I have always hated tattoos. I have a fear of needles that is ironic for a person who has spent more than half of her life being poked. When I was married, I forced my sister to cover her tattoos with a bracelet and bridesmaids dress, because “I hated tattoos” (bridezilla much??). So what, you may wonder am I doing with a butterfly semicolon tattoo on the inside of my left wrist? Why would someone who never, ever, ever, EVER wanted a tattoo spend perfectly good money on something like that?
Because I got sick. Again. At 7, I had a still-undiagnosed bout of fainting spells that had me in and out of specialists offices, therapists, and even the hair salon, without ever finding out what caused them. At 13, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s – it wasn’t very well understood at the time, and the doctor couldn’t even tell me how I had “contracted” it. I spent what felt like months, and months, and months of my life sick and undergoing tests. At 16, I had another long bout of illness that remained unexplained. My thyroid seemed fine, but I as simply sick. There was talk that maybe it was chronic fatigue syndrome, or maybe I was just a lazy teenager who didn’t want to go to school. I stayed home and worked with a tutor, falling asleep over my textbooks and struggling to pass. At 21, I was depressed, and told that talk therapy would help. At 25, I suffered undiagnosed postpartum depression. At 27, my thyroid plummeted through my second pregnancy. At 29, I was miserable because my beloved grandfather was dying, and began over exercising and underrating in an effort to control my body – the one thing I could control. I was seeing specialists because food literally caused me pain. My gallbladder was removed. I had a colonoscopy. I was diagnosed with IBS with severe food in tolerances. At 32, my body gave up on me. I was in pain, I was depressed, I couldn’t get out of bed. My thyroid levels swooped and plummeted. I thought I would die. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t care for my babies. I began to wonder if they wouldn’t be better off if I just went away. I felt terribly lonely. I felt sick. I felt irritable. I felt angry. I felt scared. I spent so much time in the bath that I think the kids thought that I may have been part fish. My family rescued my kids and took care of them while I went to appointments, blood tests, slept, cried.
During this last event, I remember clearly, sitting in my bathtub, looking at my wrists and thinking that if I could ever make it out of this alive, this would have been the hardest thing I had ever done, and I would need to permanently remind myself that I had done it before and could do it again. I knew it needed to be the one thing I swore I would never have, because given my history, there was a very good chance that eventually, I would find myself back to the point where getting dressed was a struggle and I needed my reminder to be in my skin, as much as my freckles and my moles are in my skin. I decided that I would need a tattoo.
When I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and began my regimen of cymbalta, I felt so happy, so healthy, so well, so elated. It was the most amazing I could remember feeling for more than half of my life. I told my sister (the one whom I had forced to cover up her tattoos… Because mea culpa, and she knew good tattoos) that I needed a tattoo, and she was surprised. She asked me to really think about it. To make sure it was what I wanted. She knows me too well to think that I would never regret doing something I had always dug my heels in about. When it was clear that I really, really wanted a tattoo, she found me an amazing tattoo artist. I had my husband draw a butterfly on my wrist. Renewal, rebirth, and not coincidentally, the universal symbol for Thyroid Disease. I wanted a butterfly.
Then, while I was still working to decide how big I wanted my butterfly, if I wanted it in color, etc., and was thoroughly enjoying my newfound health and mental wellbeing, Amy Bleuel’s Semicolon Project went viral on my social media. I am not one to do things because everyone else is, I wear leggings covered in the face of Benedict Cumberbatch; I stopped wearing my yellow fisher man’s rain slicker when they came into popularity; I fumed when friends would go out and buy a piece of clothing that I owned. Being weird and unique is a big part of my personal identity, so it was not the trend of the Semicolon Project that spoke to me, it was Amy Bleuel’s reason for creating it in the first place. It showed that a person could go through something terrible and make it a pause in her life, rather than a period, and the end of her life. A reminder that things can get better. Pause. Breathe. Keep going.
Now my butterfly needed a semicolon. I asked my husband to design it. I brought it to the artist, who put her own elegant touch on it, and my sister and dear friend took me for my tattoo. They both were tattooed first, in solidarity. I will always, always, always love them for that.
I am writing this today because Amy Bleuel came to the end of her sentence. At 31 years old, a woman who inspired so many of us that suffer mental illness, could no longer see that things would get better. She left the Earth on March 23, by suicide. It is with tears for a woman that I never knew that I share my Semicolon Story. And hopefully, by sharing our stories, Amy Bleuel’s legacy will continue, and our stories will continue; after the pause.