I sit here today, not as the founder of Project Semicolon, but as just another human being. An individual with real struggles, real pains, real joys, and real heartache. I’m taking the mask off today to write to you, my friends, supporters, and loved ones. You have shared your stories with me, and now it’s time for me to share where I am right now with you.
Because Project Semicolon has done so well, there is a preconceived notion that I am supposed to have it all together now. The darkness of depression should be behind me for good. People think motivational speakers should always be ... motivated. Anyone in the spotlight feels a similar weight. But the idea simply isn’t true.
There are days I wake up, filled with self-doubt and pain, and wonder why I have to conquer another day. Why must I go on? Why do I have to exist? My struggle with depression and thoughts of inadequacy are very present right now. I still struggle to restrain from numbing my feelings with external substances. Sometimes I even think a blade would release the pain I am feeling. Many of you know exactly the stifling darkness I'm describing.
My past is a horror story. Starting at age six, I was brutally abused at the hands of my stepmother. I was raped for the first time when I was thirteen, and twice more in my early twenties. As a result, my early years were filled with deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy and isolation. Those old feelings still creep up from time to time, even as my passion for Project Semicolon continues to grow and accomplish good things for others. I would love to find the switch that turns off all the racing thoughts, that lets me put those old feelings behind me for good. So far that seems almost impossible.
Yet, by the grace of God, I continue to move forward. I know I am loved by God, and that is the only reason I am still here. Left to my own devices, a slave to my emotions, I wouldn’t keep fighting. If I give in to the beast of depression, Project Semicolon would cease to exist, and all the hope others have found through it would be in vain.
The good news is I am starting to talk with someone I can trust. I am utilizing the exact same resources we offer others who suffer with depression, and I'm in contact with a professional through Project Semicolon's network. I am also writing this letter. I'm determined to be honest with you. I'm committing to myself and each of you that each time I get on stage this year, I will not speak as someone who has it all together. Instead, I will speak from where I am - a person who continues to struggle, but who believes life is worth the fight.
Recovery is a process. We do not arrive at it and find our painful experiences are finally fully behind us. Instead, recovery requires constant and intentional acts of honesty and being willing to open up about old wounds and current pains. I can’t snap my fingers and make the fog disappear. What I can do is reach deep into my soul and muster up the courage to tell you my life is not perfect. The person you see on your computer screen, in our marketing campaigns, and the quotes you read on social media is real. But many days I have to work very hard to believe it myself.
I tell you all of this because I know how important it is to be truthful with you. The illusion that I have it all together is complete nonsense. Please know, I’m not looking for pity or publicity. I simply want you to know that I am still struggling alongside you. You and I aren't that different at all. If we are going to continue to fight the stigma and pain of mental illness, we must continue to not only care for each other, but to take care of ourselves.
I hope you will take care of yourself, too.
Hello, my name is Dillon Tate and I am a musician. I have struggled with my health since I was young; constantly battling depression and exhaustion, which has plagued me with night terrors, self-esteem issues, negative thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Throughout my teenage years I pursued relationships, in hopes that their acceptance would drown out my discomfort in which I felt towards myself. No matter how much time I heard the words “I love you” I rejected them. How can anyone actually love me, when I can’t even love myself? I forgot what happiness felt like. In fact, I believed I was incapable of it; for anything that brought me joy in the past had been taken away, or became unappealing. I was unable to engage myself with anything; the weight of my depression stopped me. I became consumed in despair, bitter and frustrated, and believed that no one understood, and that I was a lost cause, Damaged beyond repair. I first considered suicide at the age of 20 in hopes to put a rest to these thoughts. The people surrounding me made me think twice about it, but instead of accepting their love and support, in my ignorance, I came to the conclusion – They needed to go if I was going to go through with this. I then became reckless, purposely destroying friendships and medicating myself in attempt to numb the pain and escape how alone I felt. But escaping the pain became harder as time went on and my tolerance increased, taking away the last bit of control that I felt I had. I felt sheer panic. I then fell into trouble with the law, which took 4 years of my life. I rejected support groups that were offered. I was convinced they wouldn’t help. I had been put on medication but gave up on it and stopped seeing my doctor out of frustration. When I was 25, I attempted suicide, in hope to end my struggle. Since then, my life has been spared twice, in two fatal car crashes; I miraculously walked away from both with minor injuries.
