Monday, July 20, 2015

Tattoos-Mental Fitness

As a high school English teacher, I have interacted with hundreds of teenage students over the years. One common question that comes up quite a bit is, "Do you have any tattoos?" (Many of my students have tattoos themselves.) The quick answer to this is, "No." Do I have anything against tattoos or people with tattoos? Nope. I don't care much about other people's skin. The simple fact of the matter is that I have never found anything that I wanted on my skin for my whole life (no, not even my kids' names etc.) so, since that is the nature of a tattoo, I never got one.
Recently, that changed. I was scrolling down my facebook feed when I came across a story about semicolon tattoos. The headline was something about, "Do you know what they really mean?" Being an English teacher...and a curious person who clicks on facebook links...I clicked and read and understood and wanted one.
It is all summed up with this line from the Project Semicolon website: "A semicolon is used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life"
If you know me personally, you know that I don't have the prettiest past. I have come a long way from where I once was and I am pretty open to talking about it, well...most of it. Most of you have heard my stories of having a mom addicted to drugs and alcohol; the impact that it had on me and my life and the wonderful people who rescued me from it (some of the most amazing people I know). But what most people don't know, what I really don't talk about, are the really hard times I suffered mentally-silently.
Depression is never an easy thing to talk about. Suicide is even more difficult discuss. Too many people simply suffer in silence and it is some of the most painful silence a person can ever live with. I am...trying to put into words...something I have avoided talking about for about 20 years...all because of the semicolon...
I spent a good portion of my young life depressed which I think will surprise a lot of people because of the person I am today and the outlook I have on life. I wasn't always this way. I'd like to think I hid my depression well but the only people who could tell me that are the people who were around me during those times. Looking back, I know it started in middle school-I remember a good friend that I had at Discovery Middle School in Vancouver, Washington. She was the first person I could talk to about the darkness I felt growing ever larger inside me. She had similar feelings and together we did some stupid things to get our adrenaline going and make us feel at least a bit better, even if it was only for a moment. Eventually, we moved and I never saw her again.
I spent a good chunk of the next part of my life writing about my feelings to release them without letting anyone know. My mind was quite the dark lonely place and constant moving only made things worse. I idolized suicide and wondered what it would be like to just be done with life, be done with feeling terrible, be done with living in scary places where people broke in, be done with sadness...just done. I wrote things like, "My life is a train that's on the wrong track; it won't turn around it just won't go back. Things just get darker and darker until...crash." My mom found that written in a notebook and questioned me about it. I lied and said I didn't feel that way but I was SCARED. What if she didn't believe me? What if she really knew what I was thinking? She did believe me, and I made sure that anything I wrote was well hidden after that. Even today, I wonder why it was so hard to talk about what I was feeling and experiencing. I think I worried about rejection-if people really knew how screwed up I was inside, would they want to be around me? I still have journals going up all the way through college of the constant battle I waged against my depression. Some journals list the kinds and amounts of pills that I had in my possession-my journals of the mental battle I was locked into within my own mind: live or die. I am thankful that the live side won but it never felt good; it felt hopeless. I think I keep those journals and glance at them every now and then to remind myself how far I have come and also to remind myself that there are other people out there silently struggling as well. Maybe a semicolon tattoo is just what I need to let those journals go because I chose to continue my life's story rather than to end it.
Matt was a very bright light in a very dark place in my life. I was able to talk to him about some of the stuff that I was going through, but part of the power of depression is the fear of putting too much of the burden of it on someone else. Like if I shared too much, it would be too much for him and I would lose him. Back when I was struggling, I thought that much of how I felt would go away if I just got out of the situation I was in. But even when my life changed my junior year in high school, I still felt that darkness. It stayed with me through my junior year in college. I couldn't just change the setting of my life and get myself to snap out of it.
Sometimes I wonder what kept me from taking my own life? Did I have just enough hope to get through? Was I too scared to disappoint the people who cared about me? I really don't know and that's okay. What matters is that semicolon. So when did things change? Marrying Matt and When I became pregnant with Cohan. Both things happened pretty close together ;) Some day I will tell Cohan just how much of a blessing he really is. He was the light that chased away the rest of the darkness and it has stayed away ever since. I created the little family I dreamed of-it wasn't some dream in the future; it was reality.
At this point in my life, those 10ish years seem like a little blip in the story of my life. The happiness that I now have and experience on a daily basis feels so much more powerful than any of that darkness but I never knew that back then. If I could have one wish, I think it would be for people to be able to see the happiness that awaits them if they can just hold on a little bit longer...well, that and a semicolon tattoo.

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