Stories from our Project Semicolon Community

"Amy Bleuel – In my own words…"

I sit here today, not as the founder of Project Semicolon, but as just another human being. An individual with real struggles, real pains, real joys, and real heartache. I’m taking the mask off today to write to you, my friends, supporters, and loved ones. You have shared your stories with me, and now it’s time for me to share where I am right now with you.

Because Project Semicolon has done so well, there is a preconceived notion that I am supposed to have it all together now. The darkness of depression should be behind me for good. People think motivational speakers should always be … motivated. Anyone in the spotlight feels a similar weight. But the idea simply isn’t true.

There are days I wake up, filled with self-doubt and pain, and wonder why I have to conquer another day. Why must I go on? Why do I have to exist? My struggle with depression and thoughts of inadequacy are very present right now. I still struggle to restrain from numbing my feelings with external substances. Sometimes I even think a blade would release the pain I am feeling. Many of you know exactly the stifling darkness I’m describing.

My past is a horror story. Starting at age six, I was brutally abused at the hands of my stepmother. I was raped for the first time when I was thirteen, and twice more in my early twenties. As a result, my early years were filled with deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy and isolation. Those old feelings still creep up from time to time, even as my passion for Project Semicolon continues to grow and accomplish good things for others. I would love to find the switch that turns off all the racing thoughts, that lets me put those old feelings behind me for good. So far that seems almost impossible.

Yet, by the grace of God, I continue to move forward. I know I am loved by God, and that is the only reason I am still here. Left to my own devices, a slave to my emotions, I wouldn’t keep fighting. If I give in to the beast of depression, Project Semicolon would cease to exist, and all the hope others have found through it would be in vain.

The good news is I am starting to talk with someone I can trust. I am utilizing the exact same resources we offer others who suffer with depression, and I’m in contact with a professional through Project Semicolon’s network. I am also writing this letter. I’m determined to be honest with you. I’m committing to myself and each of you that each time I get on stage this year, I will not speak as someone who has it all together. Instead, I will speak from where I am – a person who continues to struggle, but who believes life is worth the fight.

Recovery is a process. We do not arrive at it and find our painful experiences are finally fully behind us. Instead, recovery requires constant and intentional acts of honesty and being willing to open up about old wounds and current pains.  I can’t snap my fingers and make the fog disappear. What I can do is reach deep into my soul and muster up the courage to tell you my life is not perfect. The person you see on your computer screen, in our marketing campaigns, and the quotes you read on social media is real. But many days I have to work very hard to believe it myself.

I tell you all of this because I know how important it is to be truthful with you. The illusion that I have it all together is complete nonsense. Please know, I’m not looking for pity or publicity. I simply want you to know that I am still struggling alongside you. You and I aren’t that different at all. If we are going to continue to fight the stigma and pain of mental illness, we must continue to not only care for each other, but to take care of ourselves.

I hope you will take care of yourself, too.

Love Endlessly,
Amy


"A Story of Redemption"

This is a story of redemption. Of how one man finally gave way to the force of the death drive to be reborn with purpose based in passion. Being an empathic person can be exhausting and overwhelming. In this culture we’ve elevated reason and thinking and denigrated feelings so we’ve lost a lot of our natural abilities. Some people are still extreme sensitives when it comes to feeling emotions. As you can imagine this can get overwhelming. When you don’t understand what is happening or how to manage the experience this becomes a great weight rather than the gift it ultimately can be. In our modern world, it’s easy for a young man to get lost and hard to find himself. This is that story.

