My experience with Project Semicolon

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- As I was preparing to write an article about suicide prevention, my supervisor came back from the holiday weekend and showed me a new tattoo.

It was a semicolon. Yes, the punctuation.

I asked her why a semicolon? I have a few tattoos myself, but I didn't understand why she would get that.

She told me, "to Google project semicolon." So I did.

It turns out the semicolon tattoo began as a movement on social media "dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury."

In essence, and with the symbolism of the semicolon, the movement brings awareness to mental health concerns and the importance of suicide prevention.

Amy Bleuel started the nonprofit in April 2013 to honor her father, who took his own life.

According to mission statement, Project Semicolon's goal is to encourage individuals to draw or tattoo a semicolon on themselves as a sign of solidarity and understanding; that mental health issues are not in control and that you can have a wonderful life.

The idea of the semicolon in writing is that when the author could have ended a sentence with a period, they instead chose to use a semicolon and continue with a thought.

According to Project Semicolon's website the author is you, and the sentence is your life.

The semicolon can represent a point in an person's journey when they may be experiencing a serious mental health challenge like depression, and a life could have been lost, but instead they chose to fight, to continue their story, and sometimes against all odds, to live.

The project hopes for you to see that mental health issues will not stop you from living out your life or story.

The movement meant enough to my colleague that she got a semicolon tattooed on her forearm, and wrote a blog post about her own personal struggles.

In her post she explained how depression and anxiety affected her, and how once because it was so tough, that she had to leave a job she loved to take care of herself.

As I read more, and talked to my colleague more, I found myself identifying with this movement.

I am one of those folks that suffer from depression and anxiety, and I have since I was a child after a traumatic event.

It wasn't until I had spent a decade in the U.S. Air Force that I realized that I needed help.

But in 1989, it was still taboo to go to mental health, and the worries and concerns overwhelming. Would I lose my clearance? Would I not make rank? Would my peers and supervisors think I was no longer credible?

Luckily I had an awesome supervisor who put my fears in perspective and encouraged me to be courageous and get professional help, which I did.

I still get professional help to maintain mental wellness, and I find some days are harder than others, and sometimes there are experiences I go through that I would rather not.

Lately, personally, I have more downs than ups, but I've been through this before and know that with the help of my support team I will make it through.

For those who experience any form of depression, and have a bad day, week, month, etc., I am here to say there is light at the end of the tunnel and there is respite when you get there.

Having a real support team, folks who are in your corner, will truly make a difference.

I have taken my own challenges, created my own support team and written my own story.

As a survivor, I decided I wanted to be one of those people who support people having a rough time. I developed myself into a violence prevention educator and I work as a civilian for the U.S. Air Force at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Things have really changed for people since the 1990s, and I am proud that the U.S. Air Force is recognizing the need to be upfront about mental health issues to include suicide and all forms of interpersonal violence.

I have decided that I will get another tattoo, that of the semicolon in solidarity of all the warriors, like myself and my colleague, who are out there.

There are a lot of resources to help us through trying times. If you find yourself in a situation where you think you are alone and have nowhere to go and no one to turn to, please know that you do. Like Project Semicolon says, your story isn't over.

For help resources, please see below:

Chaplain (non-duty hours) -- (406) 731-3801
Voice of Hope, Great Falls -- (406) 453-4357
Military One Source 24-7 -- 1-800-342-9647 Malmstrom AFB Mental Health Clinic -- (406) 731-4451
National Suicide Prevention Hotline -- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Military One Source 24-7 -- 1-800-342-9647
Malmstrom AFB Military Child Life Consultant -- (406) 224-3813 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Malmstrom AFB Military Family Life Consultant -- (406) 750-8481/8061
Malmstrom AFB Sexual Assault Program Coordinator -- (406) 731-4225
Malmstrom AFB Family Advocacy -- (406) 731-2161
Malmstrom AFB Violence Prevention -- (406) 731-1499

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