Yes, I wrote a children’s book inspired by a tattoo. Actually, I wrote, edited, commissioned art for & stubbornly self-published a children’s book inspired by a tattoo.
*Content warning: reference to mental health crises & suicidality*
For those who don’t know, semicolon tattoos are special. While every tattoo has personal significance, generally a semicolon tattoo is a profound statement of survival, hope and solidarity in the face of mental health struggles. It may pay tribute to someone who lost their life from a mental health crisis. Often, it means the wearer themselves struggled so severely with mental illness at some point that they considered “ending their story” but kept going. As the late Amy Bleuel, who popularized the tattoo, explained, “A semicolon is used when the author could have ended their sentence but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life.”
I don’t have a semicolon tattoo… but only because I opted for a different kind of ink.
A decade ago, I experienced my first major depression. People tend to assume that time heals grief, or trauma, or heartbreak, but that’s not always the case. It wasn’t for me. As time passed, I got worse instead of better. By autumn, it was swallowing me. By the new year, I was ready for my story to end.
I was lucky; someone intervened. Time didn’t heal the wounds, but treatment did. It was not an easy or linear process. Most days, progress was not even obvious.
When I learned about semicolon tattoos years later, their message resonated at once. I’d been at those crossroads. I knew these tattoos were anything but skin-deep.
And I was blown away by how much was packed into this tiny symbol… Resilience. Perspective. Hope.
I wished I’d known about it sooner. Looking back on that first depression, what stands out is being in adulthood yet struggling with basics like “thoughts aren’t truths” and “feelings don’t last forever.” I simply had no framework to understand there could be more ahead while my mind insisted it was over.
The semicolon offers a solid plank in that framework, one we can start building early in life – no tattoo required.
So… I began writing what would become The Semicolon.
That's a wrap on Mental Health Month 2023!
Throughout May, The Semicolon featured in conversations with readers, libraries and parents about all things mental health. It was a great experience, and since then I’ve reflected on where these conversations should go next.
Here are some of my biggest takeaways:
Mental Health Month also reminded me how hard it can be on a personal level to spotlight some of our darkest moments. The conversations were not easy, and there was so much more I wanted to say that managing my own mental health got in the way of. One of the hardest parts of talking about children's mental health is that we are invariably talking, at least a little bit, to our younger selves.
The greatest comfort and inspiration through May came from fellow author-advocates, like award-winning writer and publisher Caitlyn Jones. I was honored to be invited by Caitlyn for an interview about The Semicolon for Columbia Mom, a South Carolina parenting blog. Despite having never met and living thousands of miles apart, both Caitlyn and I know firsthand how depression blocks out feelings of hope for the future. We want to help young people understand early in life that hope can still exist even when your mind insists otherwise.
As we get into summer, please don't forget that while sunshine is a great mood-booster, it is not a magic cure for depression. Contrary to popular belief, the risk of suicide is actually higher in spring and early summer than the cold, dark months of winter. Check in on friends and loved ones, and if you are struggling, know that help is available and you are not alone.
(In other news - more libraries have added The Semicolon to their collections! You can now find the book in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Louisville, Thunder Bay and Haliburton. I run a shout-out series on my Instagram page highlighting each library system that has picked up the book. The most recent shout-outs went to Ottawa, Dallas and St Albert Public Library. Buffalo, Calgary and Edmonton are all up next on my shout-out list).
Trigger warnings in this post: discussion of suicide, depression and anxiety.
April 16th is World Semicolon Day!
World Semicolon Day was started in 2016 by Project Semicolon to celebrate the individuals who have chosen, or who are still choosing every day, to keep going instead of ending their stories. It’s a day that acknowledges the courage, resilience and advocacy of survivors while raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
My book THE SEMICOLON was inspired by the semicolon tattoos of mental health advocates. So, in honour of World Semicolon Day, I am donating 100% of April 2023 UK book royalties to Suicide Awareness and Prevention UK (SAPUK), a CIC nonprofit organization that offers free, one-to-one chat services and leads campaigns to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, including an annual UK-wide semicolon tattoo campaign.
