the semicolon project

FullSizeRender-1 FullSizeRender Today I went to a tattoo artist, and for $60 I let a man with a giant Jesus-tattoo on his head ink a semi-colon onto my wrist where it will stay until the day I die. By now, enough people have started asking questions that it made sense for me to start talking, and talking about things that aren’t particularly easy.

We’ll start here: a semi-colon is a place in a sentence where the author has the decision to stop with a period, but chooses not to. A semi-colon is a reminder to pause and then keep going. 

In April I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. By the beginning of May I was popping anti-depressents every morning with a breakfast I could barely stomach. In June, I had to leave a job I’d wanted since I first set foot on this campus as an incoming freshmen because of my mental health. Depression took a lot from me, but one of the most difficult things that my mental illness snatched from me was that job.

I got this tattoo as a promise to myself that I would never willingly end my sentence. I got it as a reminder to take this summer as a pause, and then to keep going strong next year. I also got this this tattoo to open up conversations between myself and other individuals about their struggle, because as difficult as mental illness is, what’s more difficult is feeling stigmatized. Or like you failed. Or like people are feeling sorry for you.

There’s no question that the stigma surrounding mental illness inhibits struggling individuals from finding the help that they need, and I find this absolutely heartbreaking because I know I am not alone when I say that depression destroyed my GPA, my relationships with my friends, my involvement on campus, and much, much more.

So if one out of every four people struggle with mental illness, then why did I feel like I was they only person who had ever experienced this before? If 25 of every hundred people I pass on the street have a clinical need for psychiatric care, then why did I feel like I had to hide my shaky hands every time the panic hit my harder than a train or feel like I had to shove every suicidal thought on a shelf behind old dictionaries and behind classic novels where no one could find them? 30,000 people die from suicide every year and that’s more than twice that of HIV and AIDS but still I am embarrassed to tell you that I can’t get out of bed in the mornings.

Let me make this clear for those who don’t know me well: I am not who you would expect to be depressed. Let me say this louder for those in the back: you cannot put me in a box decorated with black nail polish and frequent trips to Hot Topic because you don’t wear depression like a necklace or put on anxiety like a hat. You cannot spot depression because you become depression.

I am depression and I am not the silent girl dressed in all black hiding in the back row of your lecture hall. I am depression and I the perfect picture of a 20 year old sorority girl at an SEC school. I am depression and I am oversized  t-shirts and Nike shorts that hang off my frail, starved hips. I am depression and I am the shining face on my sorority’s executive board and the bright smile touring high school seniors around my beautiful, botanical garden of a college campus. I am depression and behind stylish sunglasses too big for my face and a resume too long for a college sophomore, no one ever knew that my illness had crippled me so severely that I spent 20 hours a day wrapped in blankets in my bed, trying desperately to fight away the bitter cold that had taken residence in my heart and mind.

I hid myself away in my 7 million dollar sorority house, tucked somewhere between “you bought your friends” and “can’t daddy’s credit card fix your problems?” I called 250 women on my campus by the name of sister but I was still lying at the bottom of a lake, unable to breathe while, effortlessly, everyone around me grew gills.

Because no one tells you what to do when your life becomes a ten-car pile up during rush hour traffic. Because no one tells you how to tell the very people who framed your life and hung it up on the wall for everyone to admire the girl who has it all together that nothing is going right anymore. No one tells you what to do when the good days dwindle so severely that you can’t remember the last time you woke up and didn’t want to die.

I was 13-year old the first time someone told me that suicide was a selfish act. I was 15 the first time someone I knew killed themselves. I was 20 years old when suicide started to make sense.

Every 16.2 minutes, someone takes their life. In the time you’ve been reading about the crippling disease that made me want to take my own life, someone just took theirs. And still, we shame and stereotype and stigmatize the people who need the most help and teach our children that having to ask for help is something we should feel bad about, when in fact sometimes strength is admitting that you don’t have any left.

Oftentimes I feel like depression ruined my life. It took so much that it’s become a desperate desire for something good to come from this horrible experience. My hope is that, because of my experience, I can be an advocate and champion for mental health awareness. That I can start conversations with girls in my chapter and students on this campus and hopefully influence someone’s life for the better.

I am lucky. I am lucky because I live on a campus where my therapy visits are free and my antidepressants only cost $10 and there’s a disability center that will help me get through my classes. I am lucky because I have a mother who believed me and supported me when I said I was depressed and never made it sound like my fault. I am lucky because I have a sister who drives all the way to Columbia to see me when I need it. I am lucky because I have a job with Mizzou Tour Team and bosses that aren’t afraid to sit me down and make sure I’m eating and sleeping and doing okay. I am lucky because I have Carter and Jackson and Esther and Jordan and Kenzie and Erin and Brittany and Jim and Grace and so many others who in their own individual way have weaved a support network so caring and strong that there was no chance of me ever falling through the cracks.

