Why I’ll Always Be Grateful To Amy Bleuel

You may not know the name Amy Bleuel.

I didn’t either, until this week, although I was very well aware of her work.  Amy was the founder of Project Semicolon, a movement that provides hope for those who struggle with depression, suicide ideation or attempts, self-harm, and addiction.  Its symbol, which rapidly became a sign of hope and unity, is the semicolon …. a visual message that is at once simple and profound.  Your story isn’t over.

As the website explains:

“In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”

I first heard of Project Semicolon last year, when semicolons started popping up everywhere.  It’s hard to explain what it meant to me, this discovery at a time when I was at my lowest of lows, desperate for something – anything –  to make me feel less invisible;  to remind me that I wasn’t alone;  to remind me that yes, I really could put one foot in front of the other for just one more day.

I got my semicolon tattoo last August, three months after I’d begun treatment for bipolar.  Most people were getting them on their wrists at the time, but they were also showing up on ankles, and shoulders, and behind ears … incorporated into quotes and butterflies and sleeves … on feet and calves and backs…  Semicolons, semicolons everywhere.  People were outwardly identifying themselves to other mental health warriors, and the whole thing was beautiful and unifying and filled with hope.  I chose to put mine on that squishy part of the inner side of my wrist, the spot right at the base of where my thumb starts.  It was, and is, my most meaningful tattoo to date, and it is no exaggeration when I say that it reminds me daily (some days I need it more than others) to keep going.

And it all started with the vision of Amy Bleuel.

This past week, Amy died by suicide at the young age of 31, and even though I didn’t personally know her… even though I didn’t even know her name until it happened… the loss left me deeply and profoundly sad.

Her death hit the most tender spot of one of my biggest fears:  that no matter how strong, or how brave, or how involved in advocacy one may be… sometimes the illness just wins.  Sometimes people get tired, and can’t fight anymore.  I’m not going to lie:  That reality terrifies me.  It’s always there, in the back of my mind.  Sometimes it’s more buried than others, but it’s still present, just below the surface.  Amy Bleuel’s death reminded me of that fear in the most heartbreaking of ways.

It also scared me for what it could mean for those in the Project Semicolon community.  Those who’d looked up to Amy, and to her work, as a sign of encouragement and inspiration.

What I realized though was that her death that doesn’t in any way invalidate her message.  In fact, it makes her message even more important now than ever before.  It reminds us that life is precious, and at times so very tenuous.  We’re all human.  We’re all doing the best we can.  And just as Amy taught us: as long as we are here, our story isn’t over.  Even if we have to take it one day at a time, or sometimes, just one moment at a time…

We’re still here.

I’m still here.

You’re still here.

Our story isn’t over.

And though the illness took her physical body, Amy’s story isn’t over either.  She still lives on and gives hope through the tireless work that united us all.  She lives on in the countless semicolons that she inspired.  She lives on because she reminded us to fight.

Because of Amy Bleuel, because of her life and her death, I’ll now fight even harder.

So thank you, Amy… for the strength, for the inspiration, for the so very sorely needed message of hope.  May you find the peace that you weren’t able to find in the physical world, and rest knowing that the rest of us are carrying on … just as you would have wanted.

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