As a part of the Project Semicolon’s goal to help raise awareness of mental health concerns, people draw or tattoo semicolons on their bodies as a reminder to themselves (and a sign to others) that their story isn’t yet over.
Keep reading to find more about Project Semicolon and its founder, Amy Bleuel. A life story of struggles and resilience.
Who was Amy Bleuel
Amy Bleuel was a mental health advocate and the founder of Project Semicolon, which is defined as “dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, self-destruction, addiction and self-harm”, and “exists to encourage, love and inspire“.
While Bleuel was not a household name, her 2013 campaign had a worldwide engagement and resulted in “real awareness” for those affected by mental illness, and the resulting stigma of mental health challenges.
“Amy’s life was a testament that one person can truly make a difference,” said a statement from the American Foundation for self-destruction Prevention.
Amy Bleuel in her own words
In an interview for Love Wisconsin, Amy talked about the struggles she had to face while growing up.
Find an excerpt from the confession below.
“I was born in Wausau and grew up in Antigo.
Antigo was a hard place for me to grow up. Sometimes I hated it. My best memories from my childhood were of my father.
I always felt really connected to him and we were alike in so many ways.
My father was really compassionate. He had empathy. He was caring. He felt strongly, but he was also depressed.
My guess is that he struggled for a long time with mental illness and that he felt the pain of others while feeling the pain of his own.
My parents divorced when I was very young, at the age of six. I had to make the hard choice of which parent to go with.
Even though there was a new step-mom that I didn’t know very well, I knew I wanted to be with my dad.
So I moved to Arizona to be with him. But this new step-mom, when I got there, she was extremely abusive, both physically and verbally, and she was very controlling of my dad.
She would hit me, lock me up. Finally one day, I hit her back. She called the police.
The police took me away to juvenile detention. This was my first time in the system; I went into a shelter home.
My mom was notified, and she came from Wisconsin to Arizona to pick me up. When we went to a court hearing, they asked if I wanted to go live with my mom or go into foster care.
I still wanted to stay with my dad, but they said that wasn’t an option. So I went back to Antigo with my mom.
Things in Antigo didn’t go well for me. As a teenager, I was forced to be intimate and it wasn’t investigated. I had become this enraged kid.
I was in LD classes and I was just a rebel, honestly. There was so much trouble at school they decided to put me into a treatment facility called the Eau Claire Academy.
I was very abusive towards myself, self-harming, suicidal. Eventually, they transferred me to Southern Oaks, a juvenile correctional facility in Racine for girls. I stayed there until I was 18.
While I was there, I was very self-destructive. I got into altercations, which led to another charge.
Things were feeling pretty hopeless, but here’s where a small miracle happened: I got out when I was 18, and actually was able to get my HSED and graduate on time with my original high school class.
That gave me a bit of confidence, and best of all I thought: now that I’m out, I’m finally going to get to see my dad again.”
“My last conversation with my dad was on the phone when I was about 16. He told me he loved me. I told him that when I turned 18, I’m coming to see him, that his wife couldn’t stop me, and that’s where we left it.
We hung up. He sent me a letter. He sent me a picture. And on September 9th of 2003, after my 18th birthday, his struggle with mental health caught up with him, and he took his life. I never made it back to see him.
After he died, I really just wanted to be with him. I felt I failed. I felt maybe if I kept my promise and I was good and got out of the system earlier, he would have been around. I think that tied in a lot to my struggle. My mental struggle was always there since I was a young kid, but having a clear mind and being an adult, I could see that my struggle was more so my choices after that.”
“I struggled throughout college. I was forced to be intimate two more times, and I was in an abusive relationship that caused me to lose a pregnancy.
It was just too much, and I started getting into drugs, starting with prescription pain pills. I struggled to survive, to hide the pain of a brutal 19 years. I realized, like my dad, I had a mental illness, and drugs were just the cover-up.”
“I wasn’t ready for the spotlight. In July of 2015, the media picked up Project Semicolon. It started overseas. Ireland was my first interview, then New Zealand, Australia, Canada. New York was the first place in the U.S. to pick it up, and within six months, over 200 media outlets covered the project.