The problem is that people struggling far worse than me don’t have half the support I do. Mizzou saved my life. Not everyone has a “Mizzou”.

So I will show my tattoo proudly and champion for the people who cannot champion for themselves. Every day that I say no to the dark thoughts depression tries to tangle my mind with, I am winning a battle that society has not made easy to win. I’ve learned a lot from my struggle with depression. Every day is another day of riotous and endless waves of transformation and as much as I wish it didn’t hurt so bad when it hit me, I can’t say that I’d change who I am or the struggles I went through.

Another thing: my tattoo is just slightly crooked when I look at it. It’s parallel with my arm, but crooked when I look down at it. At first that bothered me. And then I remembered that life’s a little crooked, too. And now I love it even more.

It’s hard to find a place to end this think piece, but I’ll end it with the quote that I keep on my computer screen at all times, so I never forget. I hope anyone that’s ever struggled with their mental health never forgets, either:

“You are worthy of breathing. Someday you will learn that.

So don’t ask yourself why you can’t be

Smarter

Stronger

Cuter

Because depression took a lot from you and you are still fighting to take it back.” 

If you need help, please check out online resources or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

And as always, ask for help. Never fear admitting you need more than you can give yourself.

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2,738 thoughts on “the semicolon project

  1. inkspot777 says:

    Reblogged this on inkspot777 and commented:
    This is such an important message that it should be told where ever it can be. Love the tatoo meaning.

    Like

  2. Lindsay Woodside says:

    At 73 years of age, I’m finally going to get a tat – semi colon – my dear husband committed suicide in 2004 and not a day goes by I don’t still expect him to come in the door with a smile, a hug and a kiss; He is so missed and still loved – there will be no other – after 35 years – he is still #1;

    Like

  3. Someone's Loving Sister says:

    It appears that many commenting here believe that hurling insults helps. It doesn’t. The problem these days is the anonymity of things like comment boards on the internet. When you hurl insults, you have no idea if the original poster is suffering. What if your insensitive comment in return drives them deeper into their illness? Come on, People. We need to stop this senseless behavior.

    Like

  4. Remember When I Knew Everything? says:

    i needed this right now. i feel like i’m reading my diary

    Like

  5. jordees says:

    Reblogged this on jordees.

    Like

  6. alectade00 says:

    What was in the head of the tatoo Artist, when you told him, that you wanted to have a semicolon on your arm?!?!

    Like

  7. I applaud you for this. I have suffered years from anxiety and depression among many other mental disabilities. Reading your words though I found a bit of comfort, and possibly encouragement to keep moving forward every day. My husband doesn’t understand the million things going through my mind a day, or the daily struggles I face, but reading your experiences makes me feel like I’m not alone and that someone out there truly understands what it’s like to live a life in my head.

    Like

  8. Carey Shea says:

    Beautiful piece, Vanessa! I am thinking about getting the semi-colon tattoo. Depression has debilitated me for years. You are a great inspiration!

    Like

  9. […] This post originally appeared on HPWritesBlogs.wordpress.com. […]

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  10. tabiagamble says:

    One of the most inspiring things I have read in a while. Thank you for being honest and raw and for speaking for those who have not found their voice yet. Beautiful.

    Like

  11. […] This post originally appeared on HPWritesBlogs.wordpress.com. […]

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  12. This inspired me to open up to my friends and family more about my battle with depression and anxiety, and i’m going to get my own semicolon tattoo next week! Thank you for being so open and for helping me voice my own personal struggles.

    Like

  13. Karen says:

    Ur amazing! I am in awe of the words you wrote! Parts explained my life to a T! Thank you so much sharing! Now I know my next tattoo! It feels good to know I’m not alone! This world is a hard place to live and while reading blogs like this, give me hope in humanity! Thanx again xoxo ;

    Like

  14. Valerie Chick says:

    I too live another day. Because I can’t bear to hurt my kids so i keep fighting!!

    Like

  15. Lisa Grota says:

    Thank you.

    Like

  16. Paula says:

    Thank you Heather for your courage to speak out. Depression/ Anxiety are cruel enemies; keep up the good fight and don’t let them win. I’ve been fighting for over 20 years. You go, girl. Don’t give up and don’t give in. Standing with you, victorious, one day at a time.

