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Project Semicolon

I've been inked! Branded! Marked for life! Tattooed! ...and I love it. For those of you who follow Men Tell Health on Twitter or Instagram, that won't come as a surprise, but for the rest of you, which may or may not include members of my family including my Mum, it's big news! I'm conscious I haven't wrote a blog for a while (aka far too long), so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to tell you about it. Wait! Come back!

I guess a lot of what I'm going to write may depend on what you see when you look at my tattoo. Given the title of this post, most of you will see a semicolon (how's that for subliminal advertising), but this variant has 4 meanings to me. Let's talk about the main one; the semicolon itself.

For those of you who don't know, Project Semicolon has become a movement around the world. It started in the spring of 2013. The Project Semicolon founder, Amy Bleuel, wanted to honour her father whom she lost to suicide. Through the semicolon symbol, many other people related to the struggle of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide and their will to continue on. The semicolon also represented a goal, to believe that this is not the end, but a new beginning.

In grammatical terms, a semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. When it comes the context of this project, that author is you and the sentence is your life. You could have chosen to end your life, but you didn't. I'm no stranger to that frame of mind.

The tattoo is something I've been thinking about ever since I learned about it. For those that know me, they'll tell you I'm not a rebel. Never have been. (Probably) never will be. I did take a library book back late once, but hey, we've all been crazy teenagers at some point. I didn't have any tattoos (obviously that's changed). I don't drink alcohol, I've never smoked a cigarette. I've never done any extreme sports and I've never done drugs of any kind. I'm as beige as they come. It used to be a albatross around my neck, a fight my psyche would rage against in the battle to avoid being 'Mr. Average'. Now I accept that it's who I am and embrace the normality of life and all it can give. Life isn't ordinary. It's extraordinary. You just have to learn to see it that way. Still, something about the semicolon tattoo resonated with me.

I've always liked tattoos. Granted, it's taken me 45 years to step up to the plate. I did want to get L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E on my knuckles when I was 6 or 7, but my primary school teacher talked me out of it. When it comes to getting your body marked for life, I've always believed that the tattoo should mean 'something' to you, whatever that may be. I don't like the ones that are done because it's 'trendy' or 'fashionable' at the time. Celtic bands and dolphins spring to mind. I'm not knocking them, but 'the latest trend' doesn't seem like a good enough reason to be inked for the rest of your life; not for me anyway. This underlying need for it to mean something, I think, is what attracted me to the semicolon. Something that will stay with me. Something that will remind me of darker times in my life every time I look at it. Not in a morbid, depressing way, but a reminder that things can and do get better, despite all the odds.

Getting a semicolon tattoo seems like a perfectly simple thing to get done. A dot and a comma. How difficult can that be to design? Well, very difficult as it turns out. For me at least.

I gave it a good Googling, to see what other people had done. There are some incredible designs. Just search Twitter for #ProjectSemicolon and you'll see exactly what I mean. There are some amazing designs. Some people have chosen the simple, classic ; design - how you would expect a semicolon to look - and it looks beautiful, no matter where it's placed. Others have been a little more artistic, working it into designs of words, hearts and butterflies, Each one more amazing than the last. The more I thought about it, the more I was inspired and determined to make this mark, make its mark on me in more ways than one. 

I'd spoke about it briefly with my wife and she was keen and encouraging, as she always is. Unbeknownst to me, she took this brief chat and ran with it. She found a good place to go and booked me into a local tattoo bar; for the record it was the incredibly professional Ink Bar. Highly recommended! Before I knew it, she surprised me with the appointment and it was time to go.

I wasn't anxious going to the appointment, which was a surprise in itself given that I suffer from acute anxiety! I was excited by the prospect more than anything. Perhaps I was just naive, ignorant or maybe it was a step in the right direction for the new me. About bloody time if it was. Either way, the first step was done. Project Semicolon were going to have a new recruit.

The second meaning to the design, not that they're in any particular order, is the heart. Now usually it's a 'dot' above the comma to represent a semicolon, but this was also my Valentine's Day present from my amazing wife so, of course, it had to be a heart. We've been together since we met in Majorca in 1990. Lord knows I've put her through some sh*t since then, but she's always been by my side. Just when and where I needed her. She's taught me more about myself than, well, me! Which leads me nicely onto the third meaning.

If we could replace the 'dot' with a heart', finding a comma that resembled a 'J' seemed like the next obvious step. If you hadn't already guessed, my wife's name begins with a J. Which is handy. If it didn't, I was going to pay for it to be changed by deed-poll. Always be prepared I say!

I'll be honest with you. The fourth and final meaning didn't occur to me until after it was done, but it's serendipity at work. I have PTSD which was caused by an illness that occurred to me a few years ago (you can read more about that here). To cut a hyperlinked story short, my colon burst leaving me with half a colon or.....you guessed it...a semi colon! You couldn't make it up!

I will say that, as my first (and possibly only) experience of getting a tattoo, I don't think it could have been better. The guy doing it was brilliant. It didn't hurt as much as I'd expected. This could be because I'm just dead 'ard or that my pride has forbidden me from telling you how I screamed like a girl. I didn't obviously, it's clearly the former.

So here it is, in all it's oooh-that-looks-sore glory. It's bigger than most (ooo-errr missus) but size isn't important (apparently). That's a conscious decision too. For many who get a ';' tattooed, it may need to be discreet and subtle, and that's perfect, but I wanted to see it. I wanted it to be a statement. A very clear statement to the world and to me. I wanted to be reminded every time I saw it out of the corner, or the full focus, of my eye.

I could have chose to end my life on two occasions, but I didn't. I carried on. I carried on when every fibre in my body was telling me not too, that I couldn't, but guess what... [SPOILER ALERT]. I did. In your face the old me!


If you're also a member of ProjectSemicolon, share your story below in the comment.

If you're considering it, let us know that too! We can't wait to hear from you!