At the beginning of April 2015 I reached out to Amy, founder of Project Semicolon. Through the semicolon symbol, many relate to the struggle of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide and their will to continue on. The title, “Project Semicolon,” also represents a goal – to believe that this is not the end but a new beginning.
After seeing the amount of support and people longing to continue their story and live a life that would inspire others to continue on as well, I was encouraged and made the decision to continue mine as well. I am now currently under the care of Fraser Health taking steps towards recovery. MY STORY ISN’T OVER YET.
My story is one that has been in the making for close to ten years now.
Like the seasons, it's ebbed and flowed. Some seasons being shorter and sweeter than others. But tis life I suppose.
In it's simplest form, I've struggled with depression and self harm for almost ten years now, with two suicide attempts in that time span as well.
I buried my dad when I was 13. I buried my mom when I was 25.
I'm now 26. And an only child. So as you can imagine, I've had to bear the brunt of the reality of being without my parents for the rest of my days on this earth.
Self harm became my way of escaping when I was 17. By the time I was 23 and still struggling, I realized that self harm was much more than I ever thought it would be. With some scars faded and others still very much visible, it's taken a long time to lay this in it's entirety at the feet of Jesus.
Hope was something that I never thought possible. It was something that I never thought I could have. Recovery seemed like this fairy tale and I figured out at a young age that fairy tales didn't exist.
But then I met an incredible group of people that made my story part of their own. And with that, recovery became intentional. And messy. And beautiful.
Through every slip and relapse, they have been there. They were living out the mission of the church. They were my hope on the days that I had none. And when I buried my mom, they were my strength. They refused to stop loving me and refused to let go. The fought. Some days harder than others, but they still fought. For me. For my story.
There is something so simple and yet so peaceful about feeling a breeze blow through the trees. It's refreshing. It's renewing. It's healing.
I feel the love of my parents and other loved ones that I've lost in those breezes. I feel His love in those breezes.
I see His love in the face of my students.
I see His love intertwined in the precious stories I've had the privilege of hearing.
I am more than the scars that are scattered across my body.
I am more than the two suicide attempts.
I am more than every relapse I've ever had.
I am more than those moments.
And I am more because of those moments.
My story is far from being finished.
Hope is very much alive.
It's alive in all of us.
Sometimes it gets hard to hear, but it's always there.
There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask ”What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling, what if you fly?
- Erin Hanson
The way I view life now, at 31, vastly differs from the way I viewed life at 10, 16, 21… and I think that’s the beauty in this crazy world. As children, we don’t know what life is about. We aren’t born with an innate understanding of our existence. We don’t hold all the answers about our future. Most of us don’t even have the answers as adults. We learn as we go. With life lessons at every turn, we can stumble along the way. Some of us are pushed harder than we think we can handle. We all have our personal threshold. It’s getting past that threshold and finding the power to persevere that allows us to see the strength within ourselves. This isn’t a story of depression or loss. It is my story of struggle and celebration. I am one of many girls who has conquered her demons and views life as something to be cherished. HOPE IS ALIVE.
I grew up in the Midwest, in a nice community, with minimal crime and plenty of opportunity. I had decent clothes. I participated in sports and music clubs. My dad read to my classrooms and my mom was a room parent. My little sister is a naturally gifted student. We had a seemingly great life. Like all households, we also had our fair share of secrets. To the outside world we probably seemed like a happy little family. Sometimes this was true. Often times, not.
Life was extremely hard in our house. It was a constant roller coaster. My once funny, energetic dad grew tired and drained over the years. My mother teetered between a supportive, soccer mom and a pill-popping zombie. From one day to the next, I never knew if my parents were going to be amazing, fun-loving parents or drunk, drugged, resentful, and angry. It became easier to assume the worse and in an effort to avoid the chaos, my sister frequently locked herself in her room and I took the opportunity to be out of the house as much as possible.
