Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
Tattoos: Some people love them, some people loathe them. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and although I’ve had many different reactions regarding my tattoos, I absolutely love them.
I deal with bipolar disorder, but I never use the word “struggle.” It implies that I’m losing the battle — which I’m certainly not! I’ve dealt with mental illness for 10 years now, and currently run an Instagram page dedicated to ending the stigma behind mental health. My mental health declined when I was 14, and after a period of self-harming as well as an eating disorder, I sought help when I was 18. And it was the best thing I ever did.
I have over 50 tattoos. Most have a personal meaning. (Some simply have no meaning — referring to the paper clip on my arm!). To me, tattoos are a form of art, and I have many meaningful quotes to help remind myself of how far I’ve come.
I started getting tattoos when I was 17, a year before I sought help for my mental illness. My first tattoo means absolutely nothing. I’d love to say it means a lot, and that the meaning behind it is heartfelt and beautiful, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I got it because it looked cool. It’s a peace symbol on my wrist, and back then, I had no desire to get any more.
Then, my self-harm took over.
Self-harm was a part of my life from the ages of 15 to 22. At 18 especially, it was an obsession. An addiction. I was religiously self-harming every night, and if I couldn’t for whatever reason, I’d have a severe panic attack. Self-harm completely took over not only my body. It took over my life.
I was covered in scars, and I wanted to get them covered up. Not because I was in any way ashamed of my past and what had happened, but the constant reminder of how tormented and depressed I was became a lot to deal with. I wanted something beautiful to cover up the negative.
So, in 2013, I got my left arm covered up. And it was such a relief. I cried during the process, and not because of the pain. It was as if all my bad memories were disappearing before my eyes. I felt truly at peace. The tattoo is three roses that represent my family: my mom, dad, and younger sister. A quote, “Life is not a rehearsal,” goes around them in a ribbon.
The quote has been passed down in my family for generations. It was my grandfather who said that to my mom, and my uncle also wrote it in her wedding book. My mom says it often. I just knew I wanted to have it permanently on my body.
Because I’d spent years hiding my arms from public view, worrying what people would think or say, it was completely nerve-racking at first. But, thankfully, my tattoo artist was a friend. She helped me feel calm, relaxed, and at ease. There was no awkward conversation about where the scars came from or why they were there. It was a perfect situation.
My right arm was still bad. My legs were scarred, as well as my ankles. And it was becoming increasingly difficult to cover up my entire body all the time. I practically lived in a white blazer. It became my comfort blanket. I wouldn’t leave the house without it, and I wore it with everything.
It was my uniform, and I hated it.
The summers were hot, and people would ask me why I was constantly wearing long sleeves. I took a trip to California with my partner, James, and I wore the blazer the entire time out of worry for what people might say. It was sweltering hot, and almost became too much to bear. I couldn’t live like this, constantly hiding myself.
This was my turning point.
When I got home, I threw away all the tools that I’d been using to self-harm. Gone was my safety blanket, my nightly routine. At first it was tough. I’d have panic attacks in my room and cry. But then I saw the blazer and remembered why I was doing this: I was doing this for my future.
Years passed and my scars healed. Finally, in 2016, I was able to get my right arm covered up. It was an extremely emotional, life-changing moment, and I cried the entire time. But when it was finished, I looked in the mirror and smiled. Gone was the terrified girl whose life revolved around harming herself. Replacing her was a confident warrior, who’d survived the toughest of storms.
The tattoo is three butterflies, with a quote reading, “Stars can’t shine without darkness.” Because they can’t.
We have to take the rough with the smooth. As the infamous Dolly Parton says, “No rain, no rainbow.”
I wore a T-shirt for the first time in seven years, and it wasn’t even warm outside. I walked out of the tattoo studio, coat in my hand, and embraced the cold air on my arms. It had been a long time coming.
To those thinking of getting a tattoo, don’t think you have to get something meaningful. Get whatever you want. There are no rules to how you live your life. I haven’t self-harmed in two years, and my tattoos are still as vibrant as ever.
And as for that blazer? Never wore it again.
Olivia — or Liv for short — is 24, from the United Kingdom, and a mental health blogger. She loves all things gothic, especially Halloween. She’s also a massive tattoo enthusiast, with over 40 so far. Her Instagram account, which may disappear from time to time, can be found here.