Going to school the day after getting my tattoo was interesting to say the least. Everyone wanted to ask one of three questions: 1) Is it real?, 2) Can I touch it?, and 3) What is it?. The first two questions were easy enough to answer. Yes, it is real and permanent, and it is still on my wrist as I’m typing this. It is also safe to touch at this point, but even I wasn’t allowed to touch it during the first two weeks. A tattoo is an open wound until it heals back over, and touching it or allowing my friends to touch my tattoo would have put me at risk for infection. The third question was a bit more awkward. The answer was easy; my tattoo was of a semicolon that I had designed for myself. Of course, that prompted the inevitable question of “Why did you get a semicolon tattooed on your wrist?”, and that’s when things got more difficult to explain. I have explained it many times, however, and that’s what I’m going to be doing in this post.
So, a semicolon. Seems a little weird right? I thought so too when I first heard about Project Semicolon, waaaayyy before I became even slightly depressed. I was scrolling through Twitter (as I now spend far too much time doing), and I noticed a tweet bearing the words “If you ever see someone with a semicolon tattoo, THIS is what it means” followed by a link. Intrigued, I followed the link and quickly learned that a semicolon tattoo was a symbol for suicide prevention. I didn’t really understand why, but since I wasn’t planning on committing suicide and had never met anyone with a semicolon tattoo, I filed away the information in my brain under “Facts That are Cool but also Have No Real Relation To My Life” (I store a lot of those). After that, I kept scrolling. It would be over a year before I thought about Project Semicolon again.
Now we’ll fast forward to the beginning of March 2016, when I was finishing up my stay at the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Behavioral Health Center. I had accomplished a lot while I was there. I had managed to bring my violent, anxiety-induced bouts of twitching under control, and I had developed some serious meditation skills in order to keep myself calm. Meditation was a really good thing for me; any time I felt depressed, anxious, or even suicidal, I could use meditation to clear my head and re-center myself. I believed that I had defeated my thoughts of suicide, and that was an impressive victory after so many months of depression. I had won, and I wanted a trophy – one that I could always have with me. I wanted it to be permanent too, something that would remind me every single day for the rest of my life why I was still breathing. The obvious choice for such a trophy was a tattoo, but I didn’t want just any tattoo. I wanted a semicolon.
Project Semicolon is a global movement that is meant to encourage and give strength to those who suffer from mental illnesses and may be contemplating suicide. They have transformed the semicolon from a punctuation mark to a symbol of hope, and the semicolon has taken on a whole new meaning as a result. The idea behind the symbol is that a semicolon is used when an author could have ended a sentence, but instead chose to keep it going. The author is you, and the sentence represents your life. The semicolon is the point where you (quite literally) paused, but then kept going instead of ending your life. I’m not usually a fan of poetic interpretations and meanings like this, but I am a fan of this particular one, which is good considering that my tattoo is quite permanent.
Once I had remembered Project Semicolon and decided that I wanted a tattoo of my own, I was faced with the task of convincing my parents. My dad was quickly on board with my plan, but my mom, who has an intense dislike of tattoos, took quite a bit of convincing. I stressed that my tattoo would have a lot of therapeutic value (it does), and I also promised to get it on my wrist so that I could cover it up with a watch if needed. After a few days, my mom agreed with me, and once we filled out the paperwork and researched several tattoo parlors across Tallahassee, it was show time.
We had settled on No Regrets Tattoos, and as I walked in the door I began to feel nervous for the first time. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t like my tattoo; I had spent plenty of time designing it and I knew how much it meant to me, but I was worried that it would hurt. So was my sister, who had agreed to get a semicolon tattoo with me while my mom and Leanne watched from the sidelines. She suffers from anxiety and depression as well, with the added bonus of narcolepsy, so the semicolon had just as much meaning to her, if not more. Her support meant so much to me, and it helped me to relax and follow through with my tattoo. She had chosen her own design as well, and, to my relief, the tattoo artist recreated them in stencil form with stunning accuracy. The whole process hurt much less than I had expected it to, and within an hour both my sister and I were proudly sporting new semicolon designs across our wrists.
Even though my tattoo attracted some unwanted questioning from my peers, I’ve never regretted it. It has done so much for me. It gives me strength when I look at it, and I know that when I am feeling sad or even suicidal again, I can look at my wrist and know that I have won this battle before. It has also forced me to open up to those around me about my depression instead of hiding from it, and that has both improved my relationships with my friends (I had been avoiding them before then) and allowed me to help some other people who opened up to me about their own issues when they heard what I had been through. Never in my life did I think that I would get a tattoo, but then again, I never thought I would have depression either. Now they are both a part of me – one by choice, the other by fate – and I can never forget them. I wouldn’t want to. Good or bad, both my depression and my tattoo, along with the other things in my life, shaped me into the person I am today. Despite his flaws, I am proud of him, and I am proud of what he has accomplished.