A Message for World Semicolon Day

Not all posts on this blog deal with creativity. Sometimes, we need to discuss other things.

Today is World Semicolon Day. It is not, as language nerds might think, a day of awareness that colons and semicolons are not interchangeable, squashing the delusions of college composition freshmen everywhere. It is actually a day of awareness for mental illness. The late Amy Bleuel founded Project Semicolon after a lifetime of struggle against depression and painful memories of being raped as a teenager. The symbol is that in grammar, a semicolon is used when an author could have ended a sentence but chose not to. In the same way, people who struggle with mental illness have a choice: to give up or to survive.

A believer in Christ, Amy wanted to create a movement that would give hope to people who shared her struggles. “It is the love of my Savior that empowered me to make a difference and to love the world with a Christ-like love even when the world hadn't loved me,” she wrote. “It is only through God that I am here to tell you my story and empower you all to continue yours. Without His love and grace I know that my story would never have been told.”

Like Amy, I have struggled with depression for many years. I first recognized that something wasn’t right when I was fourteen, when I noticed that my moods became erratic and self-destructive around my period. However, over the next two years, the symptoms became worse and more prolonged. In high school, I woke up most mornings feeling hopeless and weighed down by the thoughts of the day ahead of me. Nonetheless, I persevered through these feelings by thinking about my academics and how if I did not succeed scholastically, I would have no hope of going to college to pursue writing. Having a goal saved me on numerous occasions. If I wasn’t so terrified of failure, I might never have gotten out of bed.

At school, I hid my suffocating feelings of despair as best I could. I forced myself to participate in class even though my brain was on fire with fears of what other people might think and the ways they might make fun of me later. I smiled and laughed when I was dying on the inside. The bathroom became a weird kind of sanctuary for me. I would cloister myself there at lunch when the thought of being around people was too much to handle and would excuse myself from class to go there to catch my breath. During my junior year, the events of September 11, 2001 sent me into an emotional tailspin that nearly resulted in taking my own life. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for a close friend and my counselor, who both pleaded with me to not throw life away.

When I finally went to college, I hoped that the horrible feelings would go away just by virtue of not being in high school anymore. However, the stress of being on my own for the first time got the better of me, and I finally went to the student health center to ask for help. The doctor finally gave me a name for what I was experiencing: major depressive disorder. She also persuaded me to take medication for it, especially after I told her about my suicidal thoughts from two years before. Despite my initial reluctance, taking medication was the beginning of my path to getting better. I had never understood that those emotions were the product of chemistry, of a malfunction of neurotransmitters. It was not an emotional illness. It was biological.

That was fifteen years ago. In the time since then, God has done amazing things to help me in recovery from depression. He has given me a life partner who took the time to educate himself about my problems and is constantly endeavoring to help me. He put me in situations that have forced me to stare down demons from my past and emerge victorious through Him. He has placed me in a church with people who understand the battle with mental illness well and have given me support. He has given me counselors and psychiatrists who have helped me process my feelings and regulate my treatment. Most of all, in the past year, He has supernaturally worked in my life to eliminate the majority of my medications. I still struggle with depression and I suspect I always will. But there is no comparison between being barely able to function as a high school student and the clarity I now have as an adult through a relationship with Christ.

I suspect that there are people reading this post today who struggle with mental illness and that many of them may be Christians. I want to say a few things to you.

You are not a freak of nature, damaged, or unworthy of love. God loves you beyond measure and in ways no one else can. He made you and knows every inch of your body and mind. He took great care to knit you together in your mother’s womb exactly the way He wanted you to be. Like Amy’s story, it may seem at times like the world has rejected you or that others don’t understand you. The Lord, though, has not rejected you, and He does understand.

Your mental illness struggle does not mean you are not really saved. This is a lie straight from the pits of hell. David struggled with depression. Jeremiah was called “the weeping prophet.” Elijah asked God to take his life because he felt that he just couldn’t go on. It is a sad paradox that if a Christian brother or sister were suffering from cancer or heart disease, the church wouldn’t hesitate to pray for and encourage that person, but when someone says she is struggling from depression, walls immediately go up. People utter pat recommendations in response. Maybe you just need to read your Bible more. Maybe you have some sin separating you from God. Maybe you’re watching too much TV. Maybe you aren’t praying enough. All of those are good suggestions in general, but they aren’t always going to be remedies for severe mental health issues. I have found the best way to deal with depression as a Christian is to simply trust Him. He is not immune from using it for good.

Getting medical treatment for depression is not a sin. If you see a psychiatrist, meet with a counselor, or take medication, it does not mean you have weak faith. Medical science is a gift He has given us to help us better understand the human body and treat our physical issues. You wouldn’t refuse treatment if you had a fatal heart condition. Why would you refuse to be treated for an illness that can be fatal if ignored? If you are struggling with depression or another mental health condition and are afraid to seek treatment, or if you are thinking of taking your own life, I beg you to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI to get resources on what to do next.

As we’ve discussed multiple times on this blog, God is in the business of writing stories, from his own master narrative of the salvation of the world to the ways He uses each of us within it. On this World Semicolon Day, take steps to ensure that your sentence will continue.  

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