Outside the house, I tried hard to fit in and be accepted. I wanted to be happy but the pressure I put on myself to be anything than who I was, put me in a constant battle with myself. As a little kid I let myself get pushed around in an effort to go along with the in-group. Going through those awkward preteen years, I was mousy, brace-faced, and had the WORST haircuts. I put on a happy little face and jumped into conversations and hung out with everyone I could but I never really “fit”… or at least I never felt like I did. As an adult, I am learning that so many kids feel this way. Often times, the most talented, creative, special kids are the ones who don’t fit the mold.
The first time I remember thinking about hurting myself, I wasn’t much older than my own children. I was so dramatic at that age. The scary thing is that while I was young, what seemed like childish tantrums, turned into something darker. I became someone who used self-harming as an escape. As I got older, I beat myself up more and more about how worthless I was. The problems at home grew worse, and as high school went on and teenagers develop as they do, trying to find their place among friends within social circles, I felt even more alone. I hung out with more people than ever, but I never had one group. And while I wasn’t a “loner”, I was a floater. What I am coming to realize is there are SO MANY of us out there. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, next time you are out, take a look at a group of kids. See that girl or boy that seems happy but is standing just a few feet back, out of the circle, and looking around or uncomfortably smiling…. you found her/him. We’re EVERYWHERE blending in like happy little teenagers, when in reality our head is screaming. I don’t know why. I still don’t have that answer.
So what changed? One of my attempts, became bolder than usual and there was no turning back. For a buildup of reasons and problems throughout the years that I never really faced or got help with, combined with an isolated incident of teenage heartbreak, my beautiful disaster of a brain became so overwhelmed. I was DONE. First, I sat on a railroad track, I felt guilty for the train engineer that would have to live with the repercussions of my choice, so I bought a couple bottles of OTC drugs and started swallowing. When I started to feel sick, I would wait a few minutes, swallow back down the sickness, and keep at it. It took me over an hour to take that many pills. Of course, I didn’t research any of this or know what would happen, so when all I felt was a little nauseous, I assumed my attempt had failed. I drove around aimlessly, upset, crying, and feeling even guiltier. I felt worse about myself. The rest is a jumbled mess of confusion. I told a friend what had happened, and that it hadn’t worked. What I didn’t realize was that during those past hours, my liver was getting pushed to the limit. I started sweating, my heart was pounding, I was dizzy, and it all kind of became a whirl-wind. I drove around, to a friend’s house (where my dad tried to get me help and I kept refusing), and then home, dangerously confused and dizzy. This is when I realized that I probably was dying. I didn’t want help. I just wanted to be left alone. My friend had followed me to my house, pulled me out of my car as I was passing out and sick, put me in her back seat, and brought me to the ER. They did everything they could to prevent liver damage and told us that we’d have to wait it out. A week later, after psych evals and blood tests galore, it was determined that my liver had started to regenerate and I was lucky. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt even worse because now I was a freak show. My closet-kept depression became fully public. I felt judged and miserable. Something needed to change.
The years between that horrible week in 2002 and now have brought so many changes. I joined the Army that year and I became a suicide prevention advocate. I started a little self-help group in Basic Training and AIT to help people talk through depression. The more I let others share their stories with me, the less guilty I felt about my own. Helping others started to help me feel like it could be possible to find happiness. I still battled feelings of worthlessness and emptiness here and there which I filled with bad choices and parties but in 2004, I was met with the challenge of becoming a mother. A single mother was not a title I ever saw myself claiming, but I knew God had put this together for me and when I saw my son’ face, I knew my purpose. Now it is 2015, and I am a wife to an amazing man and a mother to three beautiful children. I find happiness in helping others and helping teenagers find their place in the world. I decided to go back to school to base a career around this outlook. I am choosing to love life. I am learning to use the pain and turn it into something beautiful.
Do I still struggle? Absolutely. Is it worth it? No question. I wish someone would have told me when I was younger that even though life would be a series of struggles, the darkness would eventually lead to a better understanding of the light within myself. Don’t feel guilty about your struggle. Embrace it. Own it. Let it make you stronger. Know that hope is alive and you are so worth the fight.
