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The Importance of Sharing Your Story

Every tattoo tells a story

And there are a lot of tattoos in my family

My father has many, but the ones that stick out to me the most are of a badge and flames that stretch from his hand moving up his arm. Those two tattoos together share his story of being a long-time volunteer firefighter.

My mother a few years ago had a back piece completed. On it has the names of all her children surrounding a butterfly, a symbol that means a great deal to her.

Both my parents have over 8 tattoos each. My older sisters having joined in on the family tradition as well.

But I just have one small tattoo...and it’s right here.

No, I’m not super into grammar, as I’ve been asked before. The meaning behind this is much deeper than that. Let me give you some backstory.

Project Semicolon started in 2013 by Amy Bleuel and became a movement in 2015. Amy wanted to pay tribute to her father that had committed suicide ten years prior.

A grammatical semicolon is used when an author could have ended their sentence, but chose not to. A semicolon tattoo is used as a metaphor for mental health. The author being you and the sentence being your life.

While this tattoo may be small, it holds an immeasurable amount of meaning. I have lost 12 friends to suicide in the past ten years and I myself have come close twice to ending my own life.

When I had this tattoo put on my wrist, I created an invitation. An invitation to share my story with those that had asked or was willing to listen because I believe that the exchange of stories with those around us is exceptionally important.

That being said, I’d like to share my story with all of you.

I grew up in a small area called Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania. My childhood was spent mostly with my mom, who was a stay-at-home at the time. My father worked very long days out of state, but he still managed to coach little league and do other fatherly duties. I had my two older sisters and my younger sister.

Outside looking in, it was a very normal childhood, which it was! I watched TV, did crafts, went to school and grew up with a family that valued education and responsibility.

We all fought like many families do, but at the end of a long day we always ate dinner together and often played board games on a weekend evening.

So why then did I, someone that came from a pretty normal childhood, find themself clenching a medicine bottle after throwing up a dangerous amount of medication, trying to undo a suicide attempt at age 14?

Or why then did I, someone that didn’t come from a family of neglect or abuse, find themself gasping for fresh air after a second attempt from carbon monoxide poisoning at age 18?

It was in seventh grade when I first started to feel really low about myself. I didn’t understand why, though. I was living with a family that loved me, I had a few friends that I was close with, and everything seemed to be going fine.

You know those really rainy days when dark clouds cover the sky? Where you feel really low and want nothing more than to just crawl back into bed? Well, other than all the other days you just want to crawl back into bed. That’s how I started to feel every day for weeks, then months.

Being how mature seventh graders are, my friends weren’t exactly understanding of me not being happy all the time and stopped talking to me. That led to me feeling even more alone and on went the vicious cycle.

But I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t know how to tell people what I was feeling and that went on until I got to college. It took me years to finally put into words how depression was affecting me. And I still struggle sometimes.

I’m sure a lot of you have stories that you’ve never told before. Maybe it’s because you’re embarrassed, or ashamed, or you’re not too sure how to tell it. But I believe that THOSE stories, are the ones that are the most important to share.

You see, when we share our stories, it creates an instant connection with someone else. Even if it’s just one person. With that connection, learning and understanding can happen. A relationship can be built. When that connection exists, it’s like we’re not alone anymore, and strength comes in numbers.

When I first heard the story of someone else that was suffering with depression, it’s as if the darkness that I had been living in became a little bit brighter. I wasn’t alone anymore. I wasn’t the only one going through this.

Not only that, but the differences we do find create opportunities for growth and learning. The stereotype of someone with depression is someone that wears all black, doesn’t talk to anyone

and sits in their bed all day being grouchy or cries. And the reason they’re like this is because they come from a childhood full of abuse or neglect.

Well I stand on stage today to say that those stereotypes are not entirely true. Yeah, there are days I don’t want to get out of bed. There are days I’m sad for no reason, but you know what? I didn’t come from a terrible childhood, as I mentioned before. I still go to class, I have a friend group that, while not very large, brings me laughs and love every day. My story is different than yours and yours and that’s why I want to share it.

I was in a group project a few semesters ago. And I know, there's never a good story that stated with that sentence, but bare with me. We had to present a project about a topic I can't recall, but there was four of us. We had everything figured out, when we were going to meet, which group member had which tasks, and it seemed like this may have been a group that would work well together.

Then it comes time to our first group meeting. For the sake of this talk, we'll call this guy Paul. The meeting starts and we're all just waiting for Paul to show up. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, no Paul. We decide to get started without him just so we can get something done. After 45 minutes, I get a text from Paul. A short, simple message. It said: 

"Can't make it, please let me know what I miss. Sorry."

Here we go. It's going to be one of those projects. So at the end of the meeting I let Paul know what he has to do by the next meeting for us to stay on track. He says "okay."

Next meeting comes around. Paul's late again. We get started and he walks in 20 minutes later. He's visibly exhausted, meanwhile it's 4 p.m., he has a sandwich in his hand, trying to scarf it down, and you can see, just isn't fully there. I recognize this look, somethings wrong. He has half the work done that we told him he needed. The group is annoyed, as am I, but while the meeting is going on, I text the others, excluding Paul, and tell them that I'll talk to him after the meeting.

The meeting ends and everyone packs up their stuff. I asked Paul if he could hang around for a second. He said he has to go. I offer to walk with him to his car so we can at least talk for two minutes.

So we start walking and I tell him that the group is unhappy with how he's choosing to be a member of the group. I tried to say it kind of nice but also wanted him to get the point. It was in that moment that Paul stopped right in the center of the sidewalk and I looked back to see him with tears in his eyes.

Paul had not only lost his mother the month prior to a heart attack, whom of which was his only living parent, but he now was working two jobs so he could support his younger sibling that he was then trying to claim dependence over. And the reason he hadn't dropped out of school, or

chose to take a leave of absence, was because this was his only chance to be able to get a better job with better pay so he can support himself, and now his younger sibling.

You see, sharing your story and your experiences... it's crucial. Not only for you, but for those around you.

If you're like me and struggle with mental health, or if you're recovering from an eating disorder or maybe just going through a rough part in your life right now, sharing the story affirms the importance of that story.

We live in a society where diversity is challenged every day. Not just because of what the color your skin is, but in terms of your gender, sexuality, physical disabilities and mental stability. One of the most damaging things we can do as a whole to not move past that is hide our stories and our experiences from those around us.

What makes us grow is when we learn...learn about other's lives, learn about their struggles and their hardships and their successes. I can learn just as much from talking to the CEO of a company as I can the homeless person that sits in front of The Liacouras Center.

We all have stories, don’t try and hide them.

This tattoo is just as much a constant reminder for me as it is a conversation starter. A constant reminder that I didn’t put a period at the end of my story, I’m still going and I'm still sharing.

Thank you.

© 2020 by William Careri. All Rights Reserved