I became this public figure, and every person I stood next to was this skinny, healthy, health nut. I was like, ‘What in the hell did I get myself into?’ Here comes the fat kid from Wisconsin all filled with cheese and intoxicating drink. I became so self-conscious on the stage. I struggled with self-medicating, and there were some self-destruction attempts, as well. I couldn’t handle it. There was so much hate with fame.”
On the Project Semicolon website, Amy, who lost her own father to self-destructionin 2003, wrote: “Despite the wounds of a dark past I was able to rise from the ashes, proving that the best is yet to come.”
Sadly, Amy Bleuel lost her own battle with depression on March 23, 2017. The cause of death was ruled as self-destruction.
Project Semicolon – stylized as Project ; – is an American nonprofit organization known for its advocacy of mental health wellness and its focus as an anti-self-destruction initiative. Founded in 2013, the movement’s aim is “presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, self-destruction, addiction, and self-harm“.
They are known for encouraging people to tattoo the punctuation mark semicolon (;) as a form of solidarity between people dealing with mental illness or the death of someone from self-destruction.
The movement became prominent in early July 2015.
People have started uploading photos of their own semicolon tattoos through social media to support the movement, gaining attention from a variety of mainstream news outlets.
A book titled Project Semicolon: Your Story Isn’t Over was released on September 5, 2017.
Published by HarperCollins, it is a compilation of stories and photos shared within Project Semicolon’s online community.
In 2015, Bleuel told The Mighty in an interview, “In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”
The hope shared by Project Semicolon’s founder is captured by the organization’s reminder, “Your story isn’t over.”
The semicolon represents the continuation of your life after struggling with thoughts of self-destruction and death, which are a common component of clinical depression.
You can find more and read people’s real stories on the project’s official website.
Amy Bleuel was a fighter and a symbol of hope, for many people struggling with mental health.
She was the founder of the Project Semicolon, an organization dedicated to the prevention of self-destruction.
Although Amy lost her fight with mental illness in 2017, her project is still helping thousands of people.
Over the years, Project Semicolon’s Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers have included survivors who bring a special affinity for self-destruction prevention, along with other skills, to ensure organizational growth, development, and effective management and operational talents to the agency.
Don’t hesitate to share with us your questions and opinion in the comments section below.
FAQ about Amy Bleuel
When did the semicolon project start?
The Semicolon Project started in 2013, as a faith-based nonprofit organization.
Its mission is to inspire and encourage people who live with mental health concerns, fostering hope and empowerment.
Why does a semicolon represent self-harm?
The semicolon represents self-harm as it is the symbol of the movement because, in a sentence, it is the punctuation mark that separates two different ideas.
The Semicolon Project was created for those who were going through struggles with self-harm, depression, and self-destruction who could have stopped moving forward, but didn’t.
What is the symbol for mental health?
The international symbol for mental health is the green ribbon.
What flower represents mental health?
The flower that represents mental health is called Chrysanthemum.
The name chrysanthemum originates from Greek words Chrysos meaning gold and anthos meaning flower.
What does a semicolon mean in mental health?
The semicolon in mental health means going on. A semicolon is a pause in a sentence, not the end of one.
The Semicolon Project encourages people to draw (or tattoo) semicolons on their bodies as a way to represent and support those dealing with mental illness or loss of someone from self-destruction .
What does an arrow with a semicolon mean?
The reason for the arrow with the semicolon is because an arrow can only move forward by being pulled back. So when life is dragging you behind, it means it’s going to launch you into something amazing.
- PROJECT SEMICOLON: Your Story Isn’t Over
- Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry
- Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
- The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time
- Light Therapy Lamp, Miroco LED Bright White Therapy Light – UV Free 10000 Lux Brightness, Timer Function, Touch Control, Standing Bracket, for Home/Office Use
- Amy Bleuel’s story – Love Wisconsin magazine
- Project Semicolon – Official Website