I chose this organization for a few reasons. First, on a personal level, I lost a family member in the UK last year, whose struggles with depression and anxiety contributed to his passing. Second, community building and stigma reduction are invaluable aspects of preventing suicide. Grassroots support networks can be life-saving, particularly given the massive gap between the number of people seeking mental healthcare treatment and those who actually receive it. The sheer dedication of SAPUK’s team to fill this gap is pretty incredible (seriously, check out their Facebook page).
The third reason is a little more complicated, as some folks might be wondering why I am choosing to donate proceeds to a CIC organization as opposed to a registered charity. The long and short of it is this: I don’t limit my support to registered charities when it comes to causes I care about. In countries like the UK and Canada, charities have restrictions on what they can do – which is great for accountability purposes, but also limiting in that oftentimes these organizations are restricted in the amount and type of advocacy they can undertake to address systemic issues that contribute to crises like suicide.
Quite simply, having worked in the nonprofit sector myself, I know how hard it is to raise funds for behind-the-scenes operational costs, like insurance, staff training, and website maintenance. I also know how exhausting it can be for individuals working or volunteering with these organizations to not only lack the resources they need to deliver their services (especially those free of charge!), but to even support their own teams in the process. This is all the more significant given the prevalence of burnout and the pressure that advocates and service providers often feel to keep going “at any cost.”
So, this World Semicolon Day, I’m proud to use proceeds from THE SEMICOLON to support fellow mental advocates in their life-saving work for others.
Did you know that January can be tough for independent authors?
Despite our lives in imaginary worlds, we still contend with winter blues, cold/flu season and the gravity of new year reflections in the real one. Reader engagement plummets with mass migration back to work or school. What’s more, part of being an independent author is being an entrepreneur. An internet search for “worst month to do business” will flag January as one to watch for, as folks are strained from the holidays and resolved to spend less.
I experienced this firsthand. After taking time off in December, I’d planned to start 2023 strong with book marketing, writing, and author networking. Little did I know I’d revved myself up for an icy road! To make matters worse, I’m still developing my metaphorical snowtires. Disappointments can easily send me careening offroad, straight down the rabbit hole.
All to say, it wasn’t the January I’d hoped for, even with the highlights of launching The Semicolon Reader Guide for mental health professionals and taking part in my first-ever author interview for Bell Let’s Talk Day.
It was, however, a good reminder that long-term staying power sometimes requires shifting gears, especially when outside conditions are beyond our control. And that, as an independent creator, putting work into our inner snowtires – our ability to cope, regroup and adjust – matters just as much as the writing.
"A heartfelt story of navigating emptiness and finding hope for the future...
Behind the scenes, a lot is happening in every book launch – especially for an independent author! The past several weeks have been devoted to setting up worldwide distribution channels, smoothing out pricing wrinkles (think currency conversion rates, shipping costs, etc.), and getting the word out about the book every step of the way.
All the updates on the book front could fill a novel, so here are the most exciting takeaways:
I was incredibly honored this past month by the opportunity to author a piece for the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s e-magazine The Catalyst about the challenges of writing and marketing a children’s book about depression. The article, “Making a Point,” is a great place to learn the backstory of The Semicolon, as well as the alarming statistics that reinforced my decision to self-publish (we need conversations about mental health to start early!).
In other big news: my Kirkus Review is in! Kirkus is a leading name in the publishing industry for book reviews, and I am thrilled to share that The Semicolon was praised as a “heartfelt story of navigating emptiness and finding hope for the future.” The review also observed that the book “offers a great way to encourage young people with grief and depression to open up,” which thrilled me as the story has always been about sparking those critical conversations. The full review is available here (be warned: it contains plot spoilers!)
Since its full launch in November, the book has touched readers all the way from B.C. and the prairie provinces to Texas, Hawai’i, and the U.K.! As a debut author, reaching new audiences is a challenge, and I am immeasurably grateful for everyone who has not only bought the book, but taken the time to share feedback and their photos of the book with me.
Thank you for being part of this journey with me. If The Semicolon has resonated with you too, I’d love to know about it.