The Tale Behind The Tat: Why A Semicolon Is A Symbol Of Strength

What do Ellen DeGeneres, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Heath Ledger, and Woody Allen have in common? (Besides the fact that they’re f*cking hilarious, of course.)

All of the above have battled with depression.

Depression is an odd subject, for it is damn near impossible to describe with words. It’s often hidden in the brightest smile in people who would never suspect to have a bad day.

It breathes in the heart and not the head, which is why we aren’t able to rationalize ourselves out of this state. It’s an inner battle that touches every aspect of your life, and one that is most difficult to comprehend and control.

What makes depression so challenging is that it makes you feel isolated. You lose pleasure in the things you would normally enjoy. You lose the ability to communicate your emotions due to the most dangerous combination of all: fear and shame.

So what does the future hold? How’s my life going to end up? What a terrifying thought for the already threatened, but there are no cheat codes one can obtain and apply to real life. How scary, even to this day, to type the words “I don’t know.”

This is where the semicolon tattoo steps in.

“A semicolon is a place in a sentence where the author has the decision to stop with a period, but chooses not to. A semicolon is a reminder to pause and then keep going.”

It is reminder to stop and think. A reminder to keep going as you have so much to be grateful for. It is reminder than you are not merely a silhouette, but a voice that is meant to be heard. What many fail to understand is that they are not alone, and talking about it is not a crime. On the contrary, it can be your savior. Everyone has a story to tell, here’s 5 incredible stories from Unwritten writers in hopes that you’ll find the strength to share yours; your story isn’t over yet.

— Gillian Watts

Anxiety falls under the vast umbrella of mental health struggles that the semicolon project seeks to bring to light. Ever since I was really young, I have struggled with anxiety. By anxiety, I mean, crying myself to sleep, hyperventilating with worry and fear, and being unable to eat or even carry on a conversation. I’m talking about a clear anxiety disorder. It’s hard to share my story with the world because people have some very twisted misconceptions about what anxiety really is and how it feels.

Anxiety is crippling.

There is NEVER a time where I don’t have at least one thing constantly on my mind. If I can’t find something present or future to be my source of anxiety, my mind will flip to something that’s happened in the past. This is the worst because I can’t do anything to fix it.

When I try to discuss my daily concerns and the way I feel, I’m usually told to relax or stop stressing out about things I can’t control. I’m often accused of choosing to make things a bigger deal than they really are. But it’s not that easy and it’s not a choice. There is very little that can be done to relieve anxiety. Even worse, when you suffer with anxiety, you cannot explain how or why you feel the way you do.

The semicolon project is not just about depression. Overpowering anxiety has a huge impact on life. Living with anxiety is a constant battle and as someone who knows the realities of it, I want those who suffer to know, you’re not alone and your efforts are not unknown. What we go through every moment of everyday requires remarkable strength. You are here for a reason, you belong and your story is not over;

— Melissa Engle 

One of the saddest things in the world is to feel broken, and although you’ve somehow been figuratively ripped apart, you feel like can never be put back together again.

If you were to sit me down several years ago and told me that everything would get better, that my depression would go away, I would have nodded while screaming disbelief inside my head. I thought things simply could not get better, that I’d be trapped in a dark room forever.

While my friends went out, I chose to stay home. When I went to parties, I couldn’t help but think I’d have a better time on my own. Even when surrounded by others, I felt shut out, as if I were different from everyone else.

And when I found myself at my absolute lowest, I couldn’t bring myself to reclaim my life.

There have been days where I’ve asked myself, “What are you even here for?” Most times I don’t even have an answer. Sometimes, I just don’t want to be here anymore, and those are the toughest thoughts to deal with.

The extremes of depression are the worst. But I truly cherish the days where I’m so overwhelmed with happiness that it feels like I can beat this. Happiness comes from friends and the jokes we share with one another, it comes from family members and their unconditional love for me. It comes from having a boyfriend who makes me want to beat this depression just so I can grow old with him. Those are the days that make life worth living, and those are the days that keep me fighting. One minute you could be on cloud nine and in the next you can feel like you’ve hit rock bottom. But for now I’m okay with being somewhere in the middle, looking up at the clouds and the stars, knowing that one day I’ll get there.

— Aurora McCausland

Anxiety: A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

When I tell people that I have anxiety, their first thought is this definition. It’s a mental illness that generally gets swept under the rug, because people interpret it incorrectly.

Anxiety disorder: A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

Having anxiety and having anxiety disorder are two very different things.

