Amy Bleuel

Why Amy Bleuel's Death Does Not Invalidate Her Message

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

My heart has been heavy the past few days since the report of mental health advocate Amy Bleuel’s death was released.

For those who don’t know who Amy was, she pioneered a network of peer support via her nonprofit organization, Project Semicolon, founded in 2013. Project Semicolon exploded into social media consciousness in 2015 when pictures of semicolon tattoos inspired by the project took off and started spreading like wildfire. But I was a follower of the Project since 2014, when I came across a photo on Facebook dedicated to Semicolon Day:

Project Semicolon defines itself as being “dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury.” I can’t stress enough how important the project was to me as someone who has a past history of self-harm, who has struggled with depression and anxiety and is a suicide attempt survivor and the mother of a suicide attempt survivor.

Amy made it OK to talk about these things openly and touched so many lives with a small punctuation mark. Many who self-harm tend to hide what they do. The nature of the stigma has prevented many from seeking help or having hope for recovery. Suicide attempts often have similar stigmas attached and many suicide attempt survivors, suicide loss survivors or those considering suicide tend to feel alone even in the mental health community. Amy gave us a place there.

As an advocate for mental health as well as chronic illness, I admired and continue to admire Amy and her message of inclusion and support. Amy was a suicide attempt survivor who struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) herself and whose father died by suicide. A few days ago, it was indeed confirmed Amy died by suicide.

People tend to think mental health advocates have all the answers, but oftentimes we’re really still in the battle with them. We’re navigating the same waters, but don’t necessarily have a lighthouse in sight, a life jacket or even know how to swim in uncharted waters. We just know we’re called to help others.

Sometimes in helping others, our own self-care takes a backseat. Sometimes because it’s easier to focus on the problems of others. Sometimes because we get caught up in what we do and other times because we just don’t see that we have that same safety net we try to be.

When an advocate dies by suicide, people wonder what will happen to those they reached out to. Will they feel abandoned? Will they lose hope and give up? But such a loss does not invalidate the message or their work. It makes it more important.

Rest in peace, Amy Bleuel. Your story is still not over and neither is your legacy.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via Amy Bleuel Facebook page.

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These Semicolons Are More Than Just a Fun Idea for a Tattoo

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Founder of the Semicolon Project, Amy Bleuel, passed away March of 2017 but her message will continue on.

Read the full transcript:

These Semicolons Are More Than Just a Fun Idea for a Tattoo.

The Semicolon Project was founded in 2013 by Amy Bleuel.

In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on.” -Amy Bleuel

“We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”

For many people the semicolon was a sign of hope through mental illness, suicide, self-injury and addiction.

“I got the word warrior because I fight with these thoughts every day, and I survived a suicide attempt. The semicolon is in there because it symbolizes that my story isn’t over. I got it right there on my arm so I can see it clearly every day and remind myself to stay strong.” — Ashley Lake

“This is the tattoo I’m proudest of.” — Kris Lindsey

Amy died March of 2017, but the message of the semicolon continues on.

“It’s humbling to know that a message you started is resonating with people and so many people are choosing to continue their story because of your efforts.” -Amy Bleuel

For anyone struggling right now, please take care of yourself. Please talk to someone.

Text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Call The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.
Donating your social media data to 
OurDataHelps.

 

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The Privilege of Knowing Amy

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She landed the “gig” of a lifetime, an opportunity that would change everything. Months in advance she booked a hotel downtown, the car that would take her there and planned every other detail of her trip… except for her airfare. Just like every other trip, she would wait until the very last minute to book her flight despite the extra high fares she was bound to pay.

My friend, like 20 million Americans, was afraid to fly. It’s a condition called aviophobia, which is a bona fide anxiety disorder.

But, she wasn’t afraid of flying for the reason you may think. It wasn’t the crashing and dying part she was afraid of. It was the lack of control; being trapped 30,000 feet in the air with hundreds of strangers and no way out is what down right terrified her.

No, death she was comfortable with. Since a young age, she’d lived with chronic suicidal ideation. Overwhelmed with a persistent need to take her own life, she’d attempted suicide more times than she could count. She told me it was the only time she felt like the one in control.  

We used to talk or text long into the night about her “need to die” as she put it. She was embarrassed by it. Afraid everyone would find out she didn’t have it all together.

I used every crisis intervention approach I’d learned as a Mental Health First Aid instructor:

Assess for risk of suicide or self-harm. Check.

Listen nonjudgmentally. Check.

Give reassurance and information. Check.

Encourage professional help. Check.

Encourage self-help. Check.

I also used my personal experiences as the founder of NoStigmas. My father having died by suicide when I was 6, I know a thing or two about the ripple effects of losing someone to suicide. I shared my own struggles with anxiety and depression, even going as far as commiserating with her about my own thoughts of suicide and losing the will to live in high school. Peer support at its finest.

