my semi colon tattoo is different than yours.

As most of you know, my two year anniversary of having my colon removed was on July 1. I’m so happy and proud of myself that I have made it 2 years with SO many changes, both because of my health and not.

I’ve been wanting to do a catch up blog post, I figured this would be the best time. My jpouch is doing well! My job is super fast paced and can be stressful, but that is the kind of lifestyle I have always liked at work, even before my diagnosis.

When I was really sick it was hard for my family and friends to get me to stop working. I have a strong work ethic and laying around and not doing anything, even when I was deathly ill, was never in my game plan for life. So, when I do have those tough days and I am a little more tired than usual, it can be frustrating.  I do remind myself that this is the path that was chosen for me. I know my body better than most people ever will, so when it’s talking to me and telling me to slow down, I do my best to listen.

On my official two year anniversary date, I decided to pull the trigger on a tattoo that I have wanted for some time. A semi colon tattoo. Unfortunately at the same time, this tattoo became more of a fad than anything. A fad for people with mental illness. I might catch a lot of flack for this, but it’s the way that I feel. My blog, my viewpoints and opinions. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.

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I understand that mental illness is serious. I get it. I have trouble with anxiety because of my past health experiences all of the time. What makes me a little angry is that people of the IBD community have been getting semi colon tattoos for years and years now and not ONE person has recognized it in such an important way. In a way that is making the whole universe aware of mental illness and associating semi colons with it. 

I got my tattoo because I literally have a semi colon. My small intestine is now my colon and though it might not be as large as the normal large intestine, it is mighty. It saved my life. It has gotten me back on track and shown me that I can have a normal life again.

Grammatically you use a semi colon when you were going to end a sentence, but decide to keep going. People who have been suicidal or struggle with serious depression and other mental illnesses have chosen to get this tattoo because when they could have ended their life, they decided to keep living. Key word being *DECIDED.*

Mine was not a decision. Mine was given to me as a challenge. I worked my butt off (literally) to get where I am today, 2 years out and 94.8% cured of my ulcerative colitis and all issues that come with the seriously painful, unpredictable and exhausting auto-immune disease. I got my tattoo to display to the world how proud I am of my semi colon and how much we have gotten through together.

My fear is now that because of this fad that many will believe that I have mental issues and that comes with a stigma. For example, when I was grabbing food at my work the other day, one of the kitchen guys that I hadn’t met before looked at my fore arm and said, “Oh, you have one of those semi colon tattoos,” in a very judgmental type of tone. I immediately jumped on the defense, explaining that my tattoo was not of the same meaning that is being bragged and over exposed upon on social media and news outlets. Even when I explained to him my situation and why I had my semi colon, he gave me a look of confusion. It annoyed me so badly. I felt a fire in my gut that was telling me to let this person know that you shouldn’t jump to conclusions so quickly on people. What was he confused about? Why was my answer dissatisfying to him? What was so difficult about what I said? Does IBD not deserve what mental illness does?

You know why he was probably confused? Because I told him I don’t have a colon and he probably thought that was gross or weird. I could tell by the look on his face. If IBD would get the same attention as mental illness, maybe he wouldn’t have been so flabbergasted by the fact that my tattoo does not represent the now well known fact that I might be mentally ill in some nature.14202a7cd7454749804ad81bbb62a8cd

Am I over thinking this, probably. It’s my strong advocate side coming out. None the less, it is SO important for me to help spread understanding of IBD and what we go through.

It’s going to be frustrating to have to try and explain to people who ask about my tattoo and ask me if I’ve seen the articles and read the stories about semi colon tattoos. Yes, of course I have seen them, they are everywhere right now. I know that I shouldn’t worry about what other people are thinking and why they are thinking it, but I believe in the importance of awareness. Many of us fight to help others understand what IBD is and the lifestyle and risks that come with it.

Mental illness has a lot of awareness and many, if not all of us, struggle with a twinge of mental problems. Whether its as small as being afraid of the dark, or as serious as trying to commit suicide, everyone is aware of mental illness.

Why isn’t the other reasoning behind having a semi colon being so highly publicized? Why isn’t Inflammatory Bowel Disease also getting media attention? Isn’t that reporters job? To explain that there are other reasons for this symbol? Some articles have stated that many have the semi colon tattoo to represent “silent illness,” but it still feels like that is all geared towards mental issues. Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis are among the most extremely excruciating and ultimate silent diseases. Many of us might not look sick, but we suffer in silence. “You don’t look sick,” has been a favorite quote among those in the IBD community.

Just because someone doesn’t look a certain way doesn’t mean you should pass judgement on them regarding what is going on in their personal life. One of my favorite quotes that points out this very situation, is “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Nothing could ring more true. I’m so glad that my disease helped me to realize not to pass judgement on others so quickly.