From an early age Jimi had an innate curiosity coupled with a core desire to create. This was his identity. Being an introvert Jimi observed people intently to understand them better. He would take things apart and rebuild them just to see how they worked. Math and Science came naturally to him, but school wasn’t his strong suit. Not feeling accepted or understood and being a headstrong teenager, he took what he calls a “hiatus from life”. Looking back, he can see much of this was a reaction to the underlying core issues from his childhood and his ambivalence about his own self-worth as people get measured in our society. He tried anything and everything to numb out this core existential pain. Drugs, alcohol, partying, sex, acting out without regard to his own wellbeing or for the impact on those around him. When you don’t feel that you matter or that you belong you might have the same attitude: burn it all down. Jimi proceeded to take it to the bottom and found himself addicted to heroin, shooting up to numb out the underlying emotional pain.

The call to create continued to simmer even beneath the outward destruction of his life. He happened to see a commercial for the Art Institute and decided he might like to become a designer. This evolved from making graphics and ads to designing tools and processes to simplify the human experience. Jimi found he had a unique ability to combine the creative with the logistical – how things work. He spent countless hours interviewing people, facilitating workshops, and trying to understand the psychology behind what makes people tick. What he discovered was that feelings are what guide most decisions. Jimi happens to be an INFP – the natural empath – they feel other people’s emotions in a tangible way. They easily absorb them as well if they haven’t been taught to set healthy boundaries or if they don’t realize what is actually happening. This readily explains why he spent so much of his early life avoiding and self-medicating all the feelings that were such a constant presence. Overwhelming. The addictions and isolation were the moments of temporary relief. Coping mechanisms that became maladaptive behaviors over time.

Eventually things catch up. Eventually things go sideways. Eventually it falls apart. There is only so long and so much one person can contain before they can’t handle it anymore. The death drive once again came knocking. In an attempt to end his own life, he injected almost 20 times the normal dose of narcotics. The attempt would leave Jimi convulsing on his garage floor near death seeing it all happen. Everything. Up close and personal he saw the struggle pushing and pulling him from this physical existence into the spiritual realm. The pull back to his physical body won out and he woke up in the hospital with a full memory of everything that transpired even though to the medical team he wasn’t awake or aware.

Near-death experiences can be life changing. Well this got Jimi’s attention. He was determined to let go of the compulsion for financial success – an addiction really – and find what purpose he is still alive for. To find where he would find emotional meaning, his passion. He now knew two things he actually needed other people and he wanted to create.
Paint reveals on the surface what is happening inside. Creating art is now what keeps Jimi sane in the craziness of our culture. He learned that he no longer has to keep feelings bottled up as his personal perception shifts to make room for his expression. Painting has become as necessary to him as air, food and water. It’s his constant reminder to stay in the present and go with the flow. It allows him to give expression to the things he doesn’t have words for, and has taught him to stop hiding who he is, who “Jimi” is at his core, and to step beyond the fear of rejection. There are layers above and below; there is always something more than meets the eye. Jimi paints so that the eye can see what the inner eye knows. Each piece tells a story, provides release, and allows him to process emotions.

Just as you might not know it just by looking at Jimi, nothing exists as it appears. You wouldn’t begin to fathom how he actually got to where he is today, through the darkness and destruction to creativity and connection. So, with his art. The flow of paint is informed by feelings and experiences, intentions, and the will of the Universe. Using colors and motion…” What gives him the most inspiration is observing how people react to his art. Most will see various objects, people or animals in his work. Jimi likes people to interpret his art in their own way because, at an emotional level, everyone sees different things that come through that connect to them as an individual. In the end Jimi’s art is redemptive. His own ongoing reclamation of himself, but also a redemptive payment towards facilitating the experience of others. Jimi’s work offers a space that allows the art to speak to the soul. Emotionally. A conduit of connection to themselves and their own inner world of meaning and purpose.

"I tried to take out my life in Atacama desert"

I tell my experience in a novel, that I wrote. The name is “Conatus e as conotações do deserto que há em mim”. I’m a Brazilian man, 53 yo.

"Don’t feel guilty about your struggle. Embrace it. Let it make you stronger."

There is freedom waiting for you,

On the breezes of the sky,

And you ask ”What if I fall?”

Oh but my darling, what if you fly?

