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Project Semicolon

No, this isn’t a grammar lesson.

Project Semicolon is a movement that promotes mental health and suicide awareness. The stigma that is attached to mental illness often prevents sufferers from speaking out or even seeking help.

The stigma needs to end. And that starts with all of us rising above and sharing our stories.

I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life.

[cut for talk about suicide]

As far back as nine or ten years old. I knew there was something wrong with me but didn’t have the words to express it. By twelve, I knew I was depressed. At nineteen, I almost walked in front of a speeding semi–my only thought: “I wonder how much it would hurt?” I had numerous breakdowns in my twenties then the most serious one at 34.

My whole world collapsed onto itself in a matter of a week. It was crushing me. I lost the ability to speak for three days and could do nothing but cry. Everything hurt inside and out. Most people don’t realize that depression affects you physically as well as emotionally. I could barely move. Just walking across the house took agonizing minutes. Getting out of bed took more energy than I could muster some days. And eating? I wouldn’t have done it if my husband hadn’t put food in front of me and waited until I ate.

It was a scary time, but it finally pushed me to get help. The medications pulled me out of the depression, but I didn’t feel like I was getting better. At the least, I could say I wasn’t suicidal anymore. I guess that was something.

Then in 2013, I had an amazing few days where everything just cleared up. I felt on top of the world instead of being crushed under it. I decided to go back to school to finish my degree and even enrolled in school. I got a tattoo for the first time. My social anxiety seemed to clear up, and I had no problems answering a phone or talking to strangers. I felt great. Then one day, as I was speeding along on the freeway, I realized something wasn’t right.

I don’t speed. And I haven’t voluntarily answered an unknown number in decades. Strangers make me nervous, so walking into a tattoo parlor would have been unthinkable.  Recognizing that my actions weren’t normal for me, I did some research and realized they were all symptoms of a manic episode. A couple months later, at the age of 36, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar (type 2).

Changing my medications was like flipping a switch in my brain. The constant fog of depression lifted, and for the first time in my life, I looked forward to getting up every morning. And I finally understood the concept of “happy.” Before that, the word had no meaning to me. I didn’t know what happy felt like because I’d never truly been happy.

It hasn’t always been easy. In 2014, I had another manic episode. I stayed up for 40 hours straight. For 26 of those hours I wrote nearly nonstop. And for twelve of those hours, I never took my fingers off of the keyboard. I didn’t take a sip of water, use the bathroom, or even move the mouse. I just wrote. Through the night and morning. I knew I was manic, but the words just poured out, so I didn’t want to do anything about it.

I learned my lesson because once the mania ended, the depression set in. What goes up, must come down. Being manic is like being high, and I crashed hard when the high ended. In the span of two days, I went from feeling okay to suicide. It was terrifying, and I was powerless to stop it. I was so tired and in so much pain, I couldn’t handle it any more. I made a bunch of nonsense posts online that alerted a few friends. Then I took a handful of sleeping pills and anxiety meds and went to bed. A few minutes later the police were knocking on my door.

A friend online, that lived two states away, called for a well check. I spent the night in the hospital and three days in an in-patient facility while they sorted out my medications. Even now, just thinking about it sets my heart racing. I feel angry and scared and embarrassed by what I did. Yet at the time, I couldn’t stop it even though I knew what was going on. I tried asking for help, but no one heard me until that one friend. She saved my life.

Mental illness is not taken seriously in this country. It isn’t treated the same way other illnesses are. Until the ACA, insurance companies didn’t even have to cover mental health, and those that did often put limits on coverage. At one point, our insurance only allowed eleven one-hour visits to a mental health professional. Any more and you had to pay out of pocket. Eleven. Not even one a month.

If you do manage to get help, there’s still the stigma to deal with. So many people have misconceptions about mental illness and suicide. We’re told we’re weak, selfish, and lazy. We should just snap out of it, get over it, or pray harder. You can’t just “snap” out of a depression and no amount of praying will get rid of your bipolar. If it were that easy, don’t you think we’d do that?

There’s a difference between feeling depressed and having depression. Many people refuse to acknowledge this and cling to their prejudices and stereotypes. Don’t even get me started on the way we treat suicide victims. Because that’s what they are. Victims. They didn’t “commit” suicide, they lost their struggle against a deadly illness. We don’t blame cancer victims that lose their fight. It’s disgusting the way we, as a society, treat the mentally ill–like a dirty little secret no one wants to talk about. A travesty.

semicolon2017Sadly, the founder of Project Semicolon lost her battle against this deadly illness last month. She inspired hundreds of thousands of people to keep their story going–her’s will not be forgotten.

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to. You are the author, and the sentence is your life.”

semicolonMy story isn’t over yet.

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