This is Amy Bleuel, and she is a superhero. She might not wear a costume, but her works through her organization Project Semicolon is saving lives. I had a chance to interview her, and this founder of Project Semicolon is doing her part, and inspiring others to fight depression, addiction, suicide, and self-injury.
Amy Bluel is from Wisconsin, and a big Green Bay Packers fan. When I asked her how she started Project Semicolon, the only answer she could give me was talking about a "perfect storm." She says that it came at a moment, and it still baffles her how it all got started. I guess when things start happening, they happen all at once and it is difficult to keep track of the particulars.
Project Semicolon began as something that Amy had as a habit, and she wanted to focus on the topic of depression, something not easy to talk about. One of the things that she wants to let everyone know is that they are not alone when it comes to depression. Not only that, everyone at Project Semicolon is there to fight the battle with the sufferer. Everyone may have to face different difficult circumstances, but everyone is here for each other.
As for the name of Project Semicolon, the reason why the semicolon was chosen as the name and symbol is what it does. In literature, an author puts a semicolon in a sentence to indicate that the sentence is not finished yet; you are the author, and you can choose how the sentence will end.
The global and non-profit movement is made to encourage and inspire those with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. For those that don't understand self-injury, it is the practice of deliberately harming the surface of your body to cope with emotional pain, like how certain people will cut or burn themselves.
Amy has reached about every walk of life. She talked about a case of a freshman in high school who was suicidal, self-harming, and she didn't want to exist. Through the power of telling her that she mattered, and that she is worth it, she is doing much better. There was another girl that was suicidal and addicted to heroin, but she is now healthy in college. She is one of many stories for Project Semicolon, who are in a much healthier place in spite of the battle that they face.
In fact, I first heard about Project Semicolon when a friend of mine from high school shared her Project Semicolon story on Facebook. I share her full story below, and the reason why I share it in its entirety is because when I knew this woman back when she was a teenager, I never suspected that her life had these obstacles. If there is one thing that Robin Williams' suicide and Owen Wilson's attempted suicide should teach us, it is that depression can hide in the most happiest of people.
One of the things that Amy says is that every case of depression is different, and when someone hits the darkest levels of it, suicide can happen. Amy states that "you weren't born to be so unhappy." The stigma is that someone who suffers from depression would be an extreme case, like a mass shooter or something. However, depression affects the everyday people, and many of them are not violent or show very obvious symptoms. Project Semicolon wants people to know that depression needs to be addressed, and wants to look at it for what it is. They also want to surround the sufferers with support.
Project Semicolon is a faith-based organization. It is not a platform for a religious debate, so those who want help don't have to be a certain religion. Amy finds that the God of the bible is a bearer of love, and her organization is not about the politics of Christianity but its basics. She will readily admit as a side-joke that she wants to start a hippie movement of unconditional love, but if that is what sufferers of depression and the rest of the world needs, then it is very welcome. She wants to work with religious organization to help others.
The Project Semicolon logo has recently ended up on a NASCAR racecar, on the hood of Thomas "Moose" Praytor. There is going to be more work coming with the Praytor family, as the family has suffered with depression, and wanted to give Project Semicolon their support.
Amy goes to high schools to deliver her message. Even on the interview, she was driving in her car on the way to a suicide prevention rally. Right now, Project Semicolon is working with HarperCollins for a book that is due out in September 2017. There will also be a book released known as Project You that will be out this year and next year. Amy has said that she has a dream of appearing on the show Ellen, and I hope that she will be on there.
The biggest thing that Amy wants people to know that they are loved. If you are in the darkness, sometimes you don't remember the light. However, you have to remember that the light will come, just as it has before. It could be a battle, but eventually, that light will arrive. She wants people to tell their stories, and that they are here for a bigger purpose.
In the meantime, here is one of the Project Semicolon stories from my friend, and more information can be found about Project Semicolon on their website.
"It seems as I get older memories fade but never go away completely. As many, I was born into alcoholism and domestic violence. I'm going on 44 and know my experiences have formed who I am now but truly hasn't been an easy road and am very fortunate and grateful to be alive. This wasn't always the case.
