Almost two years ago I permanently marked my skin with a punctuation mark whose meaning seemed to change overnight. A semicolon is no longer just a mark in essays and literature it is a symbol of awareness, support, strength and understanding. It has connected people from around the world who are fighting the same battle.
“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life,”
On March 23 the woman who started the semicolon project, Amy Bleuel, passed away. I found out just three days ago.
When I heard the news, I went to her Facebook page and read her most recent posts. There were photos of her traveling with her husband, posts about fighting through mental illness, quotes about acceptance, posts about God and even a picture of her Lithium prescription encouraging people to get help. Her last post was three days before she died:
“Depression takes root when the picture of the past is more powerful than the picture of the future.”
The comments said things like,
“You changed my life”
“Thank you for helping others”
“I hope you’ve found your light”
“I’m sorry you lost your battle”
Amy Bleuel died from suicide. The people who followed and were inspired by her did not ask why. She had been battling with mental illness. She created a non-profit to raise awareness of suicide, addiction and mental health. She fought publicly; sharing with the world what she was going through and encouraged others to keep fighting. The people who followed her, who sought her out for advice and guidance did not ask why because they didn’t have to.
One in four people struggles with mental illness. Many of these people have experienced suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. This select group understands the desire to surrender and how impossible it can be to explain the fight to someone who has never experienced a debilitating and frequently intangible illness.
We as a society need to stop asking why. There is already an answer. There are not thirteen reasons. There is one. That reason is disease. The question that should be asked instead is how. How do we recognize the symptoms? How do we treat mental illness more efficiently? How do we eradicate the stigma?
I don’t have all the answers but I do know it’s important to have a voice, to speak out and to let people know that they are not alone. Amy Bleuel did this, she created the amazing Project Semicolon which will continue to raise awareness and inspire people to start the conversation.
My name is Adrienne Collins. I am one of many. I am one in four.