– Erin Hanson

The way I view life now, at 31, vastly differs from the way I viewed life at 10, 16, 21… and I think that’s the beauty in this crazy world. As children, we don’t know what life is about. We aren’t born with an innate understanding of our existence. We don’t hold all the answers about our future. Most of us don’t even have the answers as adults. We learn as we go. With life lessons at every turn, we can stumble along the way. Some of us are pushed harder than we think we can handle. We all have our personal threshold. It’s getting past that threshold and finding the power to persevere that allows us to see the strength within ourselves. This isn’t a story of depression or loss. It is my story of struggle and celebration. I am one of many girls who has conquered her demons and views life as something to be cherished. HOPE IS ALIVE.

I grew up in the Midwest, in a nice community, with minimal crime and plenty of opportunity. I had decent clothes. I participated in sports and music clubs. My dad read to my classrooms and my mom was a room parent. My little sister is a naturally gifted student. We had a seemingly great life. Like all households, we also had our fair share of secrets. To the outside world we probably seemed like a happy little family. Sometimes this was true. Often times, not.

Life was extremely hard in our house. It was a constant roller coaster. My once funny, energetic dad grew tired and drained over the years. My mother teetered between a supportive, soccer mom and a pill-popping zombie. From one day to the next, I never knew if my parents were going to be amazing, fun-loving parents or drunk, drugged, resentful, and angry. It became easier to assume the worse and in an effort to avoid the chaos, my sister frequently locked herself in her room and I took the opportunity to be out of the house as much as possible.

Outside the house, I tried hard to fit in and be accepted. I wanted to be happy but the pressure I put on myself to be anything than who I was, put me in a constant battle with myself. As a little kid I let myself get pushed around in an effort to go along with the in-group. Going through those awkward preteen years, I was mousy, brace-faced, and had the WORST haircuts. I put on a happy little face and jumped into conversations and hung out with everyone I could but I never really “fit”… or at least I never felt like I did. As an adult, I am learning that so many kids feel this way. Often times, the most talented, creative, special kids are the ones who don’t fit the mold.

The first time I remember thinking about hurting myself, I wasn’t much older than my own children. I was so dramatic at that age. The scary thing is that while I was young, what seemed like childish tantrums, turned into something darker. I became someone who used self-harming as an escape. As I got older, I beat myself up more and more about how worthless I was. The problems at home grew worse, and as high school went on and teenagers develop as they do, trying to find their place among friends within social circles, I felt even more alone. I hung out with more people than ever, but I never had one group. And while I wasn’t a “loner”, I was a floater. What I am coming to realize is there are SO MANY of us out there. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, next time you are out, take a look at a group of kids. See that girl or boy that seems happy but is standing just a few feet back, out of the circle, and looking around or uncomfortably smiling…. you found her/him. We’re EVERYWHERE blending in like happy little teenagers, when in reality our head is screaming. I don’t know why. I still don’t have that answer.

So what changed? One of my attempts, became bolder than usual and there was no turning back. For a buildup of reasons and problems throughout the years that I never really faced or got help with, combined with an isolated incident of teenage heartbreak, my beautiful disaster of a brain became so overwhelmed. I was DONE. First, I sat on a railroad track, I felt guilty for the train engineer that would have to live with the repercussions of my choice, so I bought a couple bottles of OTC drugs and started swallowing. When I started to feel sick, I would wait a few minutes, swallow back down the sickness, and keep at it. It took me over an hour to take that many pills. Of course, I didn’t research any of this or know what would happen, so when all I felt was a little nauseous, I assumed my attempt had failed. I drove around aimlessly, upset, crying, and feeling even guiltier. I felt worse about myself. The rest is a jumbled mess of confusion. I told a friend what had happened, and that it hadn’t worked. What I didn’t realize was that during those past hours, my liver was getting pushed to the limit. I started sweating, my heart was pounding, I was dizzy, and it all kind of became a whirl-wind. I drove around, to a friend’s house (where my dad tried to get me help and I kept refusing), and then home, dangerously confused and dizzy. This is when I realized that I probably was dying. I didn’t want help. I just wanted to be left alone. My friend had followed me to my house, pulled me out of my car as I was passing out and sick, put me in her back seat, and brought me to the ER. They did everything they could to prevent liver damage and told us that we’d have to wait it out. A week later, after psych evals and blood tests galore, it was determined that my liver had started to regenerate and I was lucky. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt even worse because now I was a freak show. My closet-kept depression became fully public. I felt judged and miserable. Something needed to change.