    Like

  17. I get it, but you wake up, still breathing, life is not over, Yet. You ask yourself, How much more can I take, but you didn’t know you could take this much. You say what’s the point? You have opportunities that others do not, don’t waste them. You wrote a blog, that’s something that hasn’t been done on earth before, not by you, not until you did it. What will you do next? I would love to see…….

    Like

  18. tedcovey92 says:

    Depression is definitely one of the darkest things to encounter in life–if you make it through that phase, life will be a lot better. By the way, thanks for the explanation on the semicolon tattoo , I kept seeing some articles on Facebook about it, but I always procrastinated on reading them. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!

    Like

  19. pigscribbleluna says:

    Reblogged this on .

    Like

  20. Very heart felt message that has overwhelmed me and brought a tear to my eye! It takes an unbelievable amount of courage to speak up about something that affects you so deeply in so many ways. Very admirable, inspirational, and will help many people in more ways than one. Keep going.

    Like

  21. Brendan says:

    My sobriety is the pause between an action, and my reaction. Support the ;
    We are all together in this. Individually we lose the fight, together we win the war on our illnesses.

    Like

  22. missdaniellexo says:

    This is a beautiful piece and I admire you for sharing your struggles and strength with the world in hopes of making a positive change in the world regarding mental illness stigma and acceptance. Thank you!

    Like

  23. Ruth atkinson says:

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  24. Reblogged this on ephemeral.designs and commented:
    As long as it’s done for the meaning not the trend I’m all for this. Totally pro meaningful tattoos :3

    Like

  25. This is a great way to spread awareness about depression. there’s people out there who are not getting the treatment they deserve. Hopefully with this there will be less sufferers out there not feeling they’re alone. Thank you

    Like

  26. Laura Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing your moment with us – and the life that led to it. Mine happened a week ago :http://sophiasojourn.com/2015/07/13/unruined/#more-301. Keep living well.

    Like

  27. […] husband sent me a link to this post on depression, and I think it’s really accurate description of what depression does to a person. Go read it. […]

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  28. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

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  29. yassine says:

    hello all welcome To my blog his name
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  30. sedzpm says:

    Reblogged this on her stories on the wall and commented:
    I’ve realised that this piece could help a lot of people that are depressed and feel like they can’t carry on but DONT END YOUR SENTENCE JUST YET, pause and CARRY ON!!

    Like

  31. shannenjadde says:

    I have the same tattoo, but behind my ear. I’ve been through a similar journey with depression and anxiety, plus OCD. I was the girl who everyone just thought had a funny quirk of being really organized. But I was growing in my own fears, doubts and anxieties. I understand how having someone is so important, and I am lucky to be surrounded by people who have helped me as well.
    I just wanted to give you a shoutout, as another reminder that you’re not alone. That even though we feel like we are the only ones feeling this way, we aren’t. There are people out there who can understand. And it means the world to someone like me to see another person willing to stand up proudly and say “I have a mental illness, but I will be okay”. Thank you.

    Like

  32. […] young woman, Heather Prarrie, was inspired by the movement. She got her semicolon tattoo, and wrote a post that detailed her own mental health woes. In her blog, she shared the diagnosis she received, which […]

    Like

  33. […] meant enough to Heather Parrie that she got a semicolon tattooed on her forearm, and wrote a blog post about her own personal struggles with mental […]

    Like

  34. This one got me. Doctors thought I was completely crazy, basically told me that what I am feeling is me acting out. I had seizures with my anxiety and what would cause my anxiety was depression… just any little thing. I did not have control over it whatsoever. I don’t know when it is going to happen, its a constant scare for me. When I was finally diagnosed after several rides in the ambulance, they finally said I had anxiety and depression. They told me to see a counselor.. I refused, I also refused pills because I thought I would do something horrible. But now my anxiety has slowed down. I still have them, just rare now. I am scared to tell my friends what I have, I am always scared to go far away from home, because I just never know when it will happen. But this… this helped. Thank you! I’ll be blogging about this sooner or later
    Be Kind. Be Happy. Be You!
    Stay Beautiful!
    xoxo, C

    Like

  35. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

    Like

  36. MrKnowBody says:

    Brave. Clever and so worth the read thanks

    Like

  37. Reblogged this on A Book a Day keeps the mind at bay and commented:
    This post is very inspiring and I hope you all read it. I’m tearing up because of this post. I don’t normally repost other work on my blog, but this had to be shared.

    Like

  38. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

    Like

  39. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

    Like

  40. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

    Like

  41. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

    Like

  42. […] think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, […]

    Like

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