A few months ago, a dear friend of mine posted on Facebook with a link to something called “The Semicolon Project.” I’d never heard of it before and was curious what it was all about. Have you heard of it?
It turns out, the Semicolon Project is a nonprofit organization that provides support to people and communities suffering with any kind of mental health issues. Specifically, those who may be contemplating suicide.
Why a semicolon?
From their Twitter page and website: “A Semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day and for the last couple of weeks the semicolon project has been on my mind.
Robin Williams’ death reverberated around the globe, didn’t it? His death was shocking and supremely sad. We ask, ‘how could someone so beloved, so funny, so talented, so MUCH be so derailed by debilitating anxiety and depression the likes of which most of us will never know, that he would choose to end his own life?’ But that’s it, isn’t it? His choice wasn’t really a choice like you or I would make. Rather, in his mental state, it seemed to be his only choice. And that’s the most heartbreaking part of it all.
On a personal note, I’ve known two people who have taken their own lives. And frankly, that’s two too many.
The first was a friend and former high school classmate of my husband’s. He hadn’t seen her in years, but one fall day she was traveling through our area. She called and asked if he’d like to get together. He and our then six-year old daughter spent the day at the local mall. She bought our daughter a pink Disney princess purse shaped like a doctor bag with hot pink handles. We all met up for dinner that night at Olive Garden. She talked about how busy work was and how tough it was to be a single mother; something she chose to do because she so wanted to be a mother. She spoke lovingly of her son and compared stories with us about raising little ones. She complimented us about how funny and smart and our daughter was and she and my husband shared some laughs over fun high school memories.
A few weeks later she sent my husband a text message telling him he had a lovely family.
Soon after, she died from a deliberate overdose.
The second person was a classmate and friend of mine. He was larger than life, even when we were all in high school. He had a boisterous, manly laugh that sounded like it came from someone much older than his and our teenage selves. My fondest memory of him is when he played the role of Tevye in our high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” He nailed it. There was literally no one else in the school who could have played that role any better. It was made for him. Off the stage and in the classroom, he was a force to be reckoned with. And oh so incredibly smart. He would debate an issue about, let’s say, the twisting plot lines of Sophocles’ “Antigone”, with such conviction and eloquence. It was incredibly frustrating for the person who was debating against him (me). But I smile when I think about it because my argument was weak and his was exceptionally strong; but he engaged in the debate with me just the same. Very classy.
As happens with classmates, we lost touch after high school. We reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. The last time I saw him was in 2008, at our 20th high school reunion. He looked the same as always. And his wit and sarcasm were as sharp as ever. We shared some good laughs.
He died a little more than a year ago. And like my husband’s friend, he left behind little ones. I wasn’t in his day to day life; however, I witnessed a quiet disbelief online as his Facebook page filled with tributes and memories. Another life lost to the deadly effects of depression.
Like so many others, I was treated for depression for personal issues that were exacerbated after the birth of my daughter in 2004. And although I never contemplated suicide – not even for a moment – there were times when I felt completely lost. But I never crossed that line, you know? I never crossed that arbitrary line in the sand where your mental state goes from unbalanced, unhealthy, unhappy, unstable to unable to live any longer. It is unfathomable to me. But I am not naive enough to think that it’s not the reality of many other people who arrive there and are seemingly unable to turn back.
I was going through some old pictures from high school recently and I came across some pictures of my friend dressed in his role from Fiddler. There is one shot in particular that seems to capture his essence. A huge smile. Gleaming brown eyes. Curly brown hair. He is missed.
Rummaging through our toy box recently I came across that pink Disney purse. After numerous purges and trips to Goodwill, this purse is still around. My girls love it. And it reminds my husband and I of a dear friend. She is missed.
I don’t know what I can do. I don’t know how to help. I’m not a licensed mental health professional. I’m not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone with any kind of mental issue. But I do think talking and writing about it helps in some way. The more people talk about mental illness, perhaps the stigma against having a mental illness or the seeking out of treatment and help will be lessened.
I really hope so.