During those times, her desire to die was strong. Her guarded smile and self-deprecating humor would turn very dark. Going through it with her for hours on end was exhausting. I couldn’t hang up for fear that she’d kill herself. When I didn’t hear from her, I would worry and reach out to make sure she was OK. I became so desperate to help that I started neglecting my own wellness. I was losing sleep, constantly anxious and afraid I’d say the wrong thing and trigger an attempt.  

After months of this, I had to create some healthy boundaries and manage her expectations of me as an ally. This was really tough to introduce to her and even more difficult to adhere to. That was a year ago.

My friend Amy Bleuel died by suicide last week.  

Amy Bleuel going for a hike

I am devastatingly guilt-ridden at myself and helplessly angry at her all at the same time. I feel like I should have been there. I feel like I could have done more. I feel like I have failed as a friend. I feel like I have no business doing this work. Etiam atque etiam.

Is this what a doctor feels like when they “did everything they could” to save someone’s life and ultimately lose them? I know I did everything in my power to help. But, I still feel like a helpless 6-year-old fatherless child all over again.

I know I’m not alone in these feelings. Over 800,000 people die by suicide each year worldwide. It’s said that each of them leaves behind six people or more who are forever and irreparably affected by their death. Each of us carries a “survivor’s guilt” and all the “what if’s” with us wherever we go.

But another perspective is this: I had the privilege of knowing her in a way few ever have. Amy chose to trust me with her hopes, dreams and crushing realities. She lived through things no human should ever have to experience and used that to help others. For whatever length of time, we got to talk about taboo things and experience raw humanness in a way that frightens most people. And that connection will continue on.  

Let’s all remember those who are gone for the lives they lived, rather than they way they died.

Fly free, my friend; your story isn’t over.

P.S. I took this photo of Amy during a trip to Seattle for a shared speaking event. I’ll always remember her this way.

— — —

If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “NoStigmas” to 741-741.

A special thank you to E.C. and those who have and continue to support me in so many ways. You give me renewed strength and perspective to continue ever forward.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead image provided by the contributor

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What We're Reminded of After Amy Bleuel's Passing

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I write this article with a heavy heart.

I’ve never heard of Amy until this week, in which I read the news of her passing. With confusion, I started to research about her, about her history, and there it hit me: the mental health community had lost an amazing activist. I had heard about Project Semicolon before, and every time I saw someone with the “;” tattoo, and listened to their story, every single one of them were absolutely inspiring. Finding symbolism in something so simple, a semicolon, is just pure poetry.

And she came up with that. She has inspired many, and will still in future years. I, personally, am eternally grateful for that.

But Amy’s life reminds us of something we don’t talk about enough: Even though we may be mental health activists, even though we put our stories out there hoping to inspire other, even though we are comforted by being a part of a community where we share common struggles, we are still battling.

And I can say that many of us, who chose the path of educating and raising awareness, found this passion in our personal struggles. In our own pain. In our constant battle with certain conditions. It’s beautiful, but contradictory at the same time, for one to tell others it’ll get better, when there are days in which we feel like a burden, like nothing will ever be better, like wanting to die. It makes you wonder.

I have no answers, because I’m still processing all of these. But the only thing I can say is that people like Amy, people who write about mental health, people who create awareness, people who help others, are as human as those on the other side of the screen. We, as writers, are no different from the readers. The activists are no different from those they help. We are all part of the same
community, we share common struggles, we share pain and glory, and we are in this together. Some choose to talk about it, some make of their pain a global movement. Amy not only did that, but she inspired a lot of people along the way by recognizing her humanity.

May she finally be in peace, and may we all be reminded that even those who help us, who inspire us, who we admire, are human too. And they struggle, just as us or even more.

I just want to end this article sending immense love to every single member of this and other mental health awareness communities. May we mourn, may we learn, may we keep fighting side by side with love and support from others who share our pain. Our story, just like Amy’s, isn’t over yet.

;

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead image via Project Semicolon

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Why I Got a Semicolon Tattoo

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I grew up in a pretty normal, conservative, middle class household. My parents weren’t super strict. Or super lenient. They were just sort of… average really.

Piercing, body modifications and tattoos just weren’t our cup of tea. I remember my dad thinking it bizarre I wanted to get my ears pierced at 16. I did it anyway. Twice.

Never in my entire life had I ever considered getting a tattoo. In fact mostly I thought tattoos were a silly thing to do – I mean who would do something so permanent to their body? That’s certainly the message I’ve been sending to my children for 20 plus years! Then on my birthday last month, I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to get a tattoo. Not as a decoration — as a statement. Not for you. Not for family or friends. A statement for me. To remind me my story isn’t over yet. And so today I got a tattoo.

I read about the semicolon project sometime ago and was going to get a semicolon to remind myself that despite chronic suicidal ideation last year, I am still here. Then as I read more I found the phrase “My Story Isn’t Over Yet” popping up all the time in relation to the semicolon project and I strongly resonated with that. So I had it tattooed on my wrist. Partly for the statement and the reminder. Partly to stop me wanting to cut.

