Why I feel guilty about my tattoo

When I got my tattoo at 19, I thought it would be the thing that would save me. I thought if I permanently inked myself with an inspirational message—in this case the Noah and the Whale lyrics blue skies are coming—I would regain all the motivation and energy I needed to overcome a bout of depression just by looking at those small black letters. Four years ago, I lay down on the table in the tattoo parlor and felt the needle along my stomach, felt how the sharp pain wasn’t quite as sharp as I imagined it would be. And now, at 23, I wish I could say it worked. That I wasn’t ignoring the gravity of my problems by believing that this would anchor me to reality, remind me that all the nasty s–t that goes on in my head won’t always be there. 

Instead, it’s all gotten worse. And if anything, my tattoo just makes me feel guilty. 

I was diagnosed with the depression, anxiety, and anorexia trifecta in middle school. By college, all three were deeply engrained in my personal narrative. I used to be a dancer. That was the purpose of my existence. Then I quit ballet and began identifying myself as a messed-up weirdo who spent a lot of time looking at the ground while walking through New York’s East Village, listening to podcasts or NPR-approved indie singer-songwriters with wistfully melancholy voices and lyrics about lost loves and birds that can’t fly.

The summer after freshman year, I arrived back in the suburbs of Boston ready to intern with a nonprofit and wanting desperately to get back together with my ex-boyfriend. I had broken up with him Columbus Day weekend, performing the “turkey drop”—the tradition of breaking up with your high school significant other before Thanksgiving weekend.

But by summer, I had decided that I had made a mistake. I was still in love with him. I had just been caught up in the excitement of a new city, new friends, a new life away from everything I had hated about home. I naively thought that he would be ready and eager to have me back. Instead, I learned from his sister’s then-boyfriend via text message that he had moved on and had been dating someone else since February.

At the nonprofit, I grew attached to Pandora. I used up the 40 free hours on the Joshua Radin and Blind Pilot stations, designing infographics about human rights violations to the soundtrack of acoustic guitar, gentle piano, and coffee shop blues. I chewed on ice cubes and downed coffee to keep my hunger at bay. Took breaks from reading about rape and corruption in Haiti to spy on my ex’s girlfriend’s Facebook page.

Felt miserable.

Washed. Rinsed. Repeated. 

I’ll do anything to be happy

The Noah and the Whale song came through my headphones. It was new. Not on Pandora’s every day rotation. I liked it. It told me to move on, that it wouldn’t be easy, but it’ll get better. Just wait for it.

Oh, ‘cos blue skies are coming

But I know that it’s hard

The lyrics appealed to every part of my misery. The boy I gave up and couldn’t have back. The depression that continued to curse my existence. The disease that made my mother cry with concern.

And yes, I knew that compared to the problems in Haiti, I was lucky. But that reality check didn’t help. It wasn’t enough to just think it. I needed something concrete. A reminder to put things in perspective. One that would always be there, even if I were buried beneath piles of my own self destruction tendencies.

Back at school that fall, I decided I would get a tattoo of the same song lyrics that resonated so deeply with me that summer. Blue skies are coming. I couldn’t argue with that. It was fact. That was how weather worked.

I thought my depression would too. But It turns out that paying $200 for a tattoo doesn’t solve something that serious. That takes time.

I’ve thought about removing it. Pretending it never happened. Or adding “terms and conditions may apply” in tiny font below to give myself permission to stray off course. But I won’t do that. No lasers. No extra ink. Because if nothing else, the tattoo is a reflection of who I once was—a 19 year old who knew deep down that the light at the other end of the tunnel was a real thing. And that it would come. Eventually.

[Image via iStock]

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