Why I Got My First Tattoo at 16

by S. Alex 4 days ago in coping

*massive trigger warning for self harm & sui*

Why I Got My First Tattoo at 16

I am going to share the story of why I got my first tattoo at age 16. To do this, I need to give some context. Heads up- it's dark, so if you feel vulnerable or suggestible when it comes to the topics of self harm and suicide, please do not read this or only cautiously read it with a friend. Similarly, if you unexpectedly feel distressed while reading this, please stop reading and talk to someone close to you about how you feel. I do not want anyone to harm themselves.


When I was 14-15, I became severely depressed; I had been somewhat depressed on and off for years, but this was the first time it was so intense. At some point during that time, I had decided that Nietzsche was my "favorite philosopher". I inevitably was deeply misunderstanding the philosophy, and thought like many others that the message was one of nihilism and meaninglessness. Still, this was a few years before any nihilist memes were mainstream; the most I found about nihilism on Facebook was in a small, niche group, and memes then were closer to "epic fail" memes than post-ironic depression ones. So this was entirely of my own volition, and no one shared my interest. (Can't fathom why /s.)

Shortly after, and I can't remember which came first, but two important events added extra layers to my angst and feeling of isolation: 1) I developed a crush on one of my best friends, when both of us thought we were girls, but they did not reciprocate; 2) I found a talk on Youtube that made me certain determinism was true, which in my mind meant there was no point to anything, and that therefore I should kill myself. The combination of these things turned my malaise from angst and proto-entry-level philosophy into a serious depression. My casual habit of cutting became a serious addiction. I had tried giving myself numerical limits to no avail, and thought the "sectumsempra" curse from Harry Potter sounded like heaven.

I confessed my love and suicidality to my friend via a note during class. I was rejected, as I partially expected. I also for the first time was called to see the school counselor after said friend told the her about how I was doing.

I began having regular meetings with this woman in the basement of the school. She was a devout Christian and I was an edgy atheist, so her advice rarely helped me, but the fact of talking to someone felt vital. That is, until I said what I would regret immediately after but ultimately may have been saved by doing, which was admit that the previous day I had very nearly followed through with a plan I had.

I wasn't allowed to leave; she called my mom and both my mom, the counselor, and another group of people all sat with me in a conference room. The group of people wanted me to be hospitalized, but my mom argued out of it. I don't know whether I wish I had been hospitalized, but I do wish I had gotten some kind of more substantial professional help.

I was placed on suicide watch, all my self harm tools were confiscated, and I remember all my business being told to people whose business it was none of. We moved states for unrelated reasons at the end of the school year, and that kept me depressed and despairing for a while.

The next section of time is honestly a blur, because I got into one misguided relationship and then a long-term emotionally abusive one that I try not to think about too often, but at some point I relapsed with the self harm, to worse severity. I remember a time... that I had over 500 marks on my stomach... yeah. I eventually got caught again, had everything I used for it taken away, and lost my open-bedroom-door privileges.

Eventually, my mother suggested I could get a tattoo if I would sincerely stop for good. That way, I could have a controlled pain that was creative and constructive rather than disfiguring and destructive.

I chose a painting by Kandinsky, my (still) favorite artist, and cropped and mirrored it so it would connect on both sides. Here are the pictures from when it was fresh:




Over time, the colors have faded, and shapes and lines have warped from weight fluctuation. Here are pictures from today:



As you can see, it is also connected to my second tattoo, which I got at 17.

Ultimately, I don't mind the warping and fading. I do hope to get the tattoo touched up at some point but it isn't a priority. It still prevents me from relapsing pretty well, and it shows how I have changed as a person since that time. Some of the warping was from weight loss and muscle gain when I started running as a way to fight depression. I eventually ran two half marathons- I don't feel any regret about how my tattoo changed because of that.

I hope you found this story of why I got my first tattoo at 16 to be one of hopefulness, resilience, and self-respect despite its heaviness. If you enjoyed my writing style, feel free to check out more of my stories or to send a tip below. Thank you for reading, and take care of yourselves, folks.

S. Alex
S. Alex
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
S. Alex

In my 20's, nonbinary, and some kind of lost.

See all posts by S. Alex