Then when playing around on Pinterest, I discovered an eating disorder recovery symbol and I wanted that too. So I have the text and semicolon across my wrist with the recovery symbol on the back. All linked up with a squiggly line.

Despite it being very early days (I’ve had a tattoo for five hours so far and it is in fact, still wrapped in cling wrap), I am extremely happy. I feel like I’ve made a statement to myself. If days get dark, it is a visual reminder I’ve been there before and I made it through. I can do it again.

My husband now calls me his “badass inked up babe,” which is so not me. I am not badass and I’m not a babe. I’m usually a big baby. I was asked today if I had it done as a bucket list thing and I immediately said, “No!” Because I didn’t. But it has left me wondering. What is on my bucket list? I need to make one. Because I would like to feel successful in life, I think I’ll start my bucket list with things I’ve already done. So I’m now going to add, “Get a tattoo” to the top of my bucket-list. But I’d also like to fill my list with things I haven’t done yet. So the unfinished story of this badass inked up babe will have some more interesting tidbits to tell.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via contributor.

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If Amy Bleuel's Death Leaves You Feeling More Helpless, Please Remember This

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Amy Bleuel When someone dies by suicide, it’s often accurate to blame stigma. If this person had only been comfortable talking about their suicidal thoughts, we think, perhaps they could have been helped. It’s the basis of every “anti-stigma” campaign, really. To end suffering. To pull people out of shadows. To save lives.

That’s why it’s a complex kind of painful to lose someone in the suicide prevention community to suicide. Someone who wasn’t fully in the shadows. Someone who didn’t let stigma stop them from speaking out about suicidal ideation and previous suicide attempts. Someone who actively spread messages of hope for others who face similar struggles.

It’s really hard to lose Amy.

If you don’t know Amy Bleuel, you probably know her work. She’s the reason the semicolon is more than punctuation for many who deal with both self-harm and suicidal ideation. Her nonprofit, Project Semicolon, brought together people who found hope in her message — that just like a semicolon, you can continue even when “your sentence” seems finished. The organization’s tag is: “Your story isn’t over.”

When sharing this news to the mental health community, my heart broke not only for Amy’s friends and family, but for everyone in the mental health community who saw the semicolon as a symbol of hope. My biggest fear was that those struggling upon hearing this news would feel like those who speak about suicide prevention were bullshitting them. I didn’t want our words of hope to lose meaning. I didn’t want people to lose hope for their own stories.

But all this proves is that suicide prevention is complicated, and we have a lot of research and work to do so more lives can be saved.

Suicide prevention work is done almost exclusively by people who have lost someone to suicide or who have experienced their own suicidality. Often, the calling to suicide prevention comes close on the heels of a near miss with an attempt, or the suicide death of someone we love, and it comes with urgency. In that way, it puts many of us in a precarious position: we so desperately want to save others from suicide that we forget to save ourselves. We dive in with our life raft before we learn to swim. — Dese’Rae L. Stage, suicide prevention activist and founder of Live Though This

I wanted to acknowledge the complexity of Amy’s death. I wanted people who feel hopeless right now to know we understand how much this sucks. We’re not going to pretend it didn’t happen. But we will tell you in no way does this taint the amazing work Amy did. It doesn’t make your semicolon tattoo have less meaning.

Amy fought against her own thoughts of suicide, and in doing so she gave so many people the opportunity to share their pain, their endurance, and their triumphs in a way that simultaneously spurred discussion and battled prejudice. For those of us in the field of suicide prevention, we’re reminded of the need to redouble our efforts, work harder, work more effectively, and to ensure people that hope, help, and healing is happening. —  Chris Maxwell, Advisory Board Member for OurDataHelps.org

I wanted to talk to other suicide prevention activists to get their thoughts on where we go from there. All echoed the same theme: We keep going. We keep spreading hope. We work harder.

Yes, Amy may have died by suicide. That is a risk for anyone who has survived a suicide death or attempt, like she had. It only makes her message more poignant and powerful. People in my field react with even more urgency to better understand suicide, and to innovate ways to save lives. I can understand why so many people in suicide prevention have a heavy heart today. I do, too. I’m going to be mindful, take good care of myself and others… and I’m going to keep my focus. On the day Amy died, another 120 people died from suicide, too. And each day it’s the same. My mission is to change that. A loss makes me fight harder to eliminate the blight of suicide in our communities. Amy’s mission lives on, even after her death, and it lives on in me, and thousands more.” — Dr. April Foreman, Licensed Psychologist and suicide prevention activist

If anyone is struggling right now, please take care of yourself. Please talk to someone about it. Please make use of the resources we do have. You can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can call The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Or, consider donating your social media data for suicide prevention research at OurDataHelps.

I’ll leave you with one last quote from Dese’Rae L. Stage, suicide prevention activist and founder of Live Though This.

I’m guessing Amy didn’t know how deeply she affected so many people. I’m guessing she didn’t think there was a rescue boat for her, but I think it was just a foggy night and she couldn’t see her lighthouse. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Lead image via Project Semicolon’s Facebook page

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