The years between that horrible week in 2002 and now have brought so many changes. I joined the Army that year and I became a suicide prevention advocate. I started a little self-help group in Basic Training and AIT to help people talk through depression. The more I let others share their stories with me, the less guilty I felt about my own. Helping others started to help me feel like it could be possible to find happiness. I still battled feelings of worthlessness and emptiness here and there which I filled with bad choices and parties but in 2004, I was met with the challenge of becoming a mother. A single mother was not a title I ever saw myself claiming, but I knew God had put this together for me and when I saw my son’ face, I knew my purpose. Now it is 2015, and I am a wife to an amazing man and a mother to three beautiful children. I find happiness in helping others and helping teenagers find their place in the world. I decided to go back to school to base a career around this outlook. I am choosing to love life. I am learning to use the pain and turn it into something beautiful.

Do I still struggle? Absolutely. Is it worth it? No question. I wish someone would have told me when I was younger that even though life would be a series of struggles, the darkness would eventually lead to a better understanding of the light within myself.  Don’t feel guilty about your struggle. Embrace it. Own it. Let it make you stronger. Know that hope is alive and you are so worth the fight.

-Ashley
Photo Credits: Brett Brooner

"My life in a nutshell"

I started out as well a typical kid

  1.  7th birthday afterwards I was walking my good friend and brother home, he got shot and killed in a drive-by
  2. Transgender male to female unaccepted by her parents killed herself in front of me
  3. Lost the woman that raised me, my grandma
  4. Tried to kill myself at 15 using a .22 Ruger Bearcat revolver
  5. Years of prescription meds that made it worse than it was
  6. Started living on the streets day by day never knowing if tomorrow would come
  7. After 6 long years of that I fell in love with a man I never would have in my wildest dreams thought I would find

I still have spouts of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. But at least now it’s manageable

"My best friend"

Recently my best friend killed herself, and for a while I just felt so, broken. Like I’d never be whole again. That was until I started getting help, my psychiatrist told me that it wasn’t my fault and that It’ll get better, and it did. And I’m grateful

"My Story"

This is a very long and very personal post. I’m nervous about sharing the intimate details of this story with strangers and people I don’t know well. The only person I don’t want to see this is my daughter. It would be too upsetting to her. But maybe it will give someone hope.

I got a tv for my birthday from my sister and my girls. It’s a very nice gift but it really represents a big milestone for me because I haven’t had a tv since 2016.

And here’s why…

Five years ago Satan tried to destroy me. Literally. I had a great corporate job that I loved, a nice car and a little house I loved. Life was great. Until it wasn’t. I started to fall into a depression that started to interfere with my job. Ultimately I was fired. Things got worse after that. I became reclusive and broke up with my boyfriend because of it which left him hurt and confused.

Soon after that came a surprise family intervention encouraging me to seek inpatient treatment. My sister cried and pleaded with me. My dad said with tears in his eyes he wanted his daughter back. At that time I refused.  Things got worse when I lost my house and Chloe went out of state for college. Olivia and I moved back in with my parents and I was unable to find work and eventually became paralyzed emotionally.

I couldn’t get out of the bed. I didn’t shower. I didn’t brush my teeth. I stopped parenting my daughter. I withdrew from everyone. I couldn’t be around other people. I refused to speak at times. My sister and mother would get so upset about this. I hid in my room all day sleeping. The only interaction I had with others was thru social media. I didn’t return phone calls from concerned friends. I refused to go anywhere unless it was required of me.