I have clinical depression and an anxiety disorder, and when I reveal this to people, I’m met with disbelief and rolled eyes because I seem “normal”.

But, truth is I can have a great day at work, and then come home and end up lying on my bed in tears for hours with my body shaking, struggling to breathe, blacking out, and digging my nails into my hands in order to avert the pain.

I’ll be driving, and have to pull to the side of the road until my vision clears and I regain feeling in my limbs.

I’ll be at a party, and have to leave and clear my head, because I get over-stimulated easily.

No, I’m not antisocial. I’m not stupid or ditzy. I’m not overreacting. I have an anxiety disorder.

— Natalie Williams

Ever since I was little, I can remember getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and a racing heart beat that I could not explain. I was completely unaware of my anxiety disorder.

This trapped and sick feeling would come and go as it pleased and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it.

It wasn’t until college when I decided to take a health class that taught us about general anxiety disorders. It was then that I figured out exactly what I had been suffering from. Although it was a hard reality to face, I was able to learn coping mechanisms that changed my life.

When I feel my anxiety coming on, I first mentally scan through my past, present, and future life events and figure out exactly what I am anxious about. Now that I am aware, I write down my thought processes that were bringing on my anxiety and immediately fight my automatic negative thoughts with evidence, rational thoughts, and positive thought.

For example, I am sitting in class full of anxiety. Why?  I figure out that I am worried about failing my test. “If I fail my test, I will get an F in the class, if I get a F in the class I will lose my scholarship, I won’t get into grad school and I will then be a loser that no one wants.” By writing down these racing thoughts, I am better able to realize how untrue and ridiculous they sound. I can now build evidence against my negative thoughts that can ultimately calm my anxiety.

Although I still suffer from anxiety, I am better able to handle it. Unfortunately, there are still many children, teens, and adults who are completely unaware of their anxiety disorder. I believe that if we spread the word about anxiety disorders then we can change lives. The semicolon project is a great way to do this.

— Erin Pierce

For as long as I can remember, I have allowed my sucky mentality to get the better of me. I have been that socially awkward person who gets stuck on their own thoughts much too often. I have allowed myself to be torn apart by the words and actions of those around me, even when it shouldn’t affect me to that extent. I have told myself that hiding everything that I was feeling was the best possible option to move forward.

It wasn’t.

High school wasn’t good to me as I felt extremely alone. College didn’t make that feeling go away. I immersed myself in 50+ hour work-weeks, 21 credit hour course loads, and running to get by. I figured by keeping myself busy, the rest of it wouldn’t matter. The loneliness I felt from being on the outside of everything just made things worse. I felt pain to the point where I began changing myself physically and mentally to cope.

I felt trapped in my own head for the longest time.

I dropped all of my classes fall of 2012 because I couldn’t handle being around people anymore. My friends disappeared like bobby pins in your room. I got fired from my job, I began making some sketchy life choices, and they followed me. I was hit by a drunk driver in 2013, and that only took me into a darker place. I couldn’t handle any conversation without bursting into tears.

That’s when I knew something was wrong; I felt like things weren’t going to change. I wanted to disappear, I wanted to drink myself into oblivion just to feel better. I tried to lessen my chances at living a normal life.

Recently, I hit rock bottom. I made myself believe that I was stuck. I wanted to give up. But I realized why I should keep pushing and keep living for a purpose and with passion. If the last year of my life is any indication of how the remainder of my 20s will be, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Even though I still battle that feeling on a regular basis, i’ve learned that situations that put you to the test bring out the people and things that will truly matter in your life. I also realized that no matter how bad you feel now, it’s never going to be a real indication of the future.

The pain I have experienced is nothing compared to the improvement I’m seeing now. I’ve made changes, dropped my fears, taken chances, and connected with some of the most incredible friends in just the last couple of months because I want to be a better person. I want to live a better life. I want to write something worth reading and live something worth writing.  I know that I have a battle ahead still, but I’ll keep going. I’m not ready for my story to stop just yet.

Are you?

You are the author; the sentence is your life.

Your story isn’t over yet, so don’t end it before you get the chance to even write it. For anyone suffering from depression, anxiety, self-harm, contemplating suicide, you are not alone. You are worthy. You are loved. And the rest is still Unwritten.

Group Collaboration with: Isabelle Zanzer, Natalie Williams, Erin PierceAurora McCausland, and Gillian Watts.

Featured Image via Unsplash


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