The Meaning Behind My Semicolon Tattoo

Freshman year was the first time I found myself truly struggling with mental illness. I didn’t know at the time, but I was struggling with an anxiety disorder, specifically depression. I knew right when I started battling these illnesses that I wanted a semicolon somewhere on my body permanently.


For my entire life, I was a very timid and shy person. I just passed this off as part of my personality until I had my first anxiety attack. That moment is still so vivid to me. I can picture the exact spot it happened: the corner of a hallway in my high school. I got chills every time I passed that same spot as I was going to my locker or to class. After that happened, I told my mom about it. She insisted on taking me to the doctor and that was when my journey with mental illness truly began.


After many group therapy and individual sessions, and being put on medication, I finally felt like the anxiety had been lifted off my back. I was no longer plagued with the twitches that had been happening every few minutes and I found myself more comfortable in what used to trigger situations. I felt as if the battle was over, but little did I know, it had just started.


Once I had my anxiety disorder under control, my depression revealed itself. It took me much longer to really acknowledge that I had this mental illness and to seek help for it. For months, I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my entire life. I thought it would pass, but it didn’t. Even though the panic attacks had passed, something else replaced them. I never really talked about it, but my depression often showed itself through moments of intense anger, which took a toll on me and my family. After these moments kept happening, we decided to change my medication. When that didn’t help, we changed it again. Going to my normal doctor wasn’t helping, and it seemed to me my depression was just getting worse. We made an appointment with a psychiatrist, hoping it would help.  


Besides the anger, I struggled with intense feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. I felt like my place in this world was not important. It was probably the worst feeling I have ever experienced, especially because it wouldn’t go away.


At my first appointment with my psychiatrist, she prescribed Trintellix, a new drug only three years old. She assured me that she was hopeful that it worked and, in fact, had a very high success rate—especially for a mental illness medication. In only a short amount of time, I felt better than I had for a while. The awful feelings I had been struggling with dissipated. I was finally free.


Now, what does all this have to do with a random form of punctuation? The semicolon is a common symbol for people who have struggled with mental illness. The concept is a sentence is a metaphor for your life, and instead of ending it via suicide (or with a period), you moved forward—you chose a semicolon to keep going.  This was a really powerful idea for me because during the time I struggled most with my mental illness, I had considered suicide.


I’m so glad I’m still here to share my story, and I hope that this has helped some of you feel less alone.


If you or anyone you know struggles with mental illness and suicidal thoughts, please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached at the number 1-800-273-8255.