Before domestic violence laws required mandatory separation of the attacker and the victim (even now it's only during the time of the incident) women's shelters were our only options. We had lived in several by the time I was seven. My biological father wasn't an awful, evil man - he was an alcoholic. His fits of alcohol-induced rage made him what he so often became and refused to seek help. We finally got away.
We were in a better "place" but the experiences left me a fearful, anxiety filled, unsure child. By age ten I had also endured sexual abuse at the hands of someone that was thought to be trusted. Fear, guilt, intimidation, and threats from this person swore me to secrecy. I was protecting my mom, or so I thought. Thankfully, the start of a new relationship for my mom moved us away to whole new world ... Seattle.
Having moved so many times in my life I was the perpetual new kid and often the target of bullies. I was very shy, never felt confident about anything, and still very fearful. Our new surroundings and this amazing new father figure (whom I still want to thank daily) were promising and I had a whole new normal life. No abuse if any kind, just love. I never in my life didn't feel love from my parents.
Being as shy and insecure as I was made it hard for me to connect with people. When I entered adolescence and started making friends is also the time I discovered alcohol. Wow. I could talk to people, I was funny, and maybe even a little interesting. My social anxieties were gone. During my high school years I made friends easier, I liked pretty much everyone unless they did something to me specifically, I didn't judge anyone because to me we were all the same. I didn't have enemies. My grades were (very) average and I was average. I was happy with that. But, my social anxieties were always through the roof. I was a bit of a party kid, but no more or less than anyone else I hung out with but I knew then that I was an alcoholic even just drinking on the weekends. I looked forward to it and rarely did things where alcohol wasn't involved.
By my twenties I was fully into my addiction but still held down good jobs but the guilt and shame of not being able to control it took over. I could go a night or two without but that was it. I lived with the constant feeling of never being good enough. This feeling amplified after a layoff from my job in my late 20's.
I was no stranger to the anti-depressant circuit. I had tried so many with no relief. Now I wasn't working and my drinking became more frequent and I don't really know how or why it happened, the vivid memories of the sexual abuse I had endured as a child flooded my mind like a tidal wave. I withdrew from everything, became agoraphobic, and the thoughts of suicide became more and more frequent, with that seemingly being my only way out of my head. I had never heard of the term "cutting" (and don't like the term but for lack of a better one ..) and never knew anyone that did it but I started that relentlessly. Outer wounds I could actually nurture. I knew where these injuries and pain came from, how they happened, and most importantly I could heal them myself. The thought of the scars lasting forever wasn't really anything I thought about. Where most women carried make up bags with them I had a whole arsenal of tools, bandages, suture kits, butterflies, Neosporin, you name it. And I was in control of it. I couldn't control the inner pain or the thoughts that would invade my head and not go away so making a new cut was a distraction. And I was only hurting myself, right?
Alcoholism, depression, anxiety, self-destruction and the basic feelings of failure came out and manifested themselves to a different extreme in my 30's. By my late 30's I had four major suicide attempts under my belt, two almost succeeding. I chose help for my alcoholism during both of these hospital stays but failed to stay sober.
A month before my 40th birthday I was in the middle of yet another drinking binge but this time I decided suddenly that I didn't want to die. I finally asked my parents for help. Real help. I entered a treatment facility in Oregon and stayed three months. I wanted to be sober so bad. I got out after the three months and quickly relapsed a week out and kept relapsing for about four months til I finally put my foot down. That was 3 1/2 years ago and I'm still sober. It's not easy but sure as hell is worth it.
I still slip into depression often and at times anxiety is through the roof but at almost 44 I deal with things differently. I'm not going to say it's rainbows and unicorns all the time but I'm alive, I have a life, and choose to live.
This story isn't to invoke feelings of pity or for anyone to "feel sorry" ... To me, it's the opposite. It's about accepting. New beginnings. The realization of strength I didn't know I had in me. It's putting a whole lot out there. It's about supporting this amazing project. Depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide ... I've got a little of it all. But now I have something so much more. MY semicolon.
My story isn't over yet ..."