This suicide and mental illness awareness collection is made up of both survival testimonials and memorial accounts of those enduring the pain of a lost loved one. The range of writing length and ability here is widely variable. Some have contributed as little as a small paragraph—and some up to 3 full pages. Accompanying most of these stories is a picture of each author’s semicolon tattoo. (This being in reference to international movement that has adopted the symbol.)
“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,” explains Project Semicolon’s website.
To be clear up front, I chose this book for review because The Semicolon Project has meant a great deal to me. It’s a supportive, affirming community I would have loved to see available when I was still an early-to-mid teenager—in a very vulnerable and precarious state of mental health. Its message is one I endorse wholeheartedly. So much so, over a year ago I received a semicolon tattoo on my left hand to remind myself and to stand in solidarity. I share this to put in better context what I mean when I say I sincerely wish I had been able to give this collection a higher rating.
I’m afraid I have to concur with those who've pointed out there's not a lot of "hope" to be found in many of these stories. Most do try to wrap up on a positive-sounding note. But there's often just a sentence at the end that sounds like a "hang-in-there" pep talk, without really offering a how-to in that regard. Some close with merely an "I'm still alive" sort of observation. I don't want to diminish anyone's struggle—please don't misunderstand. But I have to wonder if many of these stories weren't a bit premature in their public release.
Even the founder of the Semi-Colon Project, Amy Bleuel, had an incomplete-feeling story (which she shares at the very beginning of the compilation.) In it she alludes to the physical, mental, and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-mother--after her parents divorced and she chose to live with her father at age 6. At age 8 she attempted to physically defend herself from her stepmother and was taken away, placed in the juvenile justice system. Her biological mother was the one who came for her. She then spent age 13-18 within the Wisconsin juvenile justice system. Yet, she dedicated the Semi-Colon Project and this book to her father—who killed himself while she was still a teenager (further adding to her trauma.) I’ve read her account several times, but am still perplexed as to why she chose to bestow such honor on the man who married an abusive woman and who, from what few details we’re given, seems to have failed to protect his daughter. I’m certain there must be more to her story that could help me understand. But whatever that information may be, it’s not offered in the current incarnation of her autobiographical essay.
*The language use is sometimes raw, but well within context rather than gratuitous.
*There’s such a heartbreaking consistency to so many of these stories—histories of devastating childhood abuse, and of rape-induced trauma. While the details are kept mercifully vague, many of these accounts are still likely to be triggering for those who haven’t yet reached a stable place in their journey toward healing.
*For a large swath of those who seemed to be writing from a “good place,” finding a supportive significant other is marked as the turning point in their personal battle. I’m concerned this crediting may inadvertently serve to encourage more impressionable young readers into seeking out romantic relationships steeped in codependency.
*I'm dismayed at the reviewers who’ve rated this collection poorly because they didn't wish to encounter any stories of struggle or overcoming that make mention of personal faith. For the record, maybe 1/6 accounts allude to a belief in any form of "higher-power," and for the vast majority of those, it's a simple one-sentence nod of acknowledgement.
I did want to take a moment to recognize the stories that felt particularly complete, and/or struck me personally as impactful: Jana A., Lisa A., K.T., Cassidy F., Aaron P., Rebecca H., and Kevin S. -- For whatever reason, their writing and conveyance resonated enough to make this reader want to dog-ear. Most contributors, I'm sure, wrote bravely for a cathartic outlet. But these I’ve listed... I wish my younger self had been able to read their works.
"Sometimes, I feel like a dung beetle.
(I kno, but hear me out.)
What starts out as the tiniest piece of crap gets rolled around in my mind until it's the biggest load of bullshit ever. Sometimes, this accidentally rolls over other people and ruins relationships, but mostly, it stops me from being able to see my way forward." --Kevin. S.