Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


I told myself I did it for others, to help those who have struggled like me. I thought I was being honest with myself when I admitted that it was also because of my own experience. But deep down inside,I didn’t really believe it I believed that it–really, I was being altruistic. It made me feel good about myself.
When I mentioned the tattoo to Dr. A., my psychiatrist, she commended me—it would probably help others who’ve thought of suicide connect with me and realize they aren’t alone. It would be a conversation starter.
In response to her question about the location of my tattoo, I proudly rolled up the right leg of my jeans to expose my calf. But as I did so, I felt a twinge of doubt enter my mind.
Dr. A. verbalized my thought. “But that’s not really visible.”
There were several reasons I’d chosen to position the semicolon on my right calf. I wanted it to cover my old tattoo from when I was a teenager, a faded, unfinished, hand-done, blurry plant of sorts. I bore that smudge of a tattoo for years. And now, finally, I put it behind me, a crisp, distinct, semicolon tattoo covering most of it. Also, I wore shorts to the tattoo parlor—it was hot summer’s day and I it would be easier for the tattoo artist.
But this past week, I wore my jeans, and my tattoo, my conversation starter, was hidden from plain sight. Were the old tattoo and the weather the true reasons for the placement of the semicolon? Hadn’t I originally thought to position it on my wrist? Why did I change my mind?
Could it be that this tattoo was more for me, a symbol of my issues with suicide ideation? To remind me to stay away from the abyss? Rather than for the world to see and question?
I know, from past experience, that there is a high probability that I still have struggles with thoughts of suicide ahead of me. I suffer from severe depression and am dependent on meds to manage it–meds lose effectiveness and life happens.
For several years, I believed I didn’t have it in me to take my own life. I told Cindy and my therapist “Well, yes, I’ve thought of suicide, but I don’t have it in me.”
Finally, a couple of years later, when writing about my thoughts of suicide, I came to realize that there were no guarantees.
The exchange with Dr. A. made me rethink the state of my mental health. Until now, I only saw killing myself as a remote possibility . Now, I know that the chance I will slip over the edge is very real. And given the right set of circumstances, or the wrong ones… I’d be able to end my life. And I know exactly how I would go about it.
Now I know that the semicolon is for me, much more so than I realized.
But, I do want to help my comrades in arms. I want them to see it and realize they are not alone, that it’s okay to talk about it. And maybe, I will actually help someone to step away from the edge.
I also want people to ask me about it, people who have never thought of suicide. I want to reach those who think suicide is a cowardly and selfish act, to those who judge and stigmatize, feeding the shame associated with it.
Suicide should not be a taboo subject. It should be discussed, in the open. Otherwise how can we possibly learn how to give hope to the hopeless.
There is another tattoo in my future, the very near future—another semicolon in a visible location. Not on my forehead, perhaps on my arm.