How tattoos saved me from self harming.
Please note this piece contains triggers and mentions suicide and self harming, if you are feeling suicidal please, please reach out to someone and seek help.
I’ve been obsessed with tattoos since I was maybe 4 or 5 and my oldest brother came home with one, I was fascinated that you could have a drawing on your skin permanently! This fascination was of course not supported by our Mum, who did everything she could to discourage my love for them, until one day she just gave up and although she doesn’t like them, she accepts that I do.
This is a photo of me with my very first tattoo, this was taken maybe around the time I was 20. This tattoo has so much meaning for me, the design itself was something I found in a tattoo mag, I just liked the tribal design that also felt feminine.
It was October 13th 2004 the day I had this done, I was 17 and that day I woke up having self harmed pretty bad on that wrist only days before knowing that if I didn’t do something drastic I probably wasn’t going to be around to see my 18th. I’d suffered with depression and self harming since I was maybe 11 when the bullying started at high school, because wait for it, I had spots! Underneath all the hormonal changes of gaining spots, which a few kids at school felt the need to point out tirelessly I actually had real problems.
Years before starting high school when I was 8 years old I lost my middle big brother to suicide, he was 23 years old and just as the hormones were kicking in so was my grief. I was desperately trying to reconcile all the emotions inside, the hatred brewing for my brother for leaving me and the hatred that invoked for myself for hating him, the silence at home around talking about him led to a mental shut down of emotions I was struggling to keep a handle of.I turned to self harming as a way to get release from the pain, the hatred and just to feel something to feel like I actually existed.
I felt numb and shut off to the world, everyone around me didn’t understand and anyone I told about my brother made me feel like it was a disease they might catch, so I stopped talking and even now anxiety threatens to cause me to black out if I’m caught unawares at mentioning how many siblings I have. I’m terrified at saying I have one and then they find out I did in fact have two, and now it seems I have the problem with my brothers suicide, or I say I have two then only speak about one and hope they don’t ask about the other one. Some days I’m just not strong enough to field questions about it, and this causes serious anxiety when discussing family with people.
I was even bullied for self harming at around age 15 when a couple of my peers found out, I was handed knives in the corridors and told to go kill myself. If I was off for the day through illness they would say “we thought you’d killed yourself” it was like they were desperate to have it happen so they could have something to talk about / laugh about.I honestly don’t know where I gained the strength from to go in everyday and face that whilst still struggling with depression and grief.
My Mum found this incredibly hard and wanted to pull me from school, but I insisted I would deal with it and they wouldn’t win. Just attending everyday and barely holding it together resulted in grades not doing too good, most weekends I was out with a small group of friends I actually did have in which I would get so wasted I couldn’t remember my own name, but despite it all I survived (barely) high school and whatever I came out with was just gonna have to be good enough. My results were good enough to at least get me into art college.
The day I walked into a tattoo shop with my design and asked for this to be done will stay with me forever, at first the lady refused due to the open wounds on my wrist, I pleaded with her that I needed it done right then and there and that I couldn’t wait. She agreed as long as I signed a disclosure form stating any infections caused were from my own doing, I wasn’t bothered I couldn’t promise I was gonna be here by the following week so what if it did become infected? I was high on Prozac and felt dead inside, I just needed something to make me feel again.
I’ll always remember the searing pain as if a hot knife was being dragged along my skin whilst having that done, and the part of my brain that needed the pain of self harming to just feel well, anything seemed to refocus and it all just clicked into place, I walked out feeling lighter and vowed that from that day forward the self harming chapter of my life was over, as were the Prozac once I started to feel like I could hear voices and my brain felt fuzzy I flushed them down the toilet and turned to smoking instead.
October 13th 2018 marked 14 years since I made that vow, and although I have thought about it and considered doing it over the years my mind goes back to that day and remembers why I had that tattoo in the first place and I find peace in how far I’ve come.
From there the following January, a week before I turned 18 I had a Heartagram for my favourite band HIM along with the name of my middle older brother and the dates of his birth and death.Another reminder in that I have to keep going, because he couldn’t.
The Heartagram signifies life & death, love & hate which fit perfectly for me along with how much Love Metal helped in my recovery of grief through loosing my brother.
From having my first two main tattoos of big significance, I added a fairy on my back a present off my Mum & brother for my 21st and a tribal flower on my right foot neither of which mean anything significant I just liked them. I had our first cats name put on my left foot. That one is also a big one as Alfie died in 2008 at the age of one, killed by a neighbours dog someone I had considered a Friend who then tried to cover up what had happened. The trauma of losing him sparked a tidal wave of emotions and a whole load of crap that I thought I had dealt with. This landed me with a mental breakdown at the age of 21.
My Mum got me in at the doctors as I wasn’t eating or talking I was just drifting along in a daze, living off coffee and cigarettes. I was at this point chain smoking instead of eating, it was like my mind just couldn’t take anymore and I’d just shut down. The doctors prescribed a high dose of Diazepam which pretty much knocked me out for the two weeks I could take them. I don’t really remember much about this time as I was so out of it and so detached, nothing felt real when I think back to this time it’s all a haze of black fog. Somewhere deep inside my subconscious, I believe my mind was fixing itself and I think me being so out of it I wasn’t able to override it, and keep going back over everything over analysing situations etc. Which is what my anxious riddled mind does pretty much everyday! In every situation possible.
It took over a year to fully recover from that episode, I’m thankful everyday that I made it out that big black hole. I was in my second year of Uni and was on a crash course of failing, I really should have taken a year out like I was offered, but the stubborn streak within me refused and couldn’t take being a failure at something else, or at least that’s how my mind saw it at that time.
The end of that year I suffered a head injury and sustained bad concussion that has had lasting effects! I still can’t remember anything from around the time it happened or the rest of that year. I only know it happened in October as we were visiting Kris’ parents for his Step Mums birthday when the car door slammed into the back of my head. I suffered social anxiety as a result and struggled being outside in large crowds for quite a while. Even today I struggle to remember dates, including birthdays that have come after that such as my nephews birthday, I have to really focus hard to keep going over things so they stick. Before the event I could recall dates like nobodies business.
I put a lot of my mental healing down to an early uptake of meditation. I first discovered meditation around the age of 14 whilst in the depths of depression and self harming, juggling general teenage angst, being bullied and the realisation I still hadn’t grieved for my brother, spiralling into a destructive patten of self hatred, and drinking whatever I could get my hands on and ultimately not really giving a shit about myself.
Over the years I’ve been in and out of therapy, at 14 during the worst of my self harming episode I agreed to go and speak to a councillor, she had no idea about self harming and they didn’t have anything in place to deal with it. Her answer to when I felt I needed to do it was to phone the Samaritans! It was 2001 and our house phone like most peoples at the time was down stairs in the living room, at what point was it possible for me to do that? Especially if I couldn’t talk to my Mum about it (who would be sat in the living room where the phone was located!) I decided for my own sake therapy was going to be more detrimental to my mental health.
Please note I am only speaking about my own personal experience, I am not saying that therapy doesn’t work, just that at that time it was going to be more detrimental for me as they couldn’t accommodate nor did they seem to understand self harming.
Today I take my mental health very seriously and although I come with anxiety that sometimes leads me to not be able to leave the house, (I’ll save that for another day) I make a point of looking after my head I do try and meditate daily and take time out when it’s all just getting too much, removing myself from social media and finding a space that makes me feel safe for however long I need.
This piece is also featured on Medium