When people speak about someone who is battling cancer, they nearly always say how brave that person is. I don’t disagree. Illness, treatment, pain, and facing one’s own mortality are some of the hardest parts of being alive. However, what I sort of resent is that, despite all the progress that has been made in reducing the stigma of depression, there is still a sort of “snap out of it” attitude.
Surviving depression takes courage too…
People who survive a depression are rarely told how brave they are. And yet, we face the same sorts of scary things that cancer patients face. You might argue that it is less scary or painful, but I once heard a lady on the CBC (Canadian version of NPR) saying she had suffered from cancer and she had suffered from depression and that the depression was worse. It was worse, she said, because of the self-hatred, how isolated she was, and how her friends treated her (i.e. lack of support or understanding).
One sad fact is that even friends who have been depressed often do not empathize with depression because they believe they “know” how you can get better and if you simply do what they did, you will recover as they did. If you try their solution and it does not work, it seems like there is something wrong with you. And if you refuse, for some reason, to try their way, then you don’t really want to get better.
Some people get it though…
However, some special people “get” it. Whether or not they have been through it, they know you are strong for fighting every day and they are there for you even when you do not quickly “snap out of it”. These people are rare, but they exist.
For the rest of the people… we have to keep on educating them and raising awareness. And, sadly, you do realize what that means, right? More of those awful semi-colon tattoos all over the place.
Semi-colon tattoos… why? Just why?
I mean no offense to you if you have a semi-colon tattoo, but it bothers me that they took the least well-understood punctuation mark and made it a symbol of my illness. I don’t want any punctuation mark as a symbol for my illness. What other illness uses punctuation as a symbol?
Funny we should ask… People who have had half their colon removed use a punctuation mark tattoo as a symbol of their illness. Want to guess which one it is? Yes. Of course. A semi-colon. And they are not pleased that the depressed community co-opted their symbol.
Surviving depression in images…
I prefer images such as the butterfly or the phoenix to symbolize overcoming depression. The butterfly, though an overly common tattoo, symbolizes pretty much the maximum change any organism can go through in a lifetime: from a creeping, crawling, slug-like caterpillar to a gorgeous, delicate, flying butterfly. The phoenix ages and is burnt up by life, but from those ashes rises a brand new, young and vibrant phoenix.
Alternately, an image representing the depression such as a black dog (what Churchill famously called his depression) would be acceptable. I just hate the semi-colon. It’s okay if you have one, though. It’s just punctuation and it means something to you.
I think people who fight depression are brave. It makes is hate our very selves. it makes us feel our isolation. It makes life seem empty and meaningless. And we still move forward in the face of this soul-crushing despair. That is bravery even if no one knows it and no one ever sees these secret battles we fight.
I understand the logic behind the semi-colon tattoo, but I feel like it minimizes the hell we have gone through. I feel we deserve a symbol that is a badge of the courage we have shown. I feel our symbol should be an emblem of our strength to remind us of how strong we can be even when we are feeling weak.