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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2,742 thoughts on “the semicolon project

  1. […] 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

  2. […] 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

  3. […] 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

  4. annieovt says:

    Reblogged this on Annie O'Shaughnessy – Writer and commented:
    An important piece.

    Like

  5. jonathantier says:

    ;

    Like

  6. Lindsay says:

    I really enjoyed this read and I am so proud of you for choosing to carry on with your sentence. My semi-colon plays as a great reminder for how far I’ve come in my sentence and how far I will continue to go. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  7. Thank you, Courageous Warrior!

    Like

  8. Really brave post! Yes, we need to share our stories without shame and fear- and hopefully the world will start responding without shame and fear. We have to stand up to people when we hear them saying ignorant things about mental illness and re-educate these misinformed people- and if they don’t want to listen- fine- but we won’t stop talking. We all have a different story and mental illness doesn’t look like on things. The less shame we have, the more we allow others to not feel shame who have mental illness! Keep going strong!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Genna Chua says:

    Seeing a therapist helps and have helped a multitude of people. Try it.

    Like

    • Deborah L Conroy says:

      Agreed. But it is not “the” answer. Many people come home from the appointment with their shrink( and it went WELL!!), and
      “DO THE DEED”. I truly am happy that you have never PERSONALLY suffered from ANY mental illness! Don’t preach to us who do. CHRIST, if you didn’t even get THAT MUCH from this blog….. then there is NO HOPE…..

      Like

      • Broderick says:

        Like how you gave them the riot act while assuming they have never suffered from any mental illness it’s people like you who have no hope kid.

        Like

      • Anonymous says:

        Lets be gentle here, group. Anyone reading this far likely has depression, and we must all struggle to find what works for us. It is often doing ten things at once like meds, exercise, diet, finding the way to get up in the morning, and so much more.

        Like

  10. amy burdick says:

    Depression is definitely the illness that goes unrecognized daily. This project is perfectly fitting. I will be getting mine tatted as well

    Like

  11. beth says:

    My next tat will be a semi colon too not only does my mom have depression but my father in law attempted suicide and two cousins also commited suicide now my 15 year old daughter was also diagnosted with depression and panic attacks it is a very real thing and scarey god bless

    Like

  12. […] That’s when Project Semicolon first appeared in my Facebook feed and Heather Parrie’s blog post went viral. Nothing resonated with me the way that the message of this tattoo […]

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  13. Sara says:

    Im asking this question for a friend of mine because i think that someone who hasnt gone theough anything like depression or suicidal thoughts should not get a semi colon tattoo because it could be very offensive to some people. Is it okay for someone that hasnt gone theough that to get one?

    Like

    • Kate says:

      I don’t think it would be disrespectful if your friend is doing this out of care and awareness for depression, and mental illness. If not, I don’t believe others would find it completely ‘horrible and offensive,’ but if this is for attention, how very sad. 😦 We have faced enough stigma And critican. Maybe, try talking to them about the reasoning.

      Like

  14. cvr1010 says:

    Proud of you for sharing your story…I am too in a sorority and can’t stand it when people misunderstand my organization…I guess to understand it you have to be in one kind of like depression. Hope all is well…

    Like

  15. Ma Otter says:

    My 16 year old daughter is smart, articulate and driven to excel. She maintains a 4.0 is a cheerleader/dance team member, class president and FFA officer. She is also active at our church. Last summer she saw a counselor for a while because of her depression and anxiety disorder. She is so driven that very few people are aware she struggles. In the past year we have lost 2 friends, 2 acquaintances and 1 family member to suicide. I signed the permission form and my daughter got a semicolon tattoo last weekend.

    Like

  16. […] The Semicolon Project | hpwritesblogs – Heather starts off her blog in a similar way to me, writing about her tattoo. Although, I have to admit, the reasons behind her tattoo are more virtuous than mine. She lays herself metaphorically bare on the page by sharing her experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. I’m in awe of her courage to write and glad that is able to find support for her demons. […]

    Like

  17. Alyx says:

    I’m so glad someone finally came out and said it! I have depression and I hate feeling worthless when someone calls me lazy because my accomplishment for the day was getting out of bed and eating. I hate when people tell me “it’s all its your head”. Of course it’s in my head; the lack of chemicals in my brain IS, in fact, in my head. I’m so glad that someone has finally come out and said what depression is really about, what it’s really like.

