So you’re telling me that killing yourself is a good option, but taking a pill that might cause a little weight gain is just not worth the risk? Read that again. Isn’t life, and serving your purpose in that life, more important? That’s my take on it. I’m not saying the only option is medication. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t discount the benefits. For me, medication has given me the fireproof boots I need to begin walking across those burning coals. Once my brain chemistry is a little more stable and I have more than one serotonin molecule hanging out in my brain, I will be in a better place to recognize how much I really do have to live for.
“Depression is not selfish. Anxiety is not rude. Schizophrenia is not wrong. Mental illness isn’t self-centered, any more than a broken leg or the flu is self-centered. If your mental illness makes you feel guilty, review the definition of “illness” and try to treat yourself with the same respect and concern you would show to a cancer patient or a person with pneumonia.” – Unknown
My final thought on this topic is simply this as: you are beautiful because of (not in spite of) both your light and your darkness. As the above quote suggests, you shouldn’t be any more ashamed of your mental illness than you should be of a broken bone or the common cold. It may be a little gross when you accidentally sneeze bright green snot all over yourself when you have a cold, but no one can judge you for being sick. It happens to everyone, right? What I so desperately want to communicate is that there is nothing wrong with having depression. There is nothing wrong with having chronic anxiety. There is nothing wrong with struggling with PTSD. In fact, I would argue that you are stronger than the majority of people out there who have never experienced mental illness. You are made of bold stuff, my friend. Take that strength and devote it to the sentence that comes after the semicolon. You are not alone. You are beautiful. I see you.
“At any given moment, you have the power to say: this is not how the story is going to end.” – Christine Mason Miller
Bushak, L. (2015). ‘Project Semicolon’: How a punctuation symbol came to represent Mental Health. Medical Daily. Retrieved from https://www.medicaldaily.com/project-semicolon-how-punctuation-symbol-came-represent-mental-health-341916
Grisham, L. (2015). Semicolon tattoos raise awareness about mental illness. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/09/semicolon-tattoo-mental-health/29904291/`
Remission. (2009-2019). Retrieved from https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/remission
Semicolon. (2019). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/semicolon