Amy Bleuel is the founder of Project Semicolon. Project Semicolon is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.
After overcoming many obstacles in her life including bullying, rejection, suicide, self-injury, addiction, abuse and even rape, Amy has found strength and a love for others. Amy struggled with mental illness for 20+ years and has experienced many stigmas associated with it. She now shares her stories around the nation giving hope to others struggling with mental illness.
Hope is knowing WE BELONG…with Amy Bleuel #isharehope Episode 101
Summary: Amy’s answer to the five questions! Listen to the full conversation on the player above; also available on iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud.
Question 1: How do you define hope or what is your favorite quote about hope?
Hope says you belong. Just knowing that there is something bigger out there that has a light and actually says that we’re worth it, says that we belong, just having that word hope in the sense that you belong is powerful. It’s simple, yet so powerful.
Question 2: Who has shared the most hope with you?
The people who stand out the most, my mentor Bob Lenz. Bob is the founder of Life Promotions here in Appleton, Wisconsin. I met him in 2008. He didn’t know who I was and I said I’m going to take my life and he’s like, why are you telling me this? We had a conversation and after ending the conversation he says to let him know that I got to the next location safely and let me know you’re okay. That started the relationship that has been going for eight years. He was always there to say pick back up. You fell. Pick back up and keep going regardless of it.
Somebody who definitely touched me even in the short time that I’d known him is Kevin Hines. Kevin Hines has a great story of his own where he attempted to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. He goes around dealing with some of the similar things I deal with. We both struggle with chronic suicidal thoughts, we both struggle with depression. Through his story, through saying that I lived mentally well regardless of hey I think about suicide all the time, I live a healthy life and you can too. Having that stand beside me say there is hope in that as well.
Question 3: How have you used hope to make it through a difficult time in your life?
My story really starts at the age of six. My parents divorced at the age of 4, but my story really starts at six and it starts in a dark, brutal place – being abused by my stepmother for two years, being beaten with 2x4s, being told I was a devil’s child and that I didn’t deserve to live. Being locked into a dark cage outside in the desert heat of Arizona and just being treated inhumanely. I wasn’t human. I wasn’t worthy of the life I lived. I wasn’t worthy of the time and love that I deserved and that’s what I knew for two years. To find that hope, to continue on in that time, I can’t say I really had memories of that happening because I was so young and didn’t know what hope was.
Even at a young age, I was always fighting to stay alive or to be with my father. At the age of eight, being removed at that house after I hit her back, the last words I ever said to my father face to face at the courthouse was “Dad, don’t go.” He said “I have to. I can’t see you anymore.” Those were the last words we ever said face to face. Then, going to find that place and position in life to continue on from the age of eight to 13. I was raped for the first time at 13 and a bomb threat was done to my middle school right after Columbine. I lived in a small town and the police already threw out the rape case and yes, I was the typical school shooting profile if you want to look at it. I was an abused, angry kid who broke a lot of laws and didn’t really care. I lashed out. I was emotionally disturbed.
I never dealt with the abuse that I went through. My mom, as hard as she tried, she didn’t understand or did she have the resources to take care of me. At the age of 13 to 18, to go away to a girl’s prison and during that time experiencing brutal self-harm, I would stop at nothing to destroy myself. I would beat my head against the wall until I bled. I would rip out my hair and use it to strangle myself. I bit myself. I friction burned myself with my own skin – whatever I could do to harm myself. That’s what I did for five years. I watched people do stuff that I never even dreamt of doing to myself. I thought I was bad, but these people were worse. I saw the darkest of dark and that’s what I grew up around. I got out at the age of 18.
I spoke to my father at the age of 16. I said to him “Dad does she know we’re talking?” He said no. I said I was going to come see him when I turn 18. He even told me she couldn’t know about us talking, so I made that promise. I turned 18 August 1st 2003 and my father took his life September 9, 2003 – a month and eight days after my 18th birthday. I got out of the system December 2003. I blamed myself. I thought if I was good enough he would still be alive and I blamed myself for pretty much the next 10 years until I started Project Semicolon and started my healing process too.
My father took his life and maybe it wasn’t my fault, maybe it was the struggle with mental illness. Eventually, the mental illness took him, the struggle took him and at first I blamed him, you know, he was the coward, he was selfish and then I started to understand it because I had been there too and I had been there repeatedly. My life just continued to be finding that hope to carry on. Going through college, being raped two more times and then being in a relationship where I was pregnant – I thought I was going to marry him and he came back and beat me up after he left me for somebody else, so I lost our child. Even as recently as last year, hearing that I won’t ever have children and knowing that I had that one chance and I don’t get it…Of all the things I wanted in life, I wanted children.
I guess part of my story is to tell this and here I stand and I’ve given up everything and I can only hope that my story encourages so somebody else could have the life I couldn’t have.
Question 4: How are you sharing hope today?
Project Semicolon was started in memory of my father – just telling my story, to have that discussion. I started it because it’s a simple, yet powerful symbol because in literature, a semicolon is used when an author chooses not to end a sentence. We are saying you are the author and the sentence is your life and you are choosing to continue. Now if you walk on the street there is likelihood you know what the semicolon means if you see the tattoo. Before, it was a simple symbol where no one knew and it was a way to connect, almost like this little underground posse and it became something more. It started a conversation and it started a conversation that can’t be stopped and I don’t think will ever be stopped. That’s my goal. I wanted to start a conversation that can’t be stopped. I wanted to allow people to have that discussion.
Question 5: How should I (the listener) begin to grow in hope or share hope today?
(1) Reach out to somebody you trust. Find that support.
(2) Find that point where you continue to carry on.
(3) Find what’s good for you or what works for you.
(4) Build that support system.