General / mental illness
Project Semicolon is a global non-profit movement founded on April 16, 2013, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It encourages each person to keep battling depression, self-harm and other issues. Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon started with a simple message – just as an author uses a semicolon to indicate they are not through with a sentence, it's a symbol that people with mental illness aren't done yet. The story goes on.
Inspired by the lost of her father to suicide and her own struggles with mental health. On her website, she wrote, "despite the wounds of a dark past I was able to rise from the ashes, proving that the best is yet to come. When my life was filled with the pain of rejection, bullying, suicide, self-injury, addiction, abuse and even rape, I kept on fighting. I didn't have a lot of people in my corner, but the ones I did have kept me going. In my 20 years of personally struggling with mental health I experienced many stigmas associated with it."
Vulnerability to the people closest to us is already challenging, it's often mistaken for weakness when it's a mark of fearlessness. As with any advocate, all the stigma, misconceptions and confusion will be projected at you, sometimes personally. Mental illness still lacks legitimacy even though it's a massive global problem, this makes her work especially meaningful and challenging all at once. The very nature of mental illness encourages isolation and disconnection, making stories especially effective in reaching those who feel its too "peoplely" out there. When someone own their story, they are accepting themselves and others, the best way to reconnect with meaning in their lives and create meaning in the life of others.
Project Semicolon encouraged many to share their stories and many others to become advocates themselves.
There's no doubt Amy is an exemplary warrior, one who faces her demons head-on. Heart on her sleeve, semicolon in her soul. By 2015, she reached almost three million people in 90 different countries. The message resounded loud and clear, garnering 238,237 likes and 232,237 followers on Facebook, reflecting the need for more support.
It also inspired The Semicolon Tattoo Project, where Jenn Brown and Jeremy Jaramillo merge art with mental health awareness. Their idea is that tattoos are conversations starters and along with it is working with the Agora Crisis Center to provide tangible support for those in mental health crisis.
The Semicolon Tattoo Project held events at several tattoo shops where people could get a semicolon tattoo for a flat rate. In an interview with Upworthy, that money was a fundraiser for our crisis center, said Jenn. In total, over 400 people received semicolon tattoos in one day. Even better, what began as a local event has spread far and wide, and people all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos.
As with every successful movement, it took on a life of its own. Jewellery with messages of hope, resilience and strength popped up everywhere, always paired with the semicolon.
As news about her death comes in and suicide is confirmed. It's hitting me on many levels, as someone with bipolar, a mental health advocate, a caregiver and a writer. I dread the projections triggered by news like this, the speculations that threaten to weaken her message and most of all, the fear that drives it all.
So where is the hope now? What do we do now?, Kristina asks Project Seimicolon.
As I grieve her death and ponder my own suicide attempts, I think the best thing I can do is celebrate and honour her advocacy work by persisting, through the avenue she believed in - storytelling. This was a decision I made 4 years ago when I started my advocacy work and it remains the core of my being. I didn't understand the impact then, I just knew I wanted to do something. After 4 years, I realised I reached 100,000 people and counting.
Her death is a reminder that there is still much work to be done and every little bit counts. We aren't all Amy Bleuels because there was and always will be only one. We do, however, have a unique voice of our own, our own circle of influence and innate gifts to share. Never underestimate the power of one person's intention, repeated continuously. That's how change happens.
So please, if you are a writer, write about it. If you have had a mental health crisis, consider sharing your story. If you know someone with mental illness, encourage him to reach out. If you spot someone spiralling, talk to them. If you don't have a story, share one. Even if you think you are doing OK, educate yourself about it. Often sufferers are people who have been strong for too long. Mental illness can hit anyone and everyone, it's an equal opportunity killer.
Thank you Amy Bleuel, you will be missed. I will be praying for you. Your legacy lives on through me and many others. RIP knowing that your time here isn't wasted, every intention you put out there, every thought you shared and everyone you loved, especially everyone you loved, loves you back too.
Your story goes on.
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) Confidential 24-hour Hotline 1800-221-4444
U.S National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Find Amy Bleuel's photo here.
Find Project Semicolon's Facebook Page here.
Find Semicolon tattoos and jewellery here.
My bipolar advocacy FB Page is here. I have passed it onto another advocate, will be helping her promote her writing.
Go to the post - World Suicide Prevention Day here.
This is a piece I wrote for World Suicide Prevention Day which falls on the 10th of September of every year.
The common misunderstanding about suicide is that it is an end to suffering which is a collective symptom of mental illness. When it is really about searching for a way to live the truth in a broken world.
We have all felt this in one way or the other. It's similar to feeling lonely in a roomful of people who don't get us. The truths that we hide about ourselves and others, gets the loudest during these moments. Then these moments become a life and that is when we lose meaning and suicide happens.
What if the "truth" the world throws at you never felt right to begin with?
When your parent's dreams aren't yours. When the job is just for money. When success in a marriage is counted by the no. of years only. When you begrudgingly go through life, half dead, hitting the milestones and never feeling truly fulfilled.
When everyone smiles at you and no one wants to tell you honestly what are your blindspots. When you feel guilty for even being dissatisfied, convincing yourself that life is good, when deep inside it isn't. It should be but it isn't.
When you feel shame for being yourself, for not being good enough, for being too smart, too dumb, too large, too small, too loud, too quiet, too girlish, too boyish, too this, too that.
Especially when you feel shame for being yourself.
So people go and find themselves for a reason. Simply by living, we unknowingly and continuously lose bits of ourselves to the expectations of others. That hollow within yourself that remains empty, no matter how successful you are or are not on the outside. It's one and the same.
That silent repression of our pain erodes our authentic self until all that is left is a shell, asking how did I get there?
So how about we hold our own truths and let others hold theirs?
How about we start to understand that pain is universal? That there will be days when you struggle to keep your head above water. That vulnerability is strength because it is the truest of the true.
That we all have something to offer, our worth is innate, no one and nothing takes it away. It is yours to let go, only if you choose to.
That people will not stop being people. Some will break you and some will even abuse you but as long as you continue to hold yourself in truth, live authentically and continue to dream. Others just might find the courage to accept you for you and hold their own truths too.
If you are in need of urgent support, please call SOS (Samaritans of Singapore) at 1800-221 4444 (24-hour hotline) or IMH (Institute of Mental Health) at 6389 2222 (24-hour hotline)
Find surfing image here.