    Like

  18. xo ; bless you and your mother. I have never wanted a tattoo until now. What a perfect way to bring this darkness to light.

    Like

  19. seingraham says:

    Reblogged this on S.E.INGRAHAM SAYS… and commented:
    Such a well-articulated tale of one person’s journey (ongoing) with mental illness, her struggle to overcome the accompanying stigma, and the encouragement she is bent on offering others as she goes, to get help, to realize there is much that life has to offer – well worth the read.

    Like

  20. seingraham says:

    I’ve written about this many times, and read about mental illness even more. Kudos for coming to grips with your depression and accompanying stigma at a relatively young age and being courageous enough to write about it, and to get the semicolon tattoo (what an absolutely inspired idea!). You are so right; this is a conversation that needs to keep happening over and over until everyone understands what is at stake, and why it’s important, why it will be easier to help those who need it if preconceived notions of what it means to be mentally ill are dispelled for good and replaced with honest information. Bravo. I applaud you. Stay well. Keep getting help when you need it and encouraging others to do likewise. You are amazing.

    Like

  21. Doreen Hoyle says:

    Where in derby UK can I get this done to support you.

    Like

  22. […] first is a nice and small semicolon on my wrist. If you want to know why I got a semicolon, this post does an excellent job of explaining what it’s all […]

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  23. Sherreiea Reiner says:

    Very courageous of you and very inspiring! This is absolutely a powerful tool you and many others can use! This will likely help the psychy far better than most pills! Keep pushing forward and thank you for sharing!

    Like

  24. […] Learn more about the Semicolon Project […]

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  25. I am part of the semi colon project as well, on my arm. Thanks for the support, we need as many as we can! ;

    Like

  26. Leanne says:

    You are so very strong, and I truly applaud you for sharing such a personal story. However, the piece about not wearing black nail polish or going to Hot Topic is a little off. I have struggled with depression my entire life, and I AM one of those “silent girl[s] dressed in black hiding in the back row.” Just because you seem to be the “picture-perfect” sorority girl, doesn’t mean you can act like it doesn’t exist in anyone where you can “spot it.” I do understand the point you were trying to make- that people would never guess you struggle- but people have different ways of coping with these things, and assumptions should never be made, especially with such sensitive subject matter. Writing this may very well be your way of coping. For some, it’s wearing dark colors or black nail polish. We’re all in this together, let’s not forget.

    Like

  27. […] first read about the Semicolon Project in June and I found it very intriguing and started thinking about getting one of those tattoos. It […]

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  28. I suspect that anxiety and depression are the least of your problems.

    Like

  29. Matthew says:

    I was diagnosed with severe depression over a year ago at the age of 54. I am still not clear what brought it on, but I believe it has to do with 35+ years, losing family and friends, and never having any closure. A couple months ago I too had a semicolon tattooed on my wrist to support everyone.

    Like

  30. […] Second is this  the semicolon project. […]

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  31. […] my blog post went viral this summer, I’ve been interviewed by quite a few media outlets, most of […]

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  32. Zach Anderson says:

    That is amazing! It’s powerful to admit when we are weak. Thank you for that reminder. I am someone who tries to do things on my own sometimes, but you seeked help when you needed it and that is so cool. We aren’t meant to fight life’s struggles alone and that is something I need to remember. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  33. Tiffany says:

    Maybe we should pray for YOU to have to go through something similar, so that YOU will better understand just what depression really is!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. “Why keep going? Life only gets harder as you get older? I may as well kill my self now and be done with it? Be at peace and not have to worry about anything.”

    That’s how I used to think…

    Now I think like this:

    “Life is a challenge. If life was easy and we could have whatever we wanted, when we wanted, we would be bored (we would be bored shitless in fact).

    CHALLENGES MAKE US WHO WE ARE.

    EVERY CHALLENGE IS OUR GREATEST TEACHER!

