This piece was originally published on Many Kind Regards. It is being republished here with the permission of the site owner, as well as the author.
Hello December! You have no idea how happy I am to see you!
If I’ve been a little quieter than usual, I do apologize. September and October completely steamrolled me. See, in my little corner of the mental health world, September and October are extraordinarily busy months. September, as you may recall is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. And October is also Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
November, where it usually slows down, caught a second wind when CNN decided to air The Hunting Ground documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. It seems like we have more causes than months these days*. While it keeps my schedule packed, I choose to believe that is ultimately a good thing.
Awareness and passion are beautiful.
Causes Driving Passions
If you are someone with a cause or two close to your heart, you probably have invested substantial time and energy educating yourself on said topic(s). You can probably point people in the direction of some fantastic resources and run down a list of the latest statistics in your sleep. You can speak with conviction when asked why a cause is important and why it is worth your time and effort to support it.
Am I right? Are you with me?
When you’re that deep into your passion and work, you also may have experienced the phenomenon of *gasp* meeting people who have never heard of your cause and/or know very little about it. It may catch you off guard because when you’re surrounded by like-minded and like-passioned individuals so much of the time, it can become difficult to believe that other people are out there who aren’t aware that your cause is important…. (Horrific, I know).
We’re totally guilty of this in mental health too, by the way.
Anyway, that’s where my story picks up. Since one of the places I work is a psychiatric hospital, I’ve come to accept that suicide is an issue I encounter or at least have to be aware of on a daily basis. As such, I remember the excitement and enthusiasm that hummed in the therapy office the day one of my coworkers told the rest of us about this “thing” called The Semicolon Project (article by The Mirror – UK) founded by the non-profit of a similar name, Project Semicolon, Inc.
People were getting tattoos of semicolons as reminders to themselves, and/or others that “[Their] story isn’t over yet.”
Why the semicolon?
Allow me a minute to explain to you the purpose behind one of the most unappreciated and misused punctuations the English language has to offer. See, a semicolon is a punctuation that (when it’s not being misused) can join two independent clauses. An independent clause is essentially a complete thought that could be a sentence on its own. The author chooses a ‘pause’ instead of a stop; the thought continues with an additional independent clause. See what I just did there?
Anyway, my co-therapists and I decided that we would get tattoos of these semicolons to show our passion and support for our patients. While I can’t say I’m really into group tattoos generally, this is one that I could totally get behind. It’s congruent enough with who I am and the work I feel called to do that it was an easy decision. I got my ink on September 30th.
That’s So ‘Basic’
It wasn’t until a few days later when an acquaintance noticed my new addition and quipped,
“Uh a semicolon? That’s so basic.” (Basic, by the way, is now an insult)
“So is worrying about other people’s approval,” I replied flatly. He shook his head and moved on.
Now Just Wait a Second…
It wasn’t until a few days later when I was chatting with my husband that I gave a second thought to the conversation. First off, my better half was not on the up and up of today’s colloquialisms and insults. Second, I was struck for the first time of the irony of the using the word “basic” to describe this particular tattoo. Forget the contemporary application and recall for a moment that basic means fundamental, essential, necessary, inherent or intrinsic.
Now apply that to The Semicolon Project, and my own rationale for participating in this movement:
Do I believe it is fundamental, essential, necessary and inherent to my work that I 100% believe in people sticking around, not giving up hope, getting through their painful moments and not ending their stories too soon?
“We could do worse than to have the world treat each individual life story as a sacred text.”
And if that’s the basic we’re talking about, then you bet your bottom I have a ‘basic’ tattoo. We could do worse than to have the world treat each individual life story as a sacred text. I think the world would look a whole heck of a lot different and better for it.
–Maybe we wouldn’t have so many people thinking that their stories would be better being cut off mid-sentence.
–Maybe we wouldn’t pass judgement of people for liking a particular seasonal hot beverage — because it just happens to be delicious.
–Maybe we could channel some of those passionate opinions towards things that actually matter — like, ya know — people hurting themselves because nothing else is working.
Look, I’m not suggesting that getting a tattoo or not is going to save someone’s life.
Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Maybe as my skin gets old and saggy it will stretch into some sad looking little ‘j’ and people will just be all sorts of confused. Maybe when that happens my father will feel vindicated for telling me that tattoos are a bad idea.
That’s not the point.
The point is that we have enough judgement in this world already. Just stop. We don’t need anymore.
What we do need are more safe spaces and people.
We need more compassion and acceptance for each other, as well as for the fact that the cards life deals us aren’t always pretty. And that people face really hard decisions most of us can’t even begin to imagine every single day. Sometimes those decisions are about staying alive or not.
If you’re acquainted with my writing at all, you should know by now that my goal isn’t to tell you what you should do, but rather to think a little more about things.
You have a voice.
How are you choosing to use it?
What messages are you sending?
One last thing, before anyone gets their panties sandy about my failure to mention some other cause near and dear to their heart that also falls into these months, understand that it is out of convenience and not dismissal that they go unmentioned. *(Read a full list of commemorative months according to the internet)
For more punctuation & grammar deliciousness: Quick and Dirty Tips: How to Use a Semicolon