Photo Credits: Brett Brooner
My story starts before I was born.
A mother that didn’t want to be pregnant at a young age that led to her to a hatred of me. I fell into trying to be perfect to gain her attention. Failing at every turn. Alone, different, and rejected. This spiraled out of control. I tried to kill myself multiply times before 12. I was sexually abused, verbally abused, emotionally abused and physically abused my entire childhood existence. I was raped, and abused by parental figures and boyfriends. I was cold, bitter, and angry, unfulfilled, and didn’t care whom I stepped on in the ladder to be the best of the best to earn approval. Never touched drugs, and didn’t drink until well into my 20’s. I had many relationships with women, and men. Still always looking for approval. I aborted a child at 19, after a rape. I locked my heart into a cold tomb for safety. I miscarried a baby at 25, which spiraled me to try to kill myself four times in the same week. As I was trying the 5th time, I stopped and told myself “THIS ISN’T YOU.”
At this point I was well into a career with government, on top of the world, so to speak. I hated my life. I hated not feeling. I put myself into a behavioral health center and began the journey to heal. When I was done I found myself at a church… this is when God began helping with my healing. A Pastor pressed my buttons until that cold tomb broke open and God has poured my heart out since. Am I perfect? No. I have a long way to go, but I am nowhere near where I was. It has taken me 10 years of solid hard work to get to where I am.
With God’s grace and direction and people to support me along the way I have grown. I can now have healthy relationships with people. I can display an array of emotions instead of just angry and happy. I know my worth and I know what is ok and not ok. I feel incredible peace. I am not on any medicine of any sort. I still battle with depression on occasion, and find that gratitude and appreciation to God has helped tremendously in this department. I don’t desire to die and for the first time in my existence I have purpose on this earth. I am a missionary. I share love across the world and I love people that don’t get love. I have learned the true meaning of Love through Christ and I have never felt more “full” internally then I do now. So, if I can encourage you... keep going, don’t give up. Find someone to talk to, there are resources. God will provide people. Your story is not over.
It all started when I was in Jr. High. Nobody could understand how a kid who was always happy, smiling and telling jokes, suddenly started being afraid of everything and depressed about “simple” things. My mom decided to take me to the psychologist and after some treatment; the psychologist thought it’d be a better idea to go with a psychiatrist who started giving me anti-depressants.
Things didn’t change much as I continued with suicidal thoughts and going from medicine to medicine, I felt like I was a guinea pig for the doctor. I started going out more but only so I can have an excuse to drink, it was a long-term suicide but as the drinks kept coming the mood swings got bigger and bigger until I started seeing other doctors who all agreed that I didn’t have depression but bipolar disorder type two.
My family supported me but somehow didn’t give my disorder as much attention as they would give to any other disease. I screamed quietly for help while drinking to hide from myself. I saw many other doctors but I kept bouncing from one to another because they all said that I should be in a mental hospital but my parents weren’t ok with this idea. This is where the stigma started to kick me hard and I couldn’t find a way out but only ending with my own life.
I remember that day when I had my first suicide attempt; I was at my brother’s house and I was feeling at peace with myself. My job in this life was done so after a talk with my brother, I took a bottle of rum and some anxiolytics I had hidden in my backpack. I took them and swallowed them with almost half the bottle, then I waited for everything to kick in. I woke up in a hospital with some tubes inside my nose and the image of my brother crying.
After that attempt my parents watched me closer but still refused to put me in a mental hospital. I kept dealing with alcohol and some drugs came to seduce me. From wine to wine, bed to bed, party to party I was lost inside my pain but the outside wasn’t a day in the park either. It was no one but me calling death, I took dangerous roads trying to find a feeling that would kill the one I was having. So one day, out of the blue, I took my car and drove while drinking a bottle of whiskey, I stopped at a strip club to watch a “friend” dance and also, of course, the rest of the girls. I got drunk and decided to hit back home but on my way out some guy started pushing me for no reason. He then took a small baseball bat and hit me with it… I don’t remember much but some pieces in my memory tell me that I woke up in some street, hurt and with my face all disfigured, I looked like a monster, now not only from the inside.
