Project Semicolon (The Semicolon Project) is a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.
A little over a month ago, a blog article came up in my “Writers” news feed simply titled “the semicolon project” by Heather Parrie. The synopsis implied it was related to mental health and writing, two topics that are close to me as the creator of straitjacketwriters.com, so I clicked through and read the article.
If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend you do now (convenient link).
For those who don’t have time to read the whole thing right now, the summary from the Project Semicolon website: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are very much a reality that affect what seems to be a large number of writers and other creatives. I grew up in a household with mental illness and started suffering from depression with suicidal thoughts in high school. I know that teen angst is a common trope going back to Shakespeare (and probably before), but it can have very real consequences. That feeling of “it doesn’t matter if I live or die, so why am I bothering?” is incredibly real and can lead down some very dark paths.
I don’t have an exact year because I think it has been a gradual shift, but I feel like our society today is finally starting to come around to these realities. I appreciate the efforts of authors like Robison Wells, and cartoonist / writer Howard Tayler, for being open and candid about the struggles they have gone through. I’ve gone through very similar struggles, and knowing that not only was I not alone, but others who I feel are successful in their respective paths are having the same issues, was incredibly encouraging. It didn’t make me think any of less of them, it made me think more. If they can do it, I can do it; if I can do it, you can do it. We can all help each other.
Additionally, if Heather Parrie and others like her had not been open about some of their own struggles and blogged about it (the blog post linked above currently has ~2400 comments, I’m not certain how many views but I assume a lot more than that), I may not have found out about Project Semicolon, or at least not for a while. It has been around since April 2013, and yet with my very active interests in writing and mental health, it took over two years for the information to reach me.
These have traditionally been private matters, and in many cases people may opt to keep them so. I could see how talking about these personal things in a public way could be called narcissistic, but that is not the goal. Project Semicolon and Straitjacket Writers have the same focus: to bring to light and public awareness that mental illness is real, and it affects a good portion of the population. People suffering from these issues don’t need to feel alone, because these feelings of being “on the fringe” can contribute to unhealthy ways of viewing the Self that could lead to injury or suicide. I know, because I’ve been there.
There are some ideas that instantly click with us, and this was one of them. A symbol of both my love for writing and my passion to continue fighting depression and help others.
Here is my semicolon:
After a month of playing with styles and wearing a temporary version to make sure it’s what I wanted, I had it inked last Saturday. Already I’ve been amazed at the support and comments. Of course, I didn’t do it for the personal support, but as a contract to myself that I would resist thoughts of self-harm and not “end my story” prematurely. I hope that it says to others, “I’m open to talk about these issues if you’re struggling.” A symbol of solidarity for those “in the trenches” of depression.
If you’ve been struggling, seek help. I know I put off seeing a therapist for a long time because I was worried about the cost. I was surprised that some therapists (mostly in private practice) are very willing to work with you depending on your mental, emotional, and financial needs. I’ve wished since that I hadn’t waited.
If you’re having thoughts of self-harm, please put the National Suicide Hotline (U.S.) in your phone and do not hesitate to call it – 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).
I hope the other editors don’t mind me putting in a shameless self-plug, but here goes: if you’re a writer struggling with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, or other mental illness, and would like to tell your story—anonymously or not—learn how to contribute to Straitjacket Writers at http://straitjacketwriters.com/contribute/. There is no minimum word count or schedule to be a contributor.