[INTERVIEW] Amy Bleuel, 'It gets more bearable when you use it for good'

In 2015, Wisconsin local Amy Bleuel shared an image with the world. It was a semicolon tattooed on her arm, a tribute to her late father, who passed away by suicide soon after her 18th birthday. 

‘I chose a semicolon because in literature it is used for a pause and not to end a sentence. It is saying you are the author, the sentence is your life and you are choosing to continue,’ she tells Warcry. 

Amy’s photograph went viral on social media and, in the space of a few days, Project Semicolon took off. A faith-based movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to people who fight to believe their life matters. It was represented by the semicolon, which is now drawn or tattooed on the wrists of people across the globe.

‘It’s become a conversation point; it’s become a healing point,’ reflects Amy. ‘It’s just done so many wonderful things for so many wonderful people.’ 

While Amy’s semicolon tattoo is a symbol of remembrance of her father, it also gives an insight into her own life—a life marked by abuse, miscarriage, homelessness, self-harm and multiple suicide attempts. 

At the age of eight, Amy was brutally abused by her stepmother. After defending herself, she was taken away by the police and entered the juvenile justice system. 

This was the last time Amy saw her father. Over her teenage years, she experi­enced multiple rapes and re-entered the system—this time remaining behind bars for five years. The insight this gave her into her own mental health, and the mental wellness of others, is a fundamental part of why she runs Project Semicolon today. 

‘I’ve seen lots of sides of humanity about mental illness, and I’m grateful because I now have a deeper under­standing, but it was a hard thing to watch and definitely to reflect back on those memories,’ she says.

At the age of 16, Amy called her father and promised she would visit him after she turned 18. Tragically, she later found out he had taken his own life. Yet with resilience and determination, she completed her high school diploma (‘I miraculously graduated on time with my original class!’ she adds) and went on to complete a college degree. 

‘I feel like my father’s life has saved thousands, possibly even millions, of lives,’ reflects Amy. ‘It’s more bearable knowing that I can go forth because his story has impacted [people].’ 

World Suicide Prevention Day carries more weight for Amy than most people. It marks the anniversary of the week she lost her father 11 years ago, and this is the first time she has spoken about it publicly. Her message to the world is simple though, ‘It doesn’t get better,’ she tells me. ‘But it gets more bearable when you use it for good.

‘My story is one of great trial and great pain,’ she says with no little understatement. ‘Overcoming that and staying alive is really a miracle. I can’t credit anything more than God for that miracle, because there is no reason I should be alive.’

It is not an overstatement to say that God saved Amy’s life, but perhaps the true miracle is the  countless lives she has impacted every day since Project Semicolon began.  

Amy’s life turned around in 2011 when she met her now husband. ‘I remember going up to him and saying, “Why did you stick around? Why did you invest in me?” He said, ‘Because I saw the finished product. I knew what you were going to become”,’ she recalls. ‘That was wild, because, imagine that, he knew what God has put me here for. He knew that God had plans for me.’

The support Amy has found in her husband and community is an example of the compassion that we can all have for people who are struggling with mental illness.

‘The number one thing people need to do to save lives is to care from the heart. Have that compassion. Listen, have that conversation, ask the tough questions,’ she says. ‘There’s no special formula to suicide prevention; it really just begins in every person.

‘As a person who has struggled and been in the dark time and time again, I look at what’s brought me back from the moments I attempted suicide, and it really was the compassion and love of another person.’

It is not an overstatement to say that God saved Amy’s life, but perhaps the true miracle is the countless lives she has impacted every day since Project Semicolon began. 

Now a non-profit, she works full-time as the organisation’s president, sharing stories, speaking to people and working on an upcoming book that will be released in 2017.

What would she say to someone considering suicide?

‘I would say, “You are loved, you are worth it, and there is no amount of pain that you need to feel because someone else is causing pain for you. You don’t need to cause yourself harm.”

‘Everybody’s mental health journey is different, so seek out what works for you and what makes you happy and comfortable.’ 

This simple grammar tool has become a symbol of hope for millions of people across the world. Amy Bleuel’s story is a reminder that our past doesn’t define our future, and you can turn the page and start again. 

For more information on Project Semicolon, visit projectsemicolon.org.