“Biblical hope and practical help.“
I read that today on the back of a pocket-sized devotional my counselor recommended and if isn’t just so damn powerful then I don’t know what is. I feel like that summarizes my mental health journey so beautifully. I was hoping I would be able to tie that in with what I’m writing about today but a parallel isn’t coming easily so I don’t think it is gonna happen. I suppose I’ll just share that magic with you once again before I get into a whole spiel.
“Biblical hope and practical help.”
Ugh so good.
Maybe I can connect the dots here. Being that my whole mental wellness endeavor has been one of trying to coordinate mind, body, and spirit into explicit harmony, I am gonna chat about something that has truly helped me. Now, I don’t know how practical this topic is, per say, but like, who cares because it’s healing and healing unapologetically is gonna be the point of this post.
So without further ado…
There was this one time I was gonna talk about the therapeutic element I have discovered in tattoos but I wasn’t in a healing place so I changed the subject. Well, now I’m in a healing place.
Insert hallelujah here and also a reminder, warriors, that the valleys of depression do.not.last.
So, let’s chat ink therapy.
I have mentioned a time or two that I am on the older end of the adult-aging spectrum. I think I’m pretty much officially considered middle age. I may even have had a mid life crisis (or three). I know I get side tracked easily but talking about how old I am is pertinent to this story and here’s why.
I grew up in a time where tattoos were saddled with the stigma of being trashy and unprofessional. A sign flashing that you are of a low socioeconomic status. On the flip side, they cost a small fortune so make that make sense.
It is so deeply engrained in me that if you are of the 60+ community I pretty much try to hide what I have etched on my skin at all costs. Because y’all, as a generalized whole, still try and look down on recreationally tattooed people. And because I’m semi politically correct I’ll add an “in my experience” so as not to offend any boomers.
I never seem to have the emotional energy to explain why I, a middle aged mother of five, is suddenly tatted up.
Until now that is.
I am really big into words (if you haven’t noticed) and symbolism (if that wasn’t obvious) and in my opinion, tattoos offer both.
Also, it’s about to get deeply personal but I can’t talk about my healing without mentioning the broken part. No major details here but Trigger Warning just in case you find these topics triggering.
When I was going through my suicidal ideation I made a promise to my husband that I wouldn’t go through with it. As a person who values words, that promise may as well have been their own form of red words. The problem with that was I didn’t really think I was capable of keeping said promise. So I did what any symbolist would do and I started desperately looking for anything that made it more bearable and somehow I landed on a tattoo. Permanently placing a promise on your body is the ultimate symbol of words mattering.
Now if you are a Gen X’er or older then you are probaby thinking just write that shit down on like, a piece of paper. Okay, I hear you but also I have a drawer full of quote books and notebooks and journals and less than stellar self help masterpieces with all the reminders and techniques for how to live your best life. But, for me, when I’m in the middle of a nervous breakdown, the last thing on my mind is which book had that one thing that will help me out of that particular head space.
Turns out the whole process was wildly therapeutic. Every time I was unsure I had it in me to keep that promise, I would look in the mirror at my hidden reminder and somehow tap into an internal strength I didn’t know I had.
I have since gotten five more to equal three tattoos. Now I know I’m awful at math but this equation will add up. You’ll see.
It makes me a little cringe-y to break out the pictures and meanings of said art but somehow the world wide web seems like as good a place as any to step outside that comfort zone and do it anyway. Don’t try to understand my brain. It’s un-understandable
Here’s what I got.
This one is a sign of my ever loving obsession with the healing properties of lavender laden aromatherapy and the healing magic of breath work. Its on my wrist-ish and therefore it is incredibly easy for me to simply glance down in the middle of an excruciatingly busy or painful day and pause for deep breaths.
And if I can, spritz the shit out of myself with lavender oil.
Next up is this beauty.
As much as I use my lavender tattoo, I probably utilize this one even more. It is on my inner-upper arm and I think it speaks for itself but if you can’t tell it’s a namaste yoga silhouette intertwined with a hummingbird and the words “keep going.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I have found myself wanting to quit. Doing the work is so fucking hard (I think I’ve mentioned that before) but it is also so fucking worth it. And that’s what this one means to me. It reminds me that no matter how many steps I take backward I can still pick myself back up and move forward. (Clever hummingbird reference, eh?)
And of course, when in doubt, bust the shit out of some yoga.
Last but not least…
Here’s the three-in-one one. It is by far the most personal and vulnerable art I have. That’s why I have it on my back- so I can easily tuck it away from the world.
Hi stigma. Howdy shame. How y’all doin’?
That is the one that started it all. I have been adding to it over the last three years. It started with the semicolon and birds and I think we all know by now what a semicolon with birds means in relation to mental health. That was my promise tattoo.
Then, I went through my IOP program and I knew that I wasn’t just still around because I promised to be, but because I wanted to be and holy shit, that was so powerful that I needed to immortalize it. So, I had the dandelion added and I think we all know what dandelions mean in relation to mental health and perspective. To be honest, I thought that one was done. I had come full circle, literally, and it (and I) felt complete. But life keeps happening- as it must- and I realized that I can’t fit my journey into a perfect circle, nor is said journey complete. After all, I’m still alive (and grateful to be). I recently, as in last week, had five more dandelion seeds and even more birds and yet another word in the form of ‘trust’ added. If that isn’t a loaded masterpiece, then I don’t know what is.
My sister asked me if it was complete now and I told her that my story isn’t over yet sooooo no. No it’s not. I don’t know the next chapter of my story, but this tattoo will eventually tell it.
Okay. That was my long winded way of saying that I have found hope and healing and meaning and purpose in tattoos.
Let me go ahead and do the responsible blogger thing and say this:
You shouldn’t go get a tattoo just because I (or anyone for that matter) find it therapeutic. Permanent changes to your person cannot be taken lightly. Marinade on it for at least, I don’t know, a lot more months than you think is necessary, months. And picture it on your skin for for.ev.er. Imagine it hanging out on your fine self on the day where you meet royalty and have on a gussied up lace gown and fancy hair do. See if you mind having it in the midst of all that and then you can start your personal transformation with a less committal form of change with like, a haircut. And then venture into some hair dye and so on and so forth.
Okay, I think I’ve made my point on that matter.
So now let me make my actual point.
Finding your joy is deeply personal. It is also deeply necessary. No one can tell you what will heal you, except you. But when you find it, unapologetically consume it. And fuck all the haters (to prove I’m still young enough to use a millennial colloquialism) who think you should curate yourself differently.
Unless it’s yoga. Then trust. That shit will heal the piss outta ya.