Every morning, I draw a semicolon on my wrist. I might seem too old to draw on myself, but this isn’t the same as the doodles I drew on my hand in 3rd grade.
This is a reminder to stay alive.
Amy Bluel created Project Semicolon in 2013 after her father’s suicide to raise awareness about suicide and mental illness. The Project Semicolon website explains the symbolism by continuing the metaphor:
An author uses a semicolon when she could end a sentence but chooses not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.
Most people draw semicolons because they have felt suicidal or struggled with a mental illness. Others draw it in solidarity with those who are suffering.
I draw it for myself because I’ve been there.
I have clinical depression.
I was diagnosed two years ago and it wasn’t a moment too soon; I had been struggling for a while.
I had my first depressed episode when I was almost 14. I was having some other health problems and I believe it was caused by those health problems. All I knew was that I hated myself for the pain I was causing my family.
My second depressed episode happened a few months after the first one ended; it was from discontinuing a medical treatment that had been helping my non-depression illness in favor of trying natural treatments.
In 2013, I had episodes three and four at the beginning and near the end of the best year of my teenage years.
I went from reading and writing and thriving to not understanding emails and homework instructions. I would read a sentence and forget what was at the beginning by the time I had reached the end.
I couldn’t understand why the fourth one was even there at all. After episode three ended, I had spent months doing things I loved: reading, writing a novel, doing presentations in school on paintings and music, singing in the choir, and laughing with my friends.
Yet it was still there. That familiar hole.
My fifth episode was my most recent and longest one, lasting a year. It also appeared for no visible reason but was the toughest by far.
I recently spoke to a close friend about this depressed episode. What she describes seeing from the outside is an accurate picture of what was inside.
Your eyes didn’t shine. It looked like someone had reached inside your eyes and turned off the light. You were there, but dimmed. I would sit across from you once a week and I could see pain in your face. My best friend was a vibrant, funny, incredibly quirky girl and at that time it was like she was being forced to carry a thousand pounds on her shoulders and it was crushing her.
I got help, of course. I had been in counseling for four months when my counselor said I wasn’t improving and that I needed to see a doctor.
I remembered the first time I walked into that doctor’s office. I remembered the nurse who drew my blood, recorded my weight and blood pressure. She also typed everything I had written on my two-page list of symptoms and examples onto my medical file. I was afraid I would forget them like I had forgotten so many other things. I was also afraid I would start dismissing them as being more examples of laziness or self-pity, as so many well-meaning Christians had suggested through sermons, podcasts, books, and even pamphlets.
I was scared this doctor would be like my old doctor: dismissive and unconcerned.
I was being a “normal teenage girl”.
There is nothing normal about how I felt.
I was continually sighing, as though I could just exhale my pain. I could never quite catch my breath. It was like being smothered alive by an invisible pillow.
When I was with friends, I was the last person to start laughing and the first person to stop. Laughing hurt because it was a reminder of the better days.
I could not write because my brain was foggy and dull. I couldn’t create no matter how hard I tried.
Sharing these details and others to an expressionless nurse was an awkward fifteen minutes.
That same nurse recorded my weight again at my most recent check-up. When I told her I had been to Canada, I could tell she was proud in her own way.
“You look so much better now, too; you’re wearing makeup and everything.”
I remembered, too. I remember walking into the office tired, but believing someone was going to hear me and someone was going to believe me. I had been down too long and I was going to get answers. I didn’t think I would get better. If I did get better, it would take at least a year to see any real changes.
It actually took two months, but I saw glimmers along the way.
The first time happened while I was shopping, a week and a half after being diagnosed. I remember looking around the store and being able to breathe. It lasted a few minutes, but it was real. I had two other brief moments that day and a few more good minutes later that week. In late June, I had a few mornings where I didn’t feel smothered.
Then one beautiful day in July, I saw good minutes turn into good hours which turned into two entire good days. Those two days were joined by three more good days that week and, eventually, good days became my new normal.
I could breathe deeply every day, whenever I wanted.
I thanked God.
When I look back, I see God all through my depression. When I was a mile from anyone, God was a millimeter away. He never left. He didn’t cause my depression, but he gave me only as much comfort as I would accept.
He lead me to sermons and pastors who had been where I was. He showed me blog posts that I returned to when everything hurt. He brought books to me like The Ladder Out Of Depression by Bonnie Keen and Blue Genes by a team of Christian psychiatrists; I needed help I could read over and over again. Somehow I found songs that were soothing and didn’t trigger an avalanche of guilt; I believe that was God’s handiwork.
He helped me as I waited the six weeks until my doctor’s appointment. He even gave me a few hours of relief the day I graduated high school so that I actually enjoyed the day.
My depression wasn’t a spiritual issue, but unhealed spiritual issues fed my depression. Even through that confusion, God didn’t leave. He gave me clarity when I could handle seeing the truth. He helped me see the ways I was sabotaging myself and helped me find alternatives.
His grace and mercy helped me as I healed. He gave me the strength to make it through each day. That didn’t mean each day was easy. They certainly were not. I just know when I stopped trying to hang on to life, God didn’t stop holding me.
He showed me Christians who supported me with their hope and prayers. In turn, they showed me Jesus through their compassion and unconditional love. They also had experienced depression and knew I didn’t need more faith or better obedience, I needed a doctor. They shared their experiences with antidepressants and soothed my fear of something I no longer could avoid. They cried when they prayed over me and rejoiced when I shared my progress.
For me, my depression is a chemical imbalance I alone cannot completely control. It takes seeing a counselor and a doctor as well as having the unconditional love and support of friends and family to manage the monster. God used it all to help me through.
A few months ago, as I was rushing home from small group, I was thinking about going to Canada. I realized if I died, I never would have gone.
I am thankful I am alive because there are so many other things I would have missed if I died.
I wouldn’t see my best friend’s salutatorian speech, hold my high-school diploma, or have my first day at college.
I wouldn’t have met the people who now mean so much.
I wouldn’t have gone to Passion or started my blog a month later.
I wouldn’t have gone to Canada on the two year anniversary of my diagnosis.
I would never see one close friend go on a mission trip to Nepal or see another close friend graduate from Georgia Tech.
I would never see them overcome their challenges or celebrate with them.
I would never see my sister and brother graduate from high school.
I would never get married or have children. (It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m holding out it will someday.)
I would never experience trusting people with my pain and watching them give compassion and support in return.
I would never see God’s grace and mercy show up again and again and again.
The semicolon on my wrist is for all the times I didn’t give up; all the times I kept breathing when I wanted to stop.
The semicolon on my wrist is for all the times I will want to give up; just because I’m not depressed now doesn’t mean it won’t return. I haven’t been cured.
It’s a reminder that God is the author, not me, and he’s the one who’s writing my story. He didn’t write a period, but a semicolon. He wanted a brief pause, not a permanent end.
I thought my life was over; it was really being reborn. My sentence, and my life, continues.
By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
“Resurrecting” by Elevation Worship