Which brings me back to my point on why immediately judging someone with a semi colon tattoo these days might come so easily to some. I want everyone to understand that there are so many other reasons why one might sport a permanent symbol on their skin. It makes me cringe to think that I may have to cover up my arm until people forget why semi colon tattoos are so popular in the media world right now. That I might have to continue explaining that I am not “crazy” or “unbalanced” as some may immediately judge when they see my tattoo. Those are the stigmas that come with mental illness.

People in the IBD community have to deal with just as many stigmas as those in the mental illness community do. We come across stigmas about our ostomies, about going to the bathroom so much, about what we eat, what caused our disease and so much more.

Until this fad ends, I hope that people in the IBD community continue to remind those who are one sighted that there are more reasons for the semi colon tattoo other than struggling with suicide. I have had a struggle of my own. I’ve already seen some of you stand up to it on the internet and it’s SO awesome.

Even my friends at work are helping to stand up and help those online understand that a semi colon tattoo has numerous meanings.

My semi colon tattoo represents the strength that came from fighting to have my actual semi colon that is inside my body. The years of pain, the 3 surgeries, the hospital stays, the starvation, and the inability to function like a normal human being.

My semi colon cured all of that.

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13 thoughts on “my semi colon tattoo is different than yours.

  1. This is such an amazing post. I’m right there with you on all of your thoughts. I went through the same surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and had my 3 year anniversary of mine in June. I love sharing my story with people and educating everyone about ulcerative colitis. It changed my life in so many, unthinkable ways. I am forever grateful to my ostomy & Jpouch! 🙂

      • My friend Alexandra (Tubaugh) Trew first told me about you a couple of years ago. She knew we were both going through the same thing. I have read a few of your posts and I think what you do for IBD/UC is awesome, so much more awareness is needed for IBD. Almost everyone I tell about my story, I have to start with what the disease even is. It’s definitely something that should have more light shown on it! Thank you for being such a great advocate for it! 🙂

  2. Great post and I am also an advocate for spreading IBD and Ostomy awareness. I think it’s unfortunate that another cause has taken on the same symbol that many of us literal semi coloners were already using to try and spread understanding of our disease and its consequences. Not discounting the importance of mental illness, however it is saddening and somewhat upsetting that the semi colon tattoo has taken off and spread virally and is getting so much publicity and media attention for one cause, but not so much for another. Both are important causes, and both have equal stigmas attached, yet somehow IBD is still left behind and people are still so reluctant to talk about it or be open to understanding. Of course it can have multiple meanings and represent many things, and I think it’s great that you’re rocking a semi colon tattoo for IBD 😊 I don’t have a tattoo myself, but I’m proud of my semi colon and all it has done for me, and happy to talk about it with anyone who will listen!

    • WELL SAID!!! I agree with everything you said here. Not trying to take away from the importance of mental illness, but trying to gain for IBD. Everyone needs to remember that things always have dual meanings and if they had just done a little more research, IBD might be blowing up as well. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. Very well said. I also have a semicolon tattoo, but it isn’t related to mental illness OR IBD. It was a personal choice that is a reminder for making decisions in my life. Mine is on the back of my neck, and it’s a reminder that I should use my head and also use my heart/gut to make decisions – that they should work together as I move forward in my life – and the semicolon is the punctuation mark that both keeps them separate and working together.

    I’ve been getting a lot of the same remarks about the semicolon project fad and I just get so annoyed because you can never ever assume meaning behind someone’s tattoo. Mine is now almost 10 years old and it is so frustrating to have to now counter assumptions about my mental health, which you’re absolutely right, has stigma. Thanks for writing this.

  4. First- thank you for explaining why the semi colon was used for mental illness bc I never got that lol. And I totally agree with your feelings about everything else. And your tattoo rocks! I think u need to rock it regardless to spread the word/ keep spreading awareness about IBD! Don’t let one ignorant person detour you from showing your tattoo with pride! 🙂

  5. This is so amazing, u are such an inspiration. Just had my take down last week and my pouch is 5days old. Would really be nice to be able to chat with you

  6. Well I learned something new today! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I have been considering getting a semi-colon tattoo as I do have a strong history with mental illness, both in myself and loved ones. Now that I know it has yet another meaning I’m sure I will be letting others know.
    As a side note, don’t ever let other people’s opinions make you feel like you need to cover your tattoo! It is for YOU and you know what it means. At the end of the day, who cares if people judge? If it isn’t that, they’ll likely judge you for something else anyway.
    Not to mention that having a mental illness ISN’T something to be ashamed of. I understand that it’s frustrating to have your tattoo misinterpreted but try not to take it as the ultimate insult if someone wrongly assumes you might have depression or something. If you did, it wouldn’t mean that you’re crazy or unstable and if people are still assuming that kind of thing then, frankly, it says more about them than it does about you.

  7. Pingback: Depression is hurting everyone around you, too | The Morbus Crohnicles

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