Tattooing is something that has been going on for almost as long as humans have been on this earth. Yet for some reason, modern day society still considers them mainly taboo. Yes they are growing in popularity, especially with the younger generation however for many older people they are something to be looked down upon. What I don't think that many people realize is that tattoos can actually be a great way to cope and work through things when you struggle with mental health.
Sure, it's an unusual and unconventional way to cope but it is a way to cope nonetheless. Now this is strictly speaking from personal experience however i am almost certain that i speak for more than just myself when i say this… tattoos are a reminder of some of the best and worst times of our lives. A little backstory on me, I have about six tattoos. I've gotten all of them in the past 3 years and I am obsessed with each and every one of them.
Here is a list of my tattoos:
“You’ll never walk alone”
Each and every one of my tattoos tells a story and shows a little piece of my soul in art on my body. My lotus flower i got when my dad and his girlfriend of eight years broke up. My entire life was torn apart and I wasn't sure how I was going to make it through. Everything that I had known was thrown in the air and shattered in front of my eyes. The people who I considered to be my family were suddenly taken away from me all by the decision of two other people. I had no say in it and I felt powerless as to how to keep things the way they were. Looking back on it now, years later, i can say that everything really does happen for a reason and my dad is a lot happier of a person with his fiance (soon to be wife) now. However, at the time, I was broken and confused. I had never considered getting a tattoo before but it just seemed like the right thing to do for this situation.
Now disclaimer, if you are going to get a tattoo, especially your first one, have it mean something to you. Don't get it just because it's the “cool” thing to do but do it because you want a permanent reminder on your body. I did my research for months to decide what I wanted and then spent a few weeks arguing with my very conservative and religious father about why he should still support my decision. Was it an easy decision to make? Yes and no. Once I decided on the design that I wanted then the rest was simply making plans and convincing my family.
I choose all of my tattoos for a specific reason; my lotus flower because the lotus flower is born in the mud and as it grows and blooms it rises to the top of the water to sit on the surface above all of the darkness below it. And I grew out of the dark situation that I had been living in during that time and rose above it to be a better person because of it. My second tattoo, my crescent moon, I got for a reason that non pet owners will never and could never understand. When I was in college, in between my junior and senior year, I got a poodle puppy (im allergic to dogs so my choices are limited as to what i can get) and my life forever changed. When my dad brought luna home I officially knew (to a certain extent) what being a mom was like. And before I get backlash from mothers, I'm not comparing the two exactly but this was the first time that i had been solely responsible for another living creature.
Luna was my whole world for the short six months she was with me. And I failed her to be completely honest. As much as it kills me to say that, I failed my baby puppy. She needed somebody to be her mom, her caretaker, her disciplinarian, and her guide when she was so little as to what to do and what not to do and all i could do was lay in bed and go to work. As timing would have it, when i had Luna, almost immediately after I got her i fell into a depressive episode that lasted me for months. I was tired, had no motivation, no energy, no drive, barely any will to live and to continue on with my day to day life. So when people say that mental illness is simply a choice to be happy I want to scream at them… because nobody would choose to feel depressed. It's one of the worst things that I think can happen to somebody because it feels like you're trapped inside your own body and your own mind. It isn't something that I would wish on my worst enemy.
After about six months, when I came home from school on a break, my dad confronted me and called me out (rightly) about not being okay. He said that if I couldn't take care of myself then i couldnt expect to properly take care of another living thing… and he was right. As much as i didn't want to admit it, i knew that i had to do what was best for Luna and put my own selfish feelings aside. So I decided to find her a new home. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do to this day. I cried myself to sleep for months on end, almost as long as i actually got to enjoy having her in my life. But I knew that I did the right thing.
I wasn't in the right headspace to take care of something else because I couldn't even take care of myself. However I wasn't ready to fully let her go. I felt as though I needed a way to remember her forever and always. As crazy as it is, she was one of the main reasons i would force myself to get out of bed and keep going so I felt she deserved to be honored and remembered for the part that she played in my life, no matter how short lived it was. That's when the crescent moon idea came to be. I named Luna what I did because the moon is something that shines and guides you through the dark nights and it became a symbol of hope for me.
After my second tattoo, my crescent moon, I got my rose. My little brother has a rose on his arm and I felt it was only fitting to continue the flower tradition (my mom has a sunflower on her ankle). No matter how far away my family is, I will always love them and they will always be with me no matter what. My brother is currently in Spain studying abroad and I am so proud of him and all he has accomplished thus far.
I sometimes feel like i'm failing as a sister because we arent as close as some other sibling pairs but I know that as soon as we get together we get along and act as though its been little to no time apart. I wanted something to remind me that family isn't as far away as we think and we always have something tying us back to the earth. Something to ground ourselves into. Family is always and forever regardless of what happens.
The next four tattoos i got at one time, they are probably the ones that I did most impulsively but some of the ones i find myself looking at most often. I got a third eye for protection on my one ankle, a cross on the other to represent my winding road of faith in God, and the quote “you’ll never walk alone” across the back of my ankles because I felt as though I needed some protection and guidance through this time in my life.
I got these four very recently, once I started going off of my meds, and needed a constant reminder that no matter what my mind might try to tell me, I am always protected and never alone. I am surrounded by things visible and invisible that are watching over me and holding my best interest at heart. Even when I feel like the world is falling apart and I am standing on an island with nobody hearing me scream, I am never alone in this world and I am loved.
So for those of you who don't necessarily agree that tattoos can be coping mechanisms and reminders to try to hold yourself together, I genuinely feel sorry that you haven't experienced the constant reminder a tattoo can give. It may not be conventional but it is something I will continue to do and continue to use to hold myself together and keep myself sane through this journey we call life.
For those of you that do have tattoos, please share them and your story on social media and tag me so I can share them because you never know when somebody might need to hear your story. Each tattoo holds a different story so don't ever assume you know somebody because their body may tell their journey.
I hope this has explained a little bit about me, how you can use tattoos as a coping mechanism, and a way of expressing your life story. As I keep living and keep adding I’ll keep y’all updated because my goal and hope is that my story inspires at least one of you.