Yesterday I gave my wife another gift. Around this time of year is her birthday but also now represents just over a year of sobriety.
I have a few tattoos: I am the kind of Christian for whom Leviticus is a ceremonial code for Levites, of which I am not one. Nor am I or have I ever branded a mark on myself for the dead, though I clash with Biblical literalists over this one, who are usually letter of the law people but extend it to all tattooing for the most part. People my age without tattoos are now the minority, but my wife managed to make it through her existence without ever figuring out what she wanted put on her body permanently, and until yesterday had completely ink-free skin.
She suggested that if she was going to get something she wanted something with meaning, and decided on a semicolon.
Project Semicolon is a mental health advocacy group, started by Amy Bleuel in memory of her father, who committed suicide in 2003. Her own life was also very turbulent - from an abusive stepmother, which caused her to be placed into Child Protective Services. In that system, she ended up being molested in her pre-teens and raped in her teens, and again twice in college, suffering a miscarriage after conceiving during one of those events. She descended into alcoholism and attempted her own suicide five times.
She succeeded on her sixth attempt, on March 23, 2017. She was 31 years old.
As an awareness raising group, they don't offer psychiatric or other advice, or offer treatment or have any specific advocacy in terms of suicide prevention. All they want to do is get people to talk about it. It is a major killer - the second leading cause of death in teenagers, and the eighth leading cause of death in middle aged and older men.
Suicide is one of those things that has cultural, behavioral and other factors in play. Some people endure horrific abuse and adversity and live a full lifespan, others cannot cope with some trauma and choose to end their lives. Some suicides baffle the people around them, coming as a complete surprise. As a result, there really is a no one-size-fits all solution, only the very real need to try to connect with people and help research the root causes and treatments. Because as of right now the general treatment is hauling someone against their will into an expensive hospital with neither a belt nor shoelaces, and only crayons to write with.
The semicolon is the way an author chooses to extend a sentence, rather than ending it. The symbology is obvious - the author of your life is you, and if you're considering ending that sentence, pause it instead.
She had never been tattooed, and it was a small one of her own design, a crude calligraphy of a semicolon. I barely noticed it being etched onto the edge of my own wrist, matching the location of hers. The exact place that she started cutting her wrists, moving up her arm from there, when I found her a year ago. It's not my kind of thing, I would have preferred a replica of a typewriter key strike, ink blur and all. But it gave her some kind of closure, and me as well.
My wife, my mother, and my best friend have all been hospitalized for suicide attempts - anywhere from a week, to months, to two years. Like everyone else I've had my dark moments where I've considered simply quitting on existence, but something about Christianity has inoculated me from that. For now. But that doesn't mean I haven't been touched by it as well, and am happy to have people think I've tried, simply to be in solidarity with those who faced that dark wall and turned away or were pulled away from the brink.
And for Amy, though I've never met her. For another classmate, who was found blue, cold and unresponsive by his sister. And another classmate, whose death not only shocked and saddened his family but drove it to the very brink of its own anguish, since suicide is considered an automatic eternity in Hell sentence for the Muslim.
For now, all I can do is walk around with a punctuation mark winking obviously from my arm, and listen to anyone who might be trying to tell me they need someone to talk to. It's really all that any of us can do.
Project Semicolon's web page is http://www.projectsemicolon.com. There, you can read stories from others, contribute to your own, and/or get resource information. If you are in a dark place and wish to speak to someone, please reach out to a suicide assistance hotline in your area, or talk to a loved one.