I would like to start off this post with a disclaimer:
Massage Therapy is a medical course that teaches you everything about the body right from the cellular level and up, and in Canada the education and regulation of the practice is very strict.
The information following in this post is all encompassing from; my personal training as an RMT, information given to me by my MD, and my own experiences.
The thoughts you are about to read are very personal and may be disturbing to some readers.
I have depression. Diagnosed from my MD and I am taking medication for it.
I believe I have probably been suffering from this since I was at least 16 but at that age you know nothing about mental disorders and find it very hard to accept having one. The all encompassing need to be normal and liked really pushes you as a teen to keep anything “abnormal” or may be seen as such, to yourself.
At 16, I started cutting myself. I’m not really sure where I got the idea. I never watched anything that depicted it, never listened to music that sang about it, never read anything that described it. It was at first my wrists, but the scratches became hard to hide, and so I turned to my thighs. High enough in the summer to hide them when wearing shorts or mimicking cat scratches, and anywhere I wanted in the winter because I was always wearing pants.
Now, let me say this. I have never felt the urge to end my life. People hear about cutting and they immediately think that I must be suicidal. I have never had that thought or that urge. So people always ask, “why would you do it then?”. Back then the answer was “I don’t know, it feels good.” but my truth was that I have depression. Depression is most commonly thought of this intense sadness. You can have depression the emotional state, and clinical depression the mental disorder. You can feel depressed without having depression.
Depression is for me the devoid of feeling. Anything. Sadness, happiness, anger, worth. A devoid of; energy, motivation, adrenaline. For myself, cutting was my way of feeling something, of feeling anything. Reminding myself that I was capable of feeling.
My MD described depression as this;
“Depression is caused by a lack of an enzyme in your brain. Think of your brain as a water tower, and when you have depression, the water tower has a crack. Now, during the day, you use water from the tower and at night the water is refilled (with sleep). When you have that crack, the water is never quite as full as it once was and the body is constantly trying to fill it up. (which is my theory as to why people suffering from depression are always so tired, we’re trying to re-fill the tower.) The problem with depression is that there is no test to figure out which actual enzyme you might be missing. There isn’t one enzyme that causes depression. Anti-depressants act as chameleon enzymes for your brain. They fix the leak and fill in the spaces of the missing enzymes. Sometimes, people can take the anti-depressants for enough time to trick the brain into producing the missing enzyme, therefore curing the disorder. Sometimes they don’t.”
I think it’s a great description, and it made a lot more sense to me when described like this, even as someone in a medical field.
Now the title is depression and tattoos, so what does one have to do with the other? For me personally, they have everything to do with each other.
I have nine tattoos and recently started a relatively large, thigh piece. When asked why there, I started telling people “I always have liked thigh tattoos” or “it’s a good large surface area for art” or “I can still cover it up for 8 months-ish out of the year”. While those are all truths, it is not THE truth. I did it because I have scars I want to forget.
I have fought the part of me that caused me those scars, I am conquering it and I want to be able to look down and not lose my stomach every time I see those little white lines in the sun. No one else would see them at the first, second, or even third glance, but I do. Every time. I want to take the pain I caused myself and those around me and make something beautiful instead.
What really hit home when that tattoo gun hit my skin, was how incredibly similar that tattoo pain felt to cutting, and this is where it clicked for me. I may be on medication that helps me get out of bed, go out and be social, smile, laugh, and be able to say “yes I’m sad but that’s okay, I’ll be happy soon,” but my tattoos are what’s really there to help me feel.
If I go to someone else that has tattoos and we discuss how “addicting” the pain of getting a tattoo is, there’s nothing taboo about it. Every so often I get that itch. Anyone with more than 2 tattoos knows what I’m talking about. The “I NEED to get another tattoo soon or I’m going to go CRAZY” itch. The need to feel those needles on your skin and the patterns and colours they leave behind.
Now try talking to someone about how addicting the pain of cutting is, and everyone gets awkward. It’s awkward to talk about self harm or how good the pain feels when it’s happening. Seeing the lines and the red colour left behind on your skin. The adrenaline flowing through you body as the fight-or-flight reaction tries to set but you just sit there and let it happen. You’re in control of something when you feel you don’t have control over anything else.
When I started to get tattoos (at 18,) my need for cutting greatly diminished. I got lots of tattoos and piercings and the only time I really felt the need to cut was at times of intense emotional stress or chaos in my personal life. The pain of getting inked and having metal shoved through various parts of my body, was bringing me the adrenaline I usually experienced through cutting. Now, this is only my perception, all of these experiences and thoughts are extremely personal to me and may not strike a chord with anyone else on the planet. I may be crazy to 99% of the people that read this. People in a similar situation to mine may say that tattoos feel nothing like cutting, and then some may agree. Who knows?
It has been over 2.5 years since I last felt the need to, or actually picked up a blade. I chose the medicated route because I needed help and I needed it fast or my relationship was going to fall apart. (For any family reading; not coming to you has nothing to do with lack of trust, or love. It in fact, has never had anything to do with you. It’s a very “it’s not you, it’s me” situation.)
I will end with this second disclaimer;
SELF HARM IS NOT OKAY. You are not the first and you won’t be the last that turns to a blade, so you never need to feel that you are alone.
See a medical professional; Medical Doctor, Registered Holistic Nutritionist or Natural Doctor (if you want the organic means of assistance,) or a Psychotherapist.
You are NEVER alone.
You are LOVED.
Always Keep Fighting.
Mental Health Hotline 1-866-531-2600
Crisis Hotline 1-888-609-7353
Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255