I expected a total freak out. I really did. So I tried to work it into a phone conversation as naturally as I could.
“Say Mom, did Dan tell you I got a tattoo?”
Instead of the expected shriek, I got a fairly calm query.(1) “Where?”(2)
If I were being a smart ass I would have said “At Monkey Bones Tattoos.” But I took the sensible route for a change and said, “On the inside of my left wrist.”
Then she asked, “What did you get?”
Again, any number of possible responses crossed my mind. But I decided to play it straight and told her the truth: “I got a semi-colon.”(3)
The next obvious question was, “Why?”
I could have said because I’m a huge grammar nerd, which would have been the truth about me, but not about the tattoo.
I explained as best I could. The semi-colon tattoo is a symbol of mental health awareness and suicide prevention. I rushed through the grammatical part of the explanation: In writing a semi-colon is a place where the writer could have stopped, but chose to go on. The idea is that someone will see the tattoo (4) and ask about it. Then you can explain the symbolism and how you are trying to combat the stigma of talking about mental illness. Like I just did.
I wrote about this on my other blog, Bipolar Me (https://bipolarjan.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/a-tattoo-is-for-life/) when I first got the tattoo, so if you saw it there, I apologize for the repetition.
Actually, no I don’t. The message is one that bears repeating, as often as we can and in as many ways as we can. You know someone with a mental illness(5) and that person is afraid to talk about it because of the stigma that still exists around the subject. I have bipolar disorder, type 2, and I talk about it all the time on my Bipolar Me blog.
Talking about mental illness is risky. You often get one of the standard reactions: a fixed, awkward smile; unwelcome advice about cinnamon or apple cider vinegar; outright disbelief; a decrease in contact with that person; sudden bad reviews at work. Perhaps worst of all, you get, “Isn’t that what the guy who just shot up the shopping mall had?”
Ordinarily, I post to my blog on Sunday. But this is National Suicide Prevention Week, so I wanted to post now. You can find out more about the tattoos at http://www.projectsemicolon.com/.
As Mom R. said about my tattoo, “It’s for a good cause.”
(1) My father-in-law was a Navy man and sported a few of the more common nautical tattoos, so I guess Mom R. had had a while to get used to the idea. Anyway, at least she didn’t go all, “The body is the Temple of God” on me.
(2) Apparently this is the first required question if someone announces a tattoo. Unless it’s on your face, neck or other readily observable spot. I suspect that everyone who asks imagines that it is located some place at least mildly kinky.
(3) Monkey Bones is locally known for extreme, large, and disturbing tattoos, like zombie cows. (I’m not kidding, either.) I think they must have been so embarrassed at being asked to do a pitiful mark of punctuation that they hustled me in and out in ten minutes.
(4) And if we had been Skyping, Mom R. would have, but Skype has been glitchy lately since I changed browsers. So we have our weekly coffee chats over speakerphone. This prevents a lot of Dan handing me the phone and saying, “Here. Say hello to Mom.” Especially when I’m not prepared with any tidbits of conversation, like a new tattoo. Here’s a picture, if you’re curious:
(5) Depression, anxiety, OCD, ASD, whatever. I guarantee it. Someone you know is struggling, and may or may not be getting help for it. A semi-colon tattoo would show you care.