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When I Decided to Use a Semicolon Instead of a Period for the Narrative of My Life

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At the young age of 5, as I would play and smile with my friends throughout the neighborhood, I was struggling with thoughts deeper than the holes we were digging in our sandboxes. While most of the kids in my kindergarten class were grappling with the question of what “m-e” spells, I was questioning situations I believed had the same answer.

Why do I barely ever see my dad? Why are my parents divorced?

My misunderstanding would lead to continuously crying myself to sleep for the next decade. I was always asked why I was crying or what a young person like me could be so upset about. I answered those questions with an action many people may similarly suggest to someone if they don’t understand depression or anxiety — I shrugged it off. Through my years of elementary and middle school, I didn’t comprehend the difference between myself and my peers, the same way I didn’t understand why a writer would choose a semicolon instead of a period.

When I began high school, I felt as if I was on the same playing field as my classmates, as we entered those halls as freshmen. I soon realized we may be on the same playing field but in entirely different stadiums. Although we were all dealing with physical changes in our body, I noticed many of them didn’t seem to be dealing with the emotional instability I had seen for the past 10 years.

The one area of my life I did see stability in was football. I had played the sport every fall since second grade. Football wasn’t affected by what apartment I lived in, where my dad was living at the time or even my emotional well-being. It was as if my helmet protected my brain from the negative emotional thoughts being introduced to it. While playing football through high school was a great experience, it encouraged me to question and understand the impact of my anxiety. How could I be cheered on and supported by more than 1,000 students every Friday night, yet feel so alone around those same classmates on Monday morning?

Toward the end of my senior year, I was aimed at taking the next big step in my life. My parents may not have shared the same goals for each other but did share a major goal for me, to earn a college degree. I graduated high school in 2010 and accepted the extraordinary offer to play football at Earlham College in Richmond, IN. I believed changing my environment may change my depressive and anxious thoughts, but after my freshman year, I realized this was not the case.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I turned the harmful thoughts in my head into harmful actions toward my body. I began cutting and harming myself as I believed I deserved the pain I dealt with when I was younger. This emotional stress soon led to physical issues. I was at a point in which I was vomiting four times a day, every day. I was confused and frustrated that my body was able to rid itself of the food that purposefully entered only 30 minutes before. Yet, I still had difficulty eliminating the thoughts of worthlessness that had entered my brain without invitation nearly 15 years ago.

At the beginning of my junior year of college, I transferred schools, joined their elementary education program and was determined to turn my struggles into a success story. Through the efforts of several non-profit organizations, I was able to pursue a passion I was just beginning to understand. Just like I did several years ago, I was ready to surround myself with nearly 1,000 high school students. I stood in front of them, with a microphone in my hand, confident I had a purpose for being there. I was on a mission to make sure no one would struggle with the feelings I had throughout high school. Whether my story allowed them to open to others or find encouragement through my words, they all left with words to share with themselves or others: You are not alone.

While completing my degree in Elementary Education, I continued to share my story at schools throughout my community, conferences across the country and even the pages within my notebooks. While writing on my own and reading others’ writings, I began to gain a better understanding of the punctuation question I had at a young age: why use a semicolon when you can just use a period?

The answer to this question parallels the answer to when fighting with the question of wanting to end your own life. There is always more to add to your life story, the same way that there is always more to add to a sentence. A semicolon is an opportunity to provide more meaning or even change the context of the words that have already been written.

A tattoo of the word "silence" and a semicolon
Alex’s tattoo

Once I reached this understanding, I decided to use ink to engrave this symbol within my skin. I was determined to add on to the words already written, and the life I had already been living.

As I sit down and write this, at 24 years old, I have not even had the thought of hurting myself since my hospitalization seven months ago. My semicolon tattoo will continue to be a symbol of encouragement for me when I am having thoughts of using a metaphorical period. My story is not at a stopping point. I am currently earning my master’s degree in Psychology on a full-ride scholarship, working full-time in a career I love and using my words to inspire the world around me. As my story continues, I hope to add chapters to the lives of others; the same way the semicolon added chapters to mine.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Originally published: July 22, 2016
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