I am a warrior. I’ve never been in the military, never fired a gun, never even been in a fight. I don’t battle a physical enemy, or even one that anyone can see. My battle is tough, painful and invisible. So what am I talking about?
Every day I wake up the same. Tired, foggy, confused and a bit scared. I shut off my alarm and crawl back in bed, reaching for the remnants of my latest dream. I repeat this three times before I’ve officially slept too long. I need to get up and function. I get the kids some breakfast and chocolate milk. I’ll sneak away while they finish so I can get dressed. I yawn my way through applying some makeup. I wouldn’t want one of the other moms to think I was a zombie. I think about all the things I should get done, throw some clothes on the kids, and realize I’m running late. I’ll pack a quick lunch for my son and run out the door.
I’m usually awake by the time we get to school. I stay a minute to help keep my son calm if he’s having a rough morning. I give him a kiss and leave him to some wonderful teachers. I try to look put together, adult, thriving and working hard to support my son. I get back in the car and think again of all the things I should do that day.
Usually my day involves food shopping, going to the gym or chores at home. Tuesdays, a speech therapist comes over for my daughter. Sundays we go to church as a family. The rest of the time, I’m on my own, deciding what to do with my time. Whatever I do, there seems to be much more human interaction than I sometimes want. I’m in an area that is very crowded, so it’s easy to blend in and stay unnoticed. But I can’t live that way. I go to the same stores every week, the same laundry room, and the same school every day. I run into many of the same people, and although they are strangers to me, their faces become recognizable. And I’ve become a master at my disguise.
I don’t know how these strangers I see every day judge me, but I’ve been told that I give off an aura of peace. I appear unphased, happy and confident that I know what I’m doing. I must be a damn good actor! As I’m dropping off my son at school, I’m stressing because we were almost late. I’m wondering what his teacher must think of me. I’m worrying that the other moms are judging me because I look young. As I’m picking out items at the grocery store, I scrutinize labels, worrying that something in these foods are bad for my kids. Wondering if people will think I’m a total fatty if I spend more than five seconds in front of the ice cream. Then worrying someone will think I’m vain because, this time, I whispered to myself that I don’t need it and I walked away. I laugh with my daughter, act silly and dote on her to keep her smiling. Inside I’m practically numb, but a stranger doesn’t see that. They just see a happy young mom with a pretty little girl.
I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo for a long time. I went back and forth trying to decide what to do for my first big one, and I liked too many things to decide. But I finally made my decision after going through the worst depressive episode of my life. I got the idea for a sword. I thought on it and thought on it, and after a few months I realized that of all my ideas, this is the only one I actually pictured on me forever. Then I went back and forth trying to decide whether to add a semicolon to it. Even after telling my husband I was going to, I froze at the tattoo parlor and never brought it up.
I wasn’t brave enough for a semicolon tattoo. Maybe that sounds silly, because a small, simple semicolon would be a hell of a lot easier to get than the sword I ended up with. But there’s a reason for it, and one that I plan on changing soon. Here’s the thing. I love fantasy novels, so when I think of strength, I think of war. Of soldiers, fighting on horseback and battling evil enemies. Of battles that look impossible, and fighting again and again. Of keep going forward even though all you can see is grief and loss.
I feel like that every day. My depression has only gotten worse over the years and I fight it almost daily. My anxiety is ever present and agonizing. And I’m in constant physical pain from my severe scoliosis. Sometimes I wake up thinking, “What’s it going to be today? A haze of depression? Suicidal thoughts? A panic attack? Will my back keep hurting like this, or will my arthritis act up?” I know it’s not healthy to think this way. I’m just so tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of living inside a body that struggles to survive, battling against a mind that wants to die.
That’s why I got this tattoo. A sword, to me, represents my own choice to arm myself with a weapon. I choose to keep going. I choose to stand up even if it’s not strong, and even if I don’t want to that day. I choose to push past the pain and the despair and keep fighting. A tattoo means that no matter how down I feel, there was a time that I chose to make a permanent mark, declaring myself a fighter. I can do this. I can survive this, I can thrive. I will fight. I am a warrior, and every warrior needs a weapon.
It took 2.5 hours for this tattoo. I handled it pretty well, and I even enjoyed it a bit. But I chickened out on the most important part. See, to a stranger, a sword is just a sword. If I choose to, I can tell someone my story. But if I don’t want to, I can play it off. I can explain that I love the Lord of the Rings, and this is my representation of Sting! But people everywhere are learning what the semicolon means. And I’m just not ready to talk about it, face to face, with the world.
I plan on getting my semicolon one day. I want to, not just for me, but for anyone else struggling. I want to be that person with a huge smile, happily playing with my daughter in the grocery store that encourages someone just by flashing a tattoo. I want people to see it and to ask questions, or just to have a smile. If it encourages just one person to feel like they aren’t so alone, I want it. But for now, I have some healing to do. I’m taking up my sword, and I’m fighting. And I’ll let you all know when I’m strong enough to fight alongside everyone else too.
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