Annie and I were visiting Rome, Georgia recently to celebrate our grandson Richard’s third birthday. One of our favorite places to eat breakfast there is Huddle House. In a town that has impressed us with the hospitality of its residents, Huddle House seems to have some of the most pleasant employees. Even the cook comes out of the back to greet us like returning family.
On our last morning, with Annie’s red van, Ruby, packed, we met our son, Bobby, his wife, Amanda, and Richard at Huddle House for our final meal before we hit the road for the eight hour trip home. None of us remembered being waited on before by the young lady who took our orders that morning.
Candy appeared to be in her twenties and was polite and friendly. She took our requests and soon returned with our food. We weren’t the only customers she was taking care of but she made us feel like we were the most important to her. A good waitress will do that.
One time, when she came by to top off our coffee, I noticed the tattoos on her forearms. Being a writer, I feel, gives me license to be a little nosey at times. “I saw your tattoos,” I began.
She held out her left arm to show a name, “That’s my baby.” She smiled wide.
“I like that one,” I said. “But I was curious about the one on your other arm.”
She held her right arm out so that I could plainly see a punctuation mark. “That’s for Project Semicolon.”
I don’t know exactly what she said next because of noise in the room, but I clearly heard the words, “suicide and depression.” I asked her to come back when she had a few minutes because I wanted to talk to her about Project Semicolon.
Candy did come back and, despite being busy with her job and having to make herself heard by a hard of hearing man in a bustling restaurant, explained a little about herself and the organization. Before I left I told her I would look up Project Semicolon on the internet and do a post on my blog about it.
Candy, here it is.
According to Wikipedia, “Project Semicolon – stylized as Project ; – is an American mental health nonprofit organization that primarily functions as an anti-suicide initiative. Founded in 2013, the movement is aimed to ‘presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury’.
Amy Bleuel founded the organization after struggling with mental illness, including multiple suicide attempts, due to being abused physically and sexually, being raped multiple times, and suffering a miscarriage. By the age of 30 she was alcoholic and had five major suicide attempts.
Ten years after Bleuel’s father committed suicide, she started Project Semicolon, which is, “Dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.”
Their slogan is, “Your story is not over.”
Among the purposes of the semicolon in writing, it is used to add further meaning to a sentence which could stand on its own and be complete. In other words, the writer could end the sentence, but chooses not to. In that way, the semicolon is a metaphor for life.
Bleuel explained to People magazine, “Supporters just chose to get the tattoos on their own. The project was started by asking others to draw a semicolon on their wrist to show support. The semicolon was chosen because in literature a semicolon is used when an author chooses to not end a sentence. You are the author and the sentence is your life. You are choosing to continue.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says more than 44,000 Americans commit suicide each year. Depression is the number one malady in the world today. One in ten people suffer from depression.
One in ten.
People who suffer from the mental illness are burdened by feelings of inadequacy and shame. They blame themselves for feeling bad. When they try to get help from loved ones, they are told that the problem lies within themselves. They are told they just need to shake it off and get on with life.
Many times those who struggle to control depression or suicidal thoughts have been battling for a long time before anyone finds out…before they get desperate enough to seek help. They have tried “shaking it off and getting on with life.” If it worked you wouldn’t hear about it.
Sometimes, because of the stigma, the first indication that someone suffers from depression is when they kill themselves.
In other words, if someone expresses that they need help, give them help, even if it’s just guiding them to where they can get the help they need.
Anyone struggling with “mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury” is encouraged to contact Project Semicolon (www.projectsemicolon.com) for support and encouragement. Volunteers at the organization emphasize that they are not trained psychiatry professionals and recommend contacting emergency hotlines such as 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741, or seeking mental health professionals.
Though Amy Bleuel dedicated her life to helping others, she ultimately lost her own 20 year struggle with mental illness, ending her life on March 24, 2017. She is survived by her husband, David.
A note to Candy: Thank you for introducing me to Project Semicolon. Hopefully your courage and willingness to talk about a subject that many consider taboo will encourage others who suffer to seek the help they need…the help that can save their lives.
(above) I admire Candy’s willingness to discuss her struggle with me. Brave people like her can make a positive change in the world, just like Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, did.
(below) Following are a few videos explaining more about Project Semicolon and depression/suicide awareness.