I had some brain damage and stayed in the hospital for one week and a half, my sense of smell and taste don’t work the way the used to and since then I became more aggressive and started hallucinating.
After trying different kinds of medicine and my parents still refusing to follow the doctor’s advice to put me in a mental hospital, I found on the Internet a 10k race. To be honest I still don’t know why I chose to do it, maybe it was the eco of my parents and ex-girlfriend saying that I was so unstable that I couldn’t finish anything. It wasn’t a big deal but I wanted to show them that I could finish a race. I prepared for it, ran it and finished it.
I noticed that running kept me motivated and away from alcohol, I followed racing plans to finish other races but in one of my trainings I broke my ligament. I had a surgery, an implant and terrible news; after my knee rehab I couldn’t run but only short distances… so my demons came back with bottles of wine.
A year after, I got tired of it all, tired of not being able to run, not being able to feel stable. I began to run again and thought that if I could handle inner pain, physical pain wouldn’t be a thing and if I could drink to death, I could run, either way I was harming my body.
I can say now that alcohol isn’t an issue now and I’ve ran 6 marathons, an ultra marathon and tons of half marathons without having to visit the doctor again. My knee is fine and I’m better, I still struggle with hallucinations, my bad temper and mood swings, but now I have a blessing that God gave me; running.
As I'm working on this, I have about a dozen side projects going on simultaneously. One of the biggest ones I'm working on is our upcoming push for National Suicide Prevention Week which falls in the middle of Suicide Awareness Month. Working for a nonprofit that exists to help raise awareness for these issues, I know first hand the importance of these weeks.
People don't talk about these issues because they make people uncomfortable. They make people uncomfortable because we've spent so long avoiding it that we don't know how to talk about it. So we assume that the only solution is to continue to not talk about it.
I'm here to say that's a load of bull. Lives are going to continue to end as long we keep deciding that suicide and mental illness is too uncomfortable to talk about.
I mean, let's look at this logically. Are we so wrapped up in our own need to be comfortable that we're completely okay with stories continuing to be cut tragically short? Have we really become that selfish of a society?
If you have a broken bone or the flu, do you just ignore it and not let your body heal properly? Of course not! Why? Because that's completely ridiculous. I've broken my fair share of bones in my life, and every time I did, I went to the doctor for treatment. So why do we shove mental health under the rug and pretend that it doesn't exist? Not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.
Why is it that the only time people feel the need to talk about mental health is when something tragic happens? Why can't these conversations exist all the time? Are they uncomfortable to have at times? Yes. But I would much rather be temporarily uncomfortable and get the help I need or the help for someone else in need than continue to ignore it until something happens.
That's why the month of September is so important. People need to know that they aren't alone in their struggles and that their story matters. Until people realize that placing a period in their story is no longer an option, I will continue to fight for their semicolons. Not just because I have struggled with these issues personally, but because if I claim to be a follower of Jesus and strive to be like him, then where is my compassion for others at if not in the hopes of them continuing their stories.
Project Semicolon will be using #HopeIsAlive15 for the entire month of September. We encourage you to join the conversation with us. Whether you struggle personally or have loved ones that do, you can make a difference. You can help break the stigma behind mental illness and suicide.
Your story is sacred. And it is so far from being finished. So please stay. If you're having trouble fighting on your own, please know that you aren't alone.
As always you can keep up with me over at ohhaiiitsbrandii.wordpress.com
Until next time,
I'd like to think in my own personal experiences with grief, that it comes and goes. Some days are harder than others, but eventually you reach a certain place with it where you have more good days than bad. But then something happens and it brings you right back to it. Like it just happened yesterday. Or you feel like this progress you made was all in your head.
Today is one of those days for me.
It's been over ten years since I lost my dad and over a year since I lost my mom. For the most part, I'm doing okay. I miss them terribly and always will. But that ache isn't as sharp as it used to be. It's still there, but it's grown dull. And I've learned to live with it.
But yesterday changed all that for me.
I have the wonderful privilege to work as a group leader and team building facilitator for an incredible organization called Paradigm Shift. Through them, I have had the opportunity to travel to some pretty awesome places. Florida, Chicago, twice, Michigan, and the unlikely Poteau, Oklahoma.