I went to the hospital at some point for treatment. I was there for 11 days. My dr thought I was getting better so he sent me home. I wasn’t.  I stopped eating. I couldn’t bear to eat anymore. Food didn’t even taste good. I ended up going back to the hospital at my family’s urging. I’d lost 35 lbs at this point. This time I got ten rounds of electro shock therapy in addition to all my meds. I wanted it to transform me. My whole personality had changed. But it did nothing for me.

I went home again. I had been suicidal for awhile and it was getting worse. Every moment of every day I was consumed with death. I’d tried everything else and I couldn’t bear to live anymore. I felt nothing. I stopped wearing my seatbelt as I’d hope to die in a car accident. I gave away a majority of my possessions including my furniture, clothes, material possessions and even sentimental items to charity. I wouldn’t need them. Didn’t care about them. I never thought my family would be better off without me and I had plenty of people who cared. It was never about that for me. I knew my family would be devastated but I figured in time they’d get over it. I became consumed with researching the best way to end my life. I was making a plan.

There’s a lot of info out there on this subject. In fact there’s a website that lists all of the methods and ranks them in order of effectiveness and amount of pain and suffering. Once I gathered all the info I needed I was ready.  I had all of the tools I needed and set my alarm clock. I was planning to do it in a place where I wouldn’t be discovered by a family member. I guess I wanted to minimize the impact. The only last words I had for my family would be “I’m sorry. I had to do it.”

That night in the middle of the night Olivia came into my room and hugged me and said something very unexpected to me that made me realize that SHE wouldn’t be able to recover if I followed thru with my plan. I decided reluctantly to wait another day. Once again I went to the hospital. Got more shock therapy and different meds. Went home feeling a little better. Maybe a little less suicidal. I still stayed in the bed. Was unable to work or just live a productive life in general. I didn’t talk to people. My family would accuse me of acting “weird”.

My family and myself started to believe after a few years that I’d never return to the person I was before. This was the new me. And the new me started working again. A part time retail job. Easy. No stress. Minimal responsibility.  I was forced to interact with customers but I didn’t talk much to coworkers. Didn’t talk about my personal life. But something changed in 2020. It took four long years but I finally reached a full recovery. I started listening to music and watching tv (on my phone) for the first time in four years. A few months ago I started wearing makeup and fixing my hair. This was after four years of merely existing.

I recently decided I’d like to have a tv again. And I never thought that day would come again. I’ve battled depression for my whole adult life and I hope it never gets this bad again but I’m finally happy now and I’m glad my story didn’t end that night.

"Story of Loss When things Fall Apart"

STORY of LOSS
When things fall apart.
It was Saturday July 2, 2016 it was supposed to be a normal drive to pick my son Nicholas from the airport for his summer stay with me in New York, but this was different. My son was in crises and I had plans in place to help. A session with my therapist, meeting some sober folks from the rooms of AA, a mind, body, spirit escape to Letchworth State Park and a beautiful Catskill wedding in a few weeks were meant to be a fresh air mind reset, mental health retreat if you will. He had been struggling with becoming a teenage Dad, juggling a football career and being a senior in High School. I had been sending him to a therapist a few times he said to me Nicholas was “making bad life choices”. Unfortunately, Nicholas never got on the flight that day.

No one completely understood that there was a storm brewing of paramount magnitude. It was an uncomfortable, stressful and heart wrenching the feeling of not being able to reach my son as he was in such despair. I felt as if Nicholas was drowning in complex emotions and situations and I was cemented to the land not able to help. I engaged South Carolina Dept. of Children Protective Services (CPS), certainly they would be proactive in getting my son help. Especially since he didn’t make that flight. I told the CPS worker that he was 17 he was going through many intense life issues on many fronts and I didn’t want him to “fall through the cracks.” The CPS worker did a brief 2 ½ week investigation and came up as “unfounded” and said chances are Nicholas was turning 18 soon and most likely was going to “Fall Through the Cracks”.

