A Symbol of Gratitude

Written by: Camilla Best, Claudia Hypes, Katelyn Potempa, Aiden Cox

Riddle — what is a symbol on a keyboard that is also a symbol of mental health awareness and suicide prevention? 

Answer — the semicolon ( ; ) 

Camilla Best (Mental Health Training Manager)
Movements like “To Write Love On Her Arm” (2006) and “The Semicolon Project” (2013) became defining moments during my coming-of-age. My friend Katie paraphrased the original MySpace post and led the charge to paint a TWLOHA mural at the bottom of a staircase in our high school. She noticed I was an avid arm-doodler, spending my days in study hall designing new tattoo sleeves of song lyrics and wild shapes. I brought my digital Kodak camera to school so we could take photos of our arms with these intricate designs spelling “ L O V E ” 

In college, before I fell apart, a different high school friend visited me on campus. We played tattoo parlor in the living room of a house older than our parents, where my monthly rent was only $300. She etched over the doodled semicolon on my right hand with a shader needle, the vibrations punching into my veins like makeshift EMDR therapy. Years later, we both agree that an at-home tattoo was an incredibly stupid idea.  

Now, my semicolon has soft, blown-out edges, black ink faded gray-blue. It reminds me that my greatest anchor to recovery is my art, the act of taking pain and making purpose of it. My tattoo is a handshake, it is a grasped prayer, it holds a pencil. It writes. It holds on. My story isn’t over.  

It signals to others with the tattoo that we’ve walked similar paths, that I see you and you see me.  

So naturally, I also asked some of my fellow NAMI coworkers what their semicolon tattoo means to them : 

Aiden Cox (NAMI Metro Suburban Intern)
I got my semicolon tattoo when I was 24.  

I’m a suicide survivor, and when I got the tattoo, it meant to me that my story wasn’t over, and that the choice to keep going would always be there. A social worker told me when I was 19 that pain can’t kill you – so as long as I chose to keep going, nothing else could ever get the best of me.  

It really stuck with me, and the message of the Semicolon Project felt similar. It was also a reminder to me that anytime I felt like my story was over, I could just start a new chapter instead, like a phoenix. 

Now, it’s more of a symbol of gratitude to my younger self for never giving up even when I felt hopeless. I would never have gotten to see all the beautiful new chapters waiting for me. Back then, I couldn’t imagine ever having a life that wasn’t filled with suffering, but I just needed time to learn how to build it. My semicolon tattoo reminds me that I am strong, resilient, and enduring, and that I can get through anything. 

Claudia Hypes, CRSS, MHP (Community Education Coordinator)
I got my semicolon tattoo this past December at the age of 23. I had wanted this tattoo for years as a form of self-validation and recognition of my journey with mental health. However, I never felt comfortable with it being on display for fear of being judged.  

It wasn’t until I joined NAMI and saw others with this tattoo that I felt empowered to wear this punctuation publicly. Initially, this tattoo served as a personal reminder that “this too shall pass” and everything is temporary.  

This tattoo still aids as a reminder to persist through dark times but has grown to mean so much more. My semicolon is my commitment to this beautifully chaotic and unparalleled experience of life and all that comes with it. I see it as a relic that acknowledges the pain of my past and the gleaming potential of what lies ahead. 

Katelyn Potempa, MA, CRSS (Community Engagement Manager)
I got my semicolon tattoo when I was 27 years old. I wanted it as a reminder that I am still here for a reason. I also wanted control of what comes next for me. I could not control my past, but this tattoo gave me that control and confidence of writing my own future… I also did not want to be ashamed of my struggles and wanted to show I was stronger than what was bringing me down. 

Now, I look at it and it reminds me of how far I have come. The person that got this tattoo 8 years ago was filled with so much hope, and that hope was achieved, and I cannot be more proud when I look at it. It is so much more than a tattoo to me! 

 

 

 

 

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