First in a series on seniors who overcame obstacles.
NEW PALESTINE — The semicolon tattoo on Crystal Garner’s left wrist is small. Yet, each day she sees it as a huge reminder of how she paused and didn’t end her life.
For years, the 18-year-old New Palestine High School senior struggled with self-harm issues. With the support of her family and fellow church members, Crystal says she’s found the right answers and is moving forward with her life.
“On my one year of recovery, my parents let me get the tattoo,” Crystal said. “The semicolon in literature represents a sentence an author could have ended but elected not to and continues the sentence on. That’s basically what I have done with my life.”
Crystal was in eighth grade when the self-harm issues first surfaced. That’s when she was bullied at the church her family was attending.
Crystal had shaved her head to show support for a friend who had cancer. Instead of praising her efforts, other young people began calling her names, she said.
“People would call me a lesbian or call me a boy, because of the short hair,” Crystal said. “I’d always had low self-esteem anyway, and that’s when I just started self-harming.”
From cutting and burning her skin, to dealing with anorexia issues, Crystal was in a very bad place.
“Anything I could do to hurt myself is something I would do,” she said. “I just did a lot of bad stuff.”
After she was hospitalized twice for trying to take her life, Crystal’s parents knew they had to get her help to cope.
“She was in a place where I didn’t even recognize her,” Crystal’s mother, Gail Garner, said.
The family put her in a national program called Teen Challenge that helps troubled teens restore their lives by helping them break life-controlling addictions.
“They sent me there, (the program is in Lebanon, Indiana.) for four months,” Crystal said. “It’s normally a year or two-year program, but sending me there for four months was enough to help get me straightened out.”
When Crystal came home, she admits there were struggles. Hanging out with the wrong crowd and not making good choices didn’t help.
However, after some soul searching and joining Brookville Road Community Church, she’s been living a happy, productive life for the past year and a half.
After spending a few months at Triton Central High School, she transferred back to New Palestine High School to graduate on time with her classmates this year.
Her high school counselor, Michelle Long, said Crystal returned to NPHS for her senior year in a much better place.
“Crystal is an amazing and resilient young lady,” Long said. “Throughout her journey, I’m sure there were times where she wanted to give up, but she never stopped trying.”
Not only has Garner turned her grades around, but she’s also a member of the National Honor Society and has earned a few scholarships to college, including a $1,000 scholarship from the Hancock County Community Foundation.
“She’s overcome so much,” her mother said. “We’re so proud of her, and feel like we have our child back.”
Crystal hopes that talking about her battles might help other teens or young adults who are on the brink of doing something they shouldn’t.
She said while there are no easy answers to getting better, it all starts with the will to live.
“Nobody said recovery was going to be easy,” Crystal said. “But, you have to really want it. No one can make you recover but yourself, and you have to decide that for yourself.”
Before she left NPHS to deal with her issues and attend Triton Central, Crystal was deeply involved in choir. When she came back for her senior year, she again joined the school’s concert choir.
“I really like to sing,” she said.
Next up, Crystal plans to attend college in the fall and study nursing. She hopes to use her life experiences to become an empathetic caregiver.
“I want to go into maternal health care and work with pregnant women and things like that,” she said.
Long said Crystal is the type of person who has the ability to take something negative and turn it into a positive.
“I know that what happened to her will be with her for the rest of her
life,” Long said. “But she’s also the type of person that would use her personal experiences to help someone else. I’m proud of her and wish her the very best.”
Crystal has landed a part-time job this summer and will have the full-time duty of taking care of new puppy Clarice. Her boyfriend gave the dog to Crystal to express his love.
“She’s such a sweet little dog,” Crystal said. “I love taking care of her.”
While Crystal knows she might face some obstacles in the future, just one glance at her wrist will be a reminder that she’s on the right road and that she is the author of her life.
With prayer support from her family and church friends and the determination to move on, Crystal said her life will have a happy ending.
“I’m completely different,” Crystal said. “As someone who has been through it, I can now see how drastic the change has been.”