Nicholas was this larger then life kid he was 6’4 215 pound with a size 14 shoe, dubbed “Lil Gronk”. Nicholas was a beast of a tight-end for the Fort Dorchester Patriots #85. Nicholas was built to play football he had the passion and preservence for the game. The team went undefeated (15-0) were State Champs of SC and ranked 7th in the nation his junior year. He spent many off seasons training at Clemson Football Camp and had aspirations of attending Clemson after graduation Nicholas was a popular kid not just from being a star athlete but had an amazing light of friends both on and off the gridiron he had a heartfelt compassion and kinship for life. Nicholas had genuine purity and quality about himself, with the sort of wisdom of a beautiful old soul. Nicholas sense of humor could lite up even the darkest of days. This was all spinning, colliding together all the while he was becoming a teenage Dad. Yet, inside Nicholas he was struggling with staying grounded as wanting to be a Dad and wanting to be a raging teen in his senior year.

That storm was fast approaching like no other, it was beneath the surface. Nicholas was starting to numb himself with alcohol and xanax from the pressures of adulting. He was going through tremendous stress and anxiety dealing with heavy life choices. I believe Nicholas also had misdiagnosed TBI from a skateboarding concussion suffered a year or so earlier, not to mention all his football years playing BOTH sides of the ball. Nicholas was also having issues with possible fatty liver syndrome, no one would ever guess he was a Chefs kid, but the connection to the mind gut put him at further risk. Not to mention having many unhealthy life dramas surrounding him. Nicholas started to not enjoy things he once did, he was becoming further detached, feeling as a burden, feeling alone, isolating and taking riskier behaviors.

On August 26th 2016 I called 911 around 1 am in a desperate plea to the North Charleston Police Dept, please help my son I’m worried about him self harming himself. I’ve had many conversations with Nicholas over the years about sex, drugs and rock n roll but never spoke about the demons that plagues us in our heads about self worth and suicide. The Police Officer essentially scolded me on what it means to be a “good father” and never pursued looking for my son that night. Nicholas needed a 72 hour physic evaluation to get safe and work through this moment….It never happened.

On August 28th 2016 that prefect storm was about to happen. In a moment when he was trying to get off xanax, a series of life events happened. Nicholas was already feeling depressed, feeling of burdened, full of guilt, shame, not being worthy life and somehow life would be better without him, his own mind was twisted against himself. In an emotionally charged impulsive moment my son went into his garage and took his own life. He hung himself, he had struggled to get out but he couldn’t and all the lines of help failed him. I know in my heart that night was just a horrible accident, the effects of the xanax with the withdrawals and he took something to far and it can never be undone nor ever walked back. Nicholas’ future was so bright it was just a rough hard time he was going through he never meant to leave this world and his children everything just became completely unwound in that moment and became something he couldn’t walk back. My son’s life and mine are now a cautionary tale.

What happens when things just fall apart and the person you once where no longer exists? When you get throat punched by the universe? When all of your happy day dreams seem so tiny and your nightmares seem so huge? On that one the day horrific day the worst “what if” already has happened. You just keep driving around in the circles of your mind of all the should’ve hv u, could’ve, would’ve and what ifs. It becomes a complete mind fuck and a scar you will always carry.
Over time it ini him doesn’t get better, it just gets different. As a Dad I don’t know what else to do. So I just try to be strong even though I feel weak and completely shattered, I learn to move forward with baby steps one breath at a time. I know I must carry on even though I get lost. There are things in life you never will get over; you’ll just learn to get through and to carry on. There will some-days it rains, some-days it pours but even those storms there is movement and there and again a few rainbows it that is his love. So as I say Goodbye to my son in one form I embrace his LOVE in another form. Nicholas’ light will continue to shine long after his passing beyond the veil.  I will continue to honor my son by telling his story in hopes others can realize that you are not alone and if I stay silent so does the stigma. #85ForLife

