Community mourns Amy Bleuel, founder of Project Semicolon
"Project Semicolon," described a semicolon as representing "a sentence the author could’ve ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life."
Last week, she ended her sentence with a period instead of a semicolon. Sometimes, a mental illness diagnosis, just like any other disease, doesn't have a happy ending.
Bleuel, a woman who has inspired millions and saved countless lives (including mine), was not able to save her own. On Friday, March 24, at the age of 31, she lost her life to suicide, according to her obituary.
Upon hearing about her death, I was devastated. Project Semicolon holds a special place in my heart, and I even have a semicolon tattoo on my foot, inspired by Bleuel.
Because of my tattoo, in 2015, I was interviewed for an article about Project Semicolon by freelance reporter Caitlin Renton. And, completely undeservingly, I was quoted alongside Amy, who Caitlin also interviewed.
Upon hearing about Bleuel's death, Renton was especially heartbroken and reached out to me to share her personal memories of the woman.
"When I first heard about Project Semicolon, I was inspired to write an article about the strong message — that life is worth living. ... I decided to reach out to the founder, Amy Bleuel," said Renton. "Bleuel immediately responded to my Facebook message and took me up on my offer to interview her. During our interview, she was open in answering all of my questions about such a difficult topic. I admired her for being so welcoming to an aspiring journalist still in college."
"As an advocate for suicide awareness, Bleuel was courageous and bold, but she was also incredibly kindhearted. She genuinely cared about every life she touched."
I hope that this is how people remember Bleuel, but I'm scared that people will only remember her for the way she died instead of for the way she lived. And, most of all, I am terrified that the death of such a strong and courageous woman will make people lose hope in their own battle with mental illness.
In Bleuel's life, she experienced rape, abuse, addiction, self-injury and bullying. Yet she took the pain she experienced and used it to help others. She was selfless, sometimes to a fault.
"My understanding was that she ran the organization nearly entirely herself and may have isolated herself due to the intensity of her work. It's a heavy burden to bear your soul and hear so many others," Amelia Lehto, American Association of Suicidology Crisis Centers Division Chair, told me in an interview Thursday night.
Lehto knows firsthand what it's like to speak with people contemplating suicide on a daily basis. "I am starkly reminded that I cannot live people's lives for them nor can I sacrifice my well-being for theirs. We have to first put on our own oxygen mask. I can only imagine the impact of such a movement while living with personal demons."
"The best thing we can do is reach out to our support networks. To call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or test 741741 to the Crisis Text line when we cannot talk to anyone else. Communications is our link to life."
Amy Bleuel cared so much for other people that she forgot to take the time to care for herself.
"Amy lived to serve others, to inspire the hope for our sentences to continue. I think she believed it as much as anyone else who Project Semicolon resonated with," said Lehto.
Lehto and Renton and thousands of others are mourning Bleuel and sharing their stories of how this woman helped them keep going.
"I've suffered from general anxiety and OCD for as long as I can remember. Bleuel's message taught me to keep my head up during my darkest moments. When life threw me obstacles, I would tell myself, 'It doesn't end here. Your sentence isn't over,'" said Renton. "Project Semicolon has helped me keep going and never give up. I only hope that we can all work together to make that message live on forever."
"For anyone who has lost hope after Amy's death, remember there is a world of people backing you in your fight to keep going every day. You may not know them, but you already have many friends who have your back in your times of struggle."
Bleuel recently inspired a woman I know, who wished to remain anonymous, to get a semicolon tattoo. Like Bleuel, she too suffers from depression.
"The best way to describe depression and anxiety is like having a constant weight on your chest and constantly over thinking your every move. I've had it for as long as I can remember and I didn't know it was a mental illness," she told me. "I remember a majority of my high school career with depression; my mom mentally and emotionally abused me so I'd blame myself for things that were out of my control. There was a night I almost overdosed on pills. ... A really close friend talked me through it."
She said that, when someone attempts suicide, they don't actually want to die; they just want that empty ache to stop.
"I look at my life now with a loving and supporting boyfriend with a beautiful baby and can't believe what I would be missing if I decided to end my life," she said.
Amy fought for the life of every single person suffering from a mental illness or who has considered suicide. She fought for me. She fought for Caitlin Renton. She fought for Amelia Lehto. She fought for my friend who suffers from depression. And she fought for you. All because she wanted so badly for you to survive.
So, I urge you to carry on Amy's legacy by LIVING.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386, or text “START” to 741-741. Oakland County residents, call Common Ground's 24-hour Resource and Crisis Helpline at 1-800-231-1127 ;