This piece was initially written on July 1st, 2015, immediately after having my “semicolon” tattoo done; it was taken down for a while, and then republished on this website on July 15, 2020.
CW: mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation
I remember writing down several ways by which to kill myself when I was only fourteen years old. Included on the list was slashing open my arms until they were bleeding beyond repair, drowning myself, and jumping from a place of extremely high elevation so that I had no chance of survival. The more painful the option, the more appealing it seemed for me. I was so hopeless that I wanted to feel every bit of pain within me before I left this Earth forever.
When I first found out that I had bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, my first instinct was to hide it from everyone except for a few select people. I felt embarrassed about my mood swings, my depression, and my suicidal thoughts. I despised the way I could go from feeling the best I had ever felt to feeling like I had no will to live in just minutes.
I truly and deeply loathed myself.
For years, I pushed away anyone and everyone who was close to me. I grew upset anytime they hounded me for emotions I had trouble controlling and I put up more and more walls every day. My therapists only made me feel angrier and more alone. I was completely lost, confused, and overwhelmed.
The first medications they put me on made me even more exhausted and suicidal than I was before. Each day I spent on those medications made any hope I had left trickle away. At first, I tried to survive against it, but before I knew it, the fight had been knocked out of me. I spent hours every day lying on the floor, staring at the wall, and waiting for my life to end.
For the first time in years, I started cutting myself again. Cutting was the only thing I could do to make me feel anything beyond the nothingness that consumed my soul. At first, when the blood was fresh, I felt elated. But then I sunk – I sunk even lower than low, until I felt there was nothing left to stop me from killing myself.
I cannot even count the number of times friends and family have had to stop me from attempting to commit suicide, back then, before then, and even in recent months. I’ve experienced states in which the knife could eventually be talked out of my hands by people who love[d] me, and I’ve even had times when someone held my arms back until I seemed calm enough.
Even though a new and much better psychiatrist talked me through some tough times and put me on a medication that seems to work better for me than the previous ones, the road is still rough. Perhaps things are slightly better, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Every day is still a struggle to find the motivation to live, to breathe, to continue onward.
I have since come a long way, but I still struggle so much in the mornings when I wake up and again in the evenings when I go to bed. Even asleep, my dreams are nightmares. They are gloomy and terrifying, and they replay the worst parts of my life; they create scenarios with fears I never knew I had. I still find myself in a dark place, but I am finally starting to discover some light.
When I first heard about a new meaning behind the “semicolon” punctuation mark, I was both intrigued and touched. The words had moved me: “A semicolon is used when a sentence could have been ended, but it wasn’t.” The semicolon tells a story of my life – an existence that could have been ended so many times, but wasn’t.
I had the semicolon tattooed on the back of my neck because I wanted to have it with me, but I did not want to look down at my wrist every day and feel defined by that semicolon resting against a haunting bed of many, many scars. I am more than just a semicolon, but this symbol still tells me something important about my existence.
It is a symbol of my strength – a mark of all I have overcome, and all I have yet to battle.
I am no longer embarrassed that I am “mentally ill,” or even by the fact that my skin has been home to so many self-inflicted wounds. I have learned to live with these parts of who I am, and now I want to love even more of myself. I no longer want to be held down by the darkness in my mind. I want control over all of it.
I can embrace a life peppered with very many semicolons, but I refuse to accept a premature, death sentence for myself.
I am alive, and I am strong, and that in itself is my greatest pride. I’m still here; I’m not going anywhere as long as I have my semicolon to remind me of this bravery I never knew I had. My semicolon is my symbol of strength, etched into my skin for eternity, and the courage I receive from it will remain with me forever.