"Mental War Veteran"

I always had extremes of emotions as a child. What I felt, I felt with my entire being, deep in my gut, chest, mind. I was a strong-willed, stubborn, fearless girl with an acute sense of  justice that I advocated for with the same passion I had for stories and art. I could feel what others were feeling; if they were hurting, I hurt too. So I did whatever I could to ease their pain or make things right. When I was seven, a classmate told me that her mother had hit her over the weekend and I took her by the hand and strode into the staff room and demanded a word with our teacher. When I was eight or nine, two girls who used to bully me had a falling out and one of them mobilised the rest of the class against the other, chasing her around the school yard and throwing pebbles at her from the climbing frame. I sat with her as she cried behind the school building, with my arm around her shoulders and told her things would be alright. By lunchtime the two girls had made up again, and I was the one being pelted with pebbles. I don’t remember minding it all that much.

I had many friends growing up, more than I wanted. I remember feeling hounded when other kids came knocking on my door or called the house phone, or insisted we ask my parents at the end of the school day if we could arrange to play after school. And it wasn’t just because it takes a lot out of me to connect with people, because I always give a person my all while I’m with them and take on all of their emotions on top of my own, which can be exhausting. It was because most of the time I preferred to be alone, because my inner life was usually richer than the outside world, especially when I felt forced to engage with my peers for too long. I usually found that they weren’t as imaginative as I was, and their minds didn’t seem to run as fast, so to be on the same page, we usually had to focus on physical play, like games and sports, or climbing rocks and trees, or building treehouses, or swimming, all of which I enjoyed, but not as much as my favourite game, which was to make up stories or travel in my mind. That’s literally all I did, whenever I was left alone. Whether I was in my room, or in the backyard of our house, all I did was walk around in a circle and escape into mind.

It never occurred to me that we didn’t show or talk about feelings in my family. I was very emotional growing up, without my parents modelling the behaviour, but I never needed to talk about my feelings, they were just there. Then my grandmother died, and everything changed. I was experiencing emotions and thoughts I’d never encountered before, trying to wrap my eight-year-old mind around the concept of existence and non-existence, whilst subconsciously taking in my parents’ reactions to their own grief, which was to hide and repress. And slowly but steadily, a new emotion started growing inside me — shame — and it felt heavy and sticky, smothering all the others and weighing me down.

By the time I was twelve, my once impenetrable self-esteem bordering on grandiosity was demolished, my tears had dried up, my chest and gut gone into lockdown. The existential thoughts and questions were still prominent in my mind, stirring up all sorts of emotions in me, but shame shot them down before they could reach me and replaced them with anger and self-harm urges. I was diagnosed with depression and sent to a child psychologist, but I didn’t trust him or anyone else with my thoughts and feelings. I started building a wall around myself, so that no-one could get too close. If they managed to get inside, I left. I dissociated.

My teens and early- to mid-twenties were tumultuous, I had recurring depressions with suicidal ideation that sometimes escalated to suicidal behaviour and attempts, interspersed with undiagnosed hypomanic episodes that gave me bursts of passion and creativity that were like echoes of my childhood self’s inner voice unchained and confident, that kept pushing me to stay alive and stay creative, ambitious, stubborn.

The storms in my mind got really bad sometimes, and there were several times when I nearly didn’t make it. But I always got back on track. I always dusted myself off and re-focused on my path. Over the years, before and after I finally got my diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder at the age of twenty-five, I developed several coping strategies and most of them were very unhealthy, some even destructive.

I was twenty-eight when I fully realised all of this on a conscious level and twenty-nine when I started working on changing this. I was thirty when I thought I had it all figured out and thirty-one when I realised I’d been outwitted by my own brain and had simply replaced the obvious outrageously self-destructive strategies with more subtle ones. I was frustrated, to say the least.