    BLESS YOUR TEACHER RIGHT NOW FOR THEY ARE MAKING YOU SMARTER THAN YOU WERE YESTERDAY.”

    I didn’t catch your name.

    But I think your initials must be “HP” judging by your title “HPWRITESBLOG”.

    HP keep going!

    You sound like your doing great.

    ;

    Like

  35. Jerry says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! A life long friend recently lost her love to suicide. Through trying to help her find peace, I have felt so many different emotions. I am angered at the lack of awareness and support. The lack of education and access to information for people in the midst of trying to help someone. I am disappointed in society for the lack of acknowledging mental illness and many treating it as if it is a taboo.

    Since my friends loss, I have found a wealth of information that may have helped her save the man she loved so unconditionally. I wish I knew what I know now – at a time when it could have helped.

    There is nothing negative in your story, I understand your metaphors. I hope people don’t take your way of communicating as negative against them; it will take people from all socioeconomic groups to speak up, so that we can all understand that mental illness can affect anyone.

    You seem to have a strong network of support, and that is awesome. For those of you who feel alone, you are not. The right support is out there, you just have to keep up your fight, because someone will hear you! You’re not alone!

    I have a long time friend who battles depression, and it took me 6 years to finally understand that I will never understand what it is like to walk in her shoes, I will never understand the power of the darkness that sets in. For a long time, I took her depression personally, as if it had anything to do with me – complete selfishness on my part!

    For those of us who do not currently suffer from mental illness, we cannot imagine the depth of what takes over. It will take many stories, from people from all different walks of life, telling their stories, forcing society to see you, forcing society to acknowledge you, make society stop turning their backs to you – as if this is a life choice you are making! You didn’t choose mental illness.

    Don’t take your life because we didn’t see you – make us see you, make us understand you – make us support you. You’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels the way you do – there is nothing wrong with you – never stop reaching out for support. I know it may be hard, but someone is going to hear you.

    Today I don’t suffer from mental illness, but if it ever finds me, I hope I remember the things I wrote here. I don’t judge you, because at anytime I could be one of you, my heart goes out to you and I hope you find support, because even though I don’t know you – I don’t want to lose you!

    Like

  36. Kim says:

    I’m not alone

    Liked by 1 person

  37. holdingthepace says:

    Your story is great and I am so happy to have found the project semicolon as well!

    Like

  38. […] Source: the semicolon project […]

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  39. Feelthefeverhopestrengthensfearkills says:

    Have you ever battled depression or lived with someone close to your heart that has it?! How horrible of a person are you that you have to try and dull someone’s shine. There was no implication of someone who paints their nails black is a looser! Every one fights their battles and I have tats that symbol a lot of things this is actually a very good one! My mother is head director of an MHMR and deals with a lot of it! I walk that walk every day and I am a mother of 3 who no one would think I was other than my children who have to witness it every day and the face I paint on for all the extra curricular events…. It shames me to see someone who would try to down someone who found a way to keep going. Your not walking in their shoes and I’m positive you’ve heard the saying at least once in your life if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all and in this case you should have considered that!

    Like

  40. GEM says:

    I did not know that depression is considered a mental illness. I experience depression throughout my entire life, but somehow I don’t know it until I realize I have no desire to eat or get out of bed. It last for weeks and months at a time. I’m depressed now, but after reading about the semi colon project, I called to make an appointment with a therapist.

    Like

  41. […] semicolon because of what The Semicolon Project means (here is a great post written on it): “A semi-colon is a place in a sentence where the author has […]

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  42. Winifred says:

    As a chronically I’ll person for 23 years I would say I am not depression. I have an autoimmune disease that Dr’s can’t help much. They say chronic fatigue immune deficient stndrome. I am a burden on my husband but he loves me. However There ARE Times When I HAVE Wished Better FOR him. This is my semi colon. I have 4 kids and will continue to fight.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Becky Dills says:

    I admire your courage for telling your story out loud. You will never know how many lives you will touch or how many lives you might save. Good luck in your future.

    Like

  44. RudyCaseres says:

    I’m so glad I was able to find this post from you posting it on your Facebook page. Love the work you’re doing and hope you never give up.

    Like

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