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Self harm & tattoos
(This post talks about self-injury. Though I never write about what I find to be triggering, I do advise self-harmers to read this post with caution. If it is triggering you, stop reading or sit with someone who helps you feel safe. )
I have a consultation for a new tattoo on Thursday and I’m super excited. This will be my third tattoo. On my left forearm, I have a typewriter with cherry blossoms bursting out of it, designed for me personally by Cassandra Warren. Another of her designs is on my right shoulder: a birdcage with a burst of light coming from within, indicating that the bird has disappeared. My upcoming tattoo is my own design, and it will be the smallest. It has a very special and secret meaning for me. It’s going to be on my left wrist. Maybe I’ll share its meaning with you someday.
As a kid and younger teen, I never ever thought I’d get a tattoo. After I started self-injuring, however, the idea of permanence no longer scared me. One of the reasons I cut myself was to mark myself permanently, to tell my story, the pain of that day or week or moment. I have hundreds of scars and I can still remember the stories behind some of them. If you could wave a magic wand and make all of my scars disappear, I wouldn’t want you to do it. They are part of me and my history. Tattoos cover the scars so they aren’t the first thing people notice, but they don’t erase them. I like that. Getting tattoos marked a new chapter in my life. I chose to love my body instead of hate it.
There are some people who argue that getting tattoos or piercings are a form of self-harm. When it comes down to it, these things do harm the body physically, so the argument is a valid one, but I believe it’s the reasoning behind the acts of “harm” that make body modification different. That said, I know I can handle the pain of a tattoo because of my experience with self-harm. Maybe that’s why tattoos mean so much to me.You can’t separate or define some things. That argument doesn’t matter much to me.
So, my typewriter tattoo spans over 50-100 scars on my one arm. At first when people asked me whether it hurt more to be tattooed over my scars, I couldn’t give them an answer because I only had one tattoo. Now that my shoulder is tattooed, I can say that getting tattooed over my scars didn’t hurt more than getting normal skin tattooed. Most of my scars were at least five years old, however. The minimum healing time before getting a tattoo over a scar is six months so that your skin is properly healed first. I think my scarred skin is tougher than unscarred skin. Overall, your body feels pain differently all over, so it really depends on the location, the detail of the tattoo, and the tattoo artist when it comes to pain.
By the way, seeking to get tattooed over my self-harm scars was an awesome experience. No one has ever looked at my scars with less judgement than the tattoo artists at True Love Tattoo. It was as if we talked about me getting tattooed over a single scar from an accident. I felt no shame when I saw how little my scars affected those tattoo artists. So my advice is, if you are worried about the reaction you’ll get from tattoo artists when it comes to your scars, DON’T WORRY! These people alter skin for a living. They don’t care why your skin is a certain way, they just want you to love your tattoo(s). They go to tattoo conventions where there are people with the most extreme forms of body modification. Google it! I swear it’ll make you feel like your scars aren’t shameful.
So being a self-injurer made me consider getting tattoos, whereas if I’d never self-harmed I might not have considered tattoos as easily. But now that I have tattoos, I know they are 100% for me. As a writer and artist, symbols mean a lot to me. My typewriter tattoo mainly represents writing, but also the work behind writing. I researched flowers and chose cherry blossoms to grow out of that typewriter because of the meaning that flower holds and its tie-in with a favourite book of mine. My birdcage tattoo has many meanings that I expect to change as I grow. The tattoo primarily symbolizes escape, but the birdcage can represent so many things.
Tattoos are an investment. Take the time to come up with an idea you love. Then find a tattoo artist who is skilled and be prepared to pay them as much as they ask for, plus a tip. It’s worth every penny! They are giving you art that you’ll have the rest of your life.
If you want tattoos but are scared of their permanence and whether you’ll get sick of them, do what I did. I printed out a picture of each of my tattoos and hung it on my wall as I saved up my money. After six months, if you aren’t sick of seeing the design every day, then it’s a safe bet as a tattoo. Also consider getting your tattoo(s) in a spot you can’t see all the time. My shoulder tattoo is more visible to others than to me and so it’s always a delight when I glimpse it in a mirror or in a photograph.
Tattoos celebrate life. They help define who you are without you ever saying a word. They remind you of your beauty. Take the time and then take the risk. Life is worth living, however you do it. Go ahead and do it!
Erin Schulthies is the writer of Daisies and Bruises, a blog about "finding her way one step and one word at a time". After losing most of her youth to severe depression, she decided that since death was no longer an option, she had to find a way to live. This is it.
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