Welcome to #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, though that’s all the time here.
Whenever I look down at my left wrist and see my semicolon tattoo, I feel resilient, strong, and loved. When I see it, it reminds me I can get through anything, because I’ve already overcome many hard times and have come out better than I was before.
I got my semicolon tattoo a year after my depressive episode and manic upswing as part of my bipolar disorder. The semicolon tattoo is part of a national movement to raise awareness, prevent, and fight back against suicide, called Project Semicolon.
To me, the tattoo is a reminder of what I went through during a time when I was extremely depressed from January to August 2017 and then manic from August 2017 to January 2018. It reminds me that I am stable now, and that I got through the hardest year of my life, becoming stronger, smarter, more empathetic, more driven, and more passionate because of all I experienced.
Mainly, the semicolon on my wrist reminds me to keep going, to keep fighting and to keep living. As a semicolon pauses but still continues a sentence, sometimes I must pause but still continue living my life and fighting through tough times. Even when things get hard, or maybe I slip into depression or spiral into mania for a short period of time, I know it won’t last and I am reminded to keep pushing through because I will reach stability again.
I think of a quote that came at the end of one of my favorite movies of 2019, “Jojo Rabbit.” The quote, from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, says, “Let everything happen to you / Beauty and terror / Just keep going / No feeling is final.”
The first part, “let everything happen to you, beauty and terror” reminds me to experience everything, even if it scares me. This year, I started writing for USC Annenberg Media Center, something that intimidated me too much to try in the past, but I’m so glad I finally did it. I’ve grown from my recent break up, too, realizing more clearly what I do and do not want in my next relationship, and creating art inspired by my pain. I’ve become stronger from the job rejections I’ve accumulated so far, knowing that each one is bringing me closer to an offer for the right role. And of course, I’ve certainly grown from my experiences with having bipolar, anxiety, and subtle OCD. I’ve grown because I’ve learned how to manage them, how to trust my therapist, how to take my medicine every day, even if I’ve slipped up and stopped once or twice. I’ve created mantras, tactics, and lists to keep myself positive and I’ve surrounded myself with only people who try to understand and support me. There is no longer any room in my life for any other kind of person.
Whether I have a hard exam, a fight with a friend, a bad breakup, a funeral, or a scary manic high, I know I will get through it if I don’t give up and “just keep going.”
I learned in a mindfulness class at USC that truly “no feeling is final.” We only feel an emotion naturally for about thirty seconds on average. After that, it’s us being angry, sad, happy, excited, or anything else on purpose.
On a darker note, I have personal connections to suicide. A close mentor died by suicide in 2016 and I know many others, from my time at Yale Intensive Outpatient Program (essentially group therapy), who have attempted to do the same. So this semicolon is for them, too, serving as a reminder that they tried their best to keep going, but their pain was so powerful that it took control of them. I will never let my pain take control of me, for myself, but also for them.
I love being asked about my tattoo, but until I’m sure someone is genuine, I may just tell them it reminds me to always keep going, like how a semicolon keeps a sentence going. The stigma around mental health is still too strong, and it’s hard to be vulnerable with someone who may be dismissive in response. This hasn’t happened often, but it has, so I am careful with sharing. For the full story, you’d have to show me you will listen, love, and accept it all: the struggles I have in common with friends, family, strangers, acquaintances, and celebrities and the struggles unique to my life.
For the past few years, I have chosen to confront my problems and work on myself every single day, and I’ve learned that that is not a choice some people are willing to make or even be around. It requires a lot of energy, so I understand those who don’t want to be involved in the story of my life and especially don’t want to think deeply about and work hard on mending theirs. I still hope, however, that you will choose to know me and to work on knowing and improving yourself every single day, too.
I’d encourage you to think about a semicolon the next time you, or someone you know, may be struggling. Take a pause, a few deep breaths, or a break for a day, month, or even a year like I did, then just keep going. You are here because you are unique, important, and worthy of love.
So continue on; this sentence in the story of your life is not over yet.
*Feel free to reach out if you want to hear the full story, or if you just want to talk*