Yesterday was my birthday. Birthdays are a time when you tend to look back at your life, see how far you’ve come and make plans for what’s yet to be. But I wasn’t excited about my birthday. Maybe because I was turning 40, I thought. But no, that wasn’t it. I’m not afraid of getting older. Maybe I’ve just been too busy to get excited. Yes, I do work a lot, but that wasn’t it either. It just wasn’t in me this year.
I’ve struggled with depression, for what I think is most of my adult life (and maybe even longer than that). I only recognized this a few years ago though, when depression stopped my in my tracks and made me change my life, or lose it. I never realized how different the person on the outside was from the person on the inside, the one who no one else but me ever got to see. I taught myself, over the years of my life how to show people only what they wanted to see. I was all about pleasing others, putting on a smile and doing things that I didn’t want to do, things that would make other people happy. But I didn’t take the time to ask myself “Will that make me happy?”
Fortunately for me, my depression became a wake-up call. There were so many things I still wanted to do. Ending my life wasn’t the right choice for me. At the time that I recognized this, I made some big changes in my life, the biggest was becoming my own boss. I poured my heart and soul into building a company that could provide me the flexibility I needed and the freedom I required. This was probably my greatest accomplishment. I am so proud of what we (of course, I didn’t do this alone – much credit to be given to my husband Frank!) have built and as it continue to grow and flourish, I need to remember to take the time to look back and see this accomplishment.
But it’s not always easy. Having something to look forward to every day does make a difference. But there are days that I look at myself and wonder, doubt, fear and worry creep in. Self-confidence wanes. Fears take over. And my happiness and satisfaction drop off. I’ll spend weeks where getting out of bed is the hardest thing I’ll do that day. I’ll spend hours looking off into nowhere, wondering where the beautiful things in life have gone. And then I cry. And it doesn’t stop. And nothing is right anymore. All the feelings, and I mean all of them come right back and stand in front of me and make me see that that the person on the outside, again, isn’t matching the person on the inside.
I know that many of you see me as someone who has it all together. But behind my smile is a daily struggle with doubt and fears that seem irrational to most. It’s hard to talk to others about the pain inside. It’s hard to tell people that you need help. It’s hard to show weakness when you know that everyone thinks you are strong. It’s so much easier to pack up all those feelings and hide them somewhere deep inside… where you don’t have to share them. But let me tell you from experience, doing that just makes those feelings worse. They eat at you from the inside. They make up stories that you start to believe. They destroy you, and you don’t even feel it happening.
So that’s why I got my tattoo. I came upon a website called Project Semicolon. And what this project stands for spoke so deeply to me. Please visit their website, and understand the meaning of a semicolon tattoo. For me… the words that mattered were:
“A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to.
The sentence is your life and the author is you.”
The semicolon on my wrist is a daily reminder to recognize my own inner struggles and talk about the feelings when they occur. It’s an opportunity to start a conversation with someone who just might need to hear those words, to know that this isn’t the end. And that they have support to go on. Depression and other mental illnesses are so real. Our society doesn’t give people that are suffering the opportunities to show it. That’s up to each and every one of us. EVERYONE has something that hurts to share. EVERYONE needs to know that they don’t have to be afraid to talk to someone about their fears. EVERYONE deserves to never feel alone.
Start a conversation; Don’t end it.