Now to explain a little, I'm from Oklahoma. My hometown is about an hour and a half from Poteau. In fact, Poteau is closer to Arkansas than it is to where I live. So it seems rather odd that it would make my list of incredible places I've gone. And I'll give that to you. There is nothing overwhelmingly special about Poteau. Except it's people.
I had the opportunity to work a leadership camp with an Upward Bound group at their local college and spent three days with some incredible students and young adults. I mean, these kids are the real deal. There were such life changers in that group. And it was truly an honor to work with them. So much so that by the end of that camp, every one of us that worked it made promises to return the following year. That's how much we loved it.
Yesterday one of the students that was a part of that camp breathed her last breath after suffering in a terrible car accident. All of a sudden, this beautiful, vibrant, funny, smart 17 year old was gone. Every dream that she had, gone. Every item on her bucket list would never be completed. That put things in perspective. Big time.
Life is so incredibly short and so incredibly precious. In the blink of an eye, it can be gone. Thinking back on the short amount of time that I spent with this girl brought back every memory and feeling I had about my parents and all the time and memories that we won't share.
Today I am struggling. But I know I'm not alone. I rest in the fact that I know I'll see my parents again someday. I know that they are still with me. And always will be. But today, I feel that grief all over again. For them and for this precious student taken too soon.
So dear ones, make the most of your precious life. Dream big. Chase after those dreams. Chase after the dreams of those who never saw theirs fulfilled. Hug your loved ones. Tell them that you love them. Love them passionately. Love yourself. Change the world.
You are beautiful. Your life matters. You are needed. You are loved.
As always you can keep up with me over at ohhaiiitsbrandii.wordpress.com
Until next time,
One of the biggest obstacles I've had to face in this journey of recovery is people not understanding what I'm going through. My guess is I'm not alone in that feeling. Living with a mental illness isn't easy for the person with it and it's generally not easy on the people in our lives. And the main thing that I've had to keep reminding myself is grace. I have to give those that don't understand what I'm going through the same grace that I want from them.
My closest support system are the ones that have had to give and receive the most grace. Dealing with someone that at times has had full on emotional and mental breakdowns in front of them was incredibly exhausting for them. In those moments, they had to give me grace. Dealing with people that don't always understand what goes on in my head or why I think the things I do at times is incredibly exhausting for me. In those moments, I had to give them grace.
Living with mental illness and having people in your life that don't can be hard for all involved. And there's a lot of give and take with it. I have to give grace and give patience and give understanding more often than I'd like to. But I also have to receive grace and receive patience and receive understanding more often than I'd like to. And really, that's what it's all about.
I know that I don't have it all figured out and a lot of these things I'm still learning as I go. But I know that grace is one thing we can never have too much of.
If you're finding it hard to connect with people or that it's hard to explain to them what's going on, please know that you aren't alone. We won't act like we know everything or that we have all the answers, but we can and will provide support and love to you along your journey. These are day to day choices that we all have to make. The more people to have on my journey, the less lonely I'll be on those tough days.
We're gonna make it through this. One day at a time. One small victory at a time.
As always you can keep up with me over at ohhaiiitsbrandi.wordpress.com
Until next time,
So let go my soul and trust in Him.
Do you trust Him?
Do you trust Him with your past?
This post is something that has been inspired by a dear friend of mine, who will never admit that there is a seed of bitterness and resentment in their life,but it is most certainly there.
So I'll ask again.
Do you trust Him?
I tried to move you, but you just wouldn't budge.
It's so easy to let ourselves become bitter and cynical when things don't go the way that we thought they would.
Instead, we hold our ground that we're in the right.
So we put our tail between our legs and we leave.
And then comes the bitterness.
What were once healthy relationships are now so fractured, we wonder if they can ever be repaired.
I encourage you, I urge you- don't let bitterness take root in your heart.
I pray that you would begin to let go and let God.
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.
Let it be well with your soul.
As always you can keep up with me over at ohhaiiitsbrandii.wordpress.com
Until next time,