In the Doctor Who episode “The Rebel Flesh,” as Miranda Cleaves is radioing for help, she figured the clones (called the Gangers) might be listening in and takes the precaution of giving the mainland a code word for future transmissions, so they’ll know it’s really her and not her Ganger trying to make contact. She says, “I’m typing it, in case they’re listening in.”

Her Ganger, who is indeed listening in to the transmission, comments: “Oof. See how smart I am. That’s why I’m paid the big bucks…” and later on, when she and the other Gangers are trying to change the orders and she is asked about the code word, she instinctively knows what it is, because her brain is an exact replica of her human counterpart. Cleaves thought of the code word, so she can think of the code word. This is what it’s like battling an enemy set on destroying you, when that enemy lives inside your head.

It was a long and arduous process to unlock my emotions after having spent over a decade repressing them and it’s been an even longer process to learn how to have those emotions without shame and to regulate and manage them without resorting to my old, self-destructive strategies. At thirty-five years old I’m still figuring out how to do this half the time, but with the help of my slowly but steadily  growing support network and a couple of years of therapy with a councillor who would call me on my shit, I have all but replaced all of my unhealthy coping strategies with healthy ones.

Things were really bad for a really long time, and I had about five close calls. It genuinely feels like I’ve fought my way through Hell and come out on the other side battered and bruised but ultimately reborn as the person I was meant to be, the person I started out as before the war in my mind started. It’s been almost two years since I thought about killing myself and today I finally got my semi-colon tattoo. 

"I felt like a lost cause, Damaged beyond repair."

Hello, my name is Dillon Tate and I am a musician. I have struggled with my health since I was young; constantly battling depression and exhaustion, which has plagued me with night terrors, self-esteem issues, negative thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Throughout my teenage years I pursued relationships, in hopes that their acceptance would drown out my discomfort in which I felt towards myself. No matter how much time I heard the words “I love you” I rejected them. How can anyone actually love me, when I can’t even love myself? I forgot what happiness felt like. In fact, I believed I was incapable of it; for anything that brought me joy in the past had been taken away, or became unappealing. I was unable to engage myself with anything; the weight of my depression stopped me. I became consumed in despair, bitter and frustrated, and believed that no one understood, and that I was a lost cause, Damaged beyond repair. I first considered suicide at the age of 20 in hopes to put a rest to these thoughts. The people surrounding me made me think twice about it, but instead of accepting their love and support, in my ignorance, I came to the conclusion – They needed to go if I was going to go through with this. I then became reckless, purposely destroying friendships and medicating myself in attempt to numb the pain and escape how alone I felt. But escaping the pain became harder as time went on and my tolerance increased, taking away the last bit of control that I felt I had. I felt sheer panic. I then fell into trouble with the law, which took 4 years of my life. I rejected support groups that were offered. I was convinced they wouldn’t help. I had been put on medication but gave up on it and stopped seeing my doctor out of frustration. When I was 25, I attempted suicide, in hope to end my struggle. Since then, my life has been spared twice, in two fatal car crashes; I miraculously walked away from both with minor injuries.

At the beginning of April 2015 I reached out to Amy, founder of Project Semicolon. Through the semicolon symbol, many relate to the struggle of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide and their will to continue on. The title, “Project Semicolon,” also represents a goal – to believe that this is not the end but a new beginning.

After seeing the amount of support and people longing to continue their story and live a life that would inspire others to continue on as well, I was encouraged and made the decision to continue mine as well. I am now currently under the care of Fraser Health taking steps towards recovery. MY STORY ISN’T OVER YET.

Anxiety

A Story of Redemption

Addiction

It gets eas;er

Bipolar Disorder

What’s it like

Depression

I tried to take out my life in Atacama desert

Suicide

Story of Loss When things Fall Apart

Borderline Personality Disorder

Staying Strong!