Those of us waging a battle against mental illness need to find strength wherever we can. I decided a few years back to display mine on my body.
I got my first tattoo when I was 19, a dolphin on my right hip because I admired those beautiful, intelligent creatures. I didn’t give much thought to any further body art until 2012. I’d had my first relapse of depression in 2011 and spent two months in hospital, and I was finally starting to feel better and had returned to work. I decided it was time for my second tattoo, and decided to go with Chinese characters on my left hip. I asked a Chinese colleague what characters he thought best represented resilience, and the ones he selected literally mean “return to spring”, in the sense of regeneration and renewal. The tattooing process was quick and easy, and I was happy with the result.
Not long after I got the tattoo, things began to take a downtown, and kept spiralling downwards until I made a suicide attempt in late 2012. Once I got established on the road to recovery I decided I needed a more significant depiction of my ability to recover, and the myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes seemed intensely appropriate. I looked at it as sick me dying with the suicide attempt, and well me being reborn.
I found a tattoo artist I connected with and she turned my vague idea into an amazing drawing. Then we began the long, painful process of tattooing. It took probably around 10 hours to do, with regular breaks when I started shaking because it hurt so much. I just tried to remind myself, though, that the only reason I was here experiencing this physical pain was that I had the strength to endure so much mental pain. I was thrilled with the result, which covers my left side from hip to armpit. When I am feeling weak, it’s an amazing reminder of what I can endure.
I’ve been unwell for the last year and a half or so, and I think it’s time for another visual representation. I’m thinking about a Celtic oak tree design, which symbolizes strength and endurance. I would like to move forward a little more in my recovery journey before I get the tattoo done, but that gives me something to look forward to. And even when depression makes my mind play tricks on me, my body can always remind me of the truth.