A lot of people have been asking me about my neck tattoo, and I thought I should explain it once and for all.
Punctuation is everything. Commas save lives, but to thousands who may have never thought twice about a dangling modifier or a misplaced appositive, the semicolon has become their reason for enduring.
Thanks to Amy Bleuel, the often misunderstood symbol has morphed from a simple punctuation mark to a badge of pride for those who struggle with depression, suicide, addiction, anxiety, and self-injury.
Amy started the non-profit social media movement Project Semicolon in April 2013 to honor her father, who took his own life, and to give voice to her own fight with mental illness. The idea was to encourage anyone haunted by these demons to draw a semicolon on their body, photograph it, and share it on a given day to encourage love and to inspire.
Since its inception, Project Semicolon has transformed into a full-fledged movement and awareness campaign for mental health and suicide prevention. And just as a once-fleeting call-to-action has given way to this more permanent form of activism,
people have exchanged the Sharpies that Bleuel initially suggested for permanent ink.
Semicolon tattoos are cropping up everywhere: on wrists, behind ears, above ankle bones, and more. And with them, an outpouring of heartfelt stories, grassroots tattoo-a-thons.
In a society that often tries to hide mental health issues, we want to push back and show that the more we talk about it, the more people get help.
Nearly 32% of people diagnosed with a serious mental illness in the U.S. did not receive treatment in that same year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many don’t seek proper diagnosis and help because of the stigma attached to this kind of illness.
And that’s exactly what the semicolon tattoo is working to change.
Just as the mark is a sign for readers to pause before continuing on with a sentence, participants have embraced the symbol as a reminder that their story isn’t over yet—and that they should tell it.
I didn’t hesitate or think twice when I saw this movement, I had my own stories of struggling as a disabled child born in this world back in 1984, my left hand is disabled and doesn’t function below the elbow. Gulf-war happened in 1990, and I was 5 years old back then, stuck in war without support, no more physiotherapy visits, or needle treatment or anything. I made the decision of not chopping my arm off and living with it. For a kid my age, it was always hard not being able to tie your own shoelaces, play video games because joysticks require 2 hands, play the guitars or even drums, work out at the gym. I have thought of killing myself many times, but I never did. My father was the most supportive parent ever. He always enabled me, he taught me how to do everything I can with one hand. May he rest in peace. To me having this tattoo is a long-lasting “thank you” on my body, to his beautiful soul.
Forget my story, take a look at the
and you’ll find countless people sharing tales of survival and struggle. These brave, honest accounts have started to bring a community together and endow members with the kind of pride that is capable of breaking down stigma.
What’s more, the tattoo has encouraged people to demand recognition for and discussion about illnesses that often skate by under the radar because they are invisible.
Ink has always been a conversation starter, and the semicolon emblem is no different. It’s an opportunity for survivors, those who battle every day, and even supporters to talk to those unacquainted with mental health issues. The more we talk about it, the more people get the help they need when they need it.
So, in an age when many of us spend more time tweeting than talking, let alone doing, the semicolon tattoo might just be the most beautiful thing I’ve learned about in a long time.