“Never. No, I really don’t think I ever will. It’s just not my thing. Plus, it might affect my performances.”
That’s what I had to say about tattoos for a good long time. A good long time = 17 years. I wasn’t interested in getting one, I didn’t know what I’d get, & yes, I did actually worry about it affecting my career – both as a music student who would perform frequently in sleeveless clothing, & as a professional violinist in the classical music world, where tattoos are, for the most part, taboo.
Not interested, didn’t really care. “I just don’t know what I’d put on my body!” I’d tell everyone who asked if I would ever get one, & to those who would show me theirs. I genuinely wasn’t interested.
Then I got sick. After I got sick, I went on immunosuppressants pretty quickly – about one and a half months after diagnosis, to be more specific. That meant that my immune system was now weaker, & wouldn’t be able to fight off infections, bacteria, viruses, or foreign objects (such as tattoo ink or a piercing) as easily. Immunosuppression shouldn’t be taken lightly; it’s killed people & continues to do so. Before I went on these drugs, my doctors told me to get all my vaccines finished up (vaccines can be dangerous if you’re immunosuppressed, since you are technically being injected with a small dose of the bacteria/virus that is the root cause of whichever disease the vaccine targets), to read some articles on immunosuppression & what precautions I could & should take, & to basically tread carefully wherever I went.
So, I was pissed. I was pissed about my diagnosis, pissed that I now had “rules” to follow – even though I was now almost 18 – & just pissed in general at the world, because now, all of a sudden, tattoos were forbidden fruit. No fruit is sweeter than that of the forbidden.
I started to look up cool tattoos. This was, coincidentally, around the time when Buzzfeed released a few videos of people getting tattooed for the first time, & when “Tumblr tattoos” (small, abstract designs, two or three words, or, yes: That One Picasso Sketch) became the new trend. I was seeing very cool body art for the first time, & now, I “couldn’t” get one.
Then, my mama surprised me with some news: she’d contacted Make-A-Wish, & since I had not yet turned 18, I qualified. I was…pretty overwhelmed. Before this, I didn’t actually know that Make-A-Wish was for any child or teenager with an illness – I just thought it was for children or teenagers with cancer. Not so! Make-A-Wish people came to my house, sat down at my table, & asked “what is your wish?”
Well…it was to meet One Direction, yup. Nope, I’m not ashamed of it anymore! I used to be super embarrassed about telling people that I wished for that. Why should I be? I loved those boys all through high school, & their music kept me cheerful for those two & a half-ish hellish weeks in the hospital in March of 2015. They made me happy. I’m not embarrassed to say so anymore; what’s the shame in loving something that makes you happy? Anyways, I digress! My point: my answer was already on my tongue by the time I was sat at the table.
It took about a month, & I got a call: my meeting with One Direction was arranged for August 29th at one of their concerts, & I’d be able to spend actual time with them. After the initial shock, disbelief, & happiness, I started to think. Harry (my unashamed favorite) was actually a big style inspiration for me – fun fact, he continues to be! Those black jeans with every shirt, pointed-toe cowboy-esque boots, coupled with some seriously lovely tattoos. We all know his vibe. Even if you don’t like Harry Styles, you’ve seen him around town (or your screen) & I know you’ve looked at him & thought he looked stylish & put-together more than once. Don’t deny it!
I really liked Harry’s tattoo style. They were mostly abstract doodles – sure, there was his big (nude) mermaid on the forearm, & that big butterfly on the chest, but although they looked beautiful on him, I wasn’t planning on getting a nude mermaid any time soon. It was those little careless doodles that really appealed to me. That got me thinking: what if I got Harry Styles to draw me a tattoo?
Well, spoiler alert: he did. & he did it beautifully, & when he asked what he should draw, I told him to make the call – so it really is made up by Harry Styles’ mind. I won’t get into more detail, because that’s not the point of this post! But it was a wonderful day, he is a wonderful person, & I left starry-eyed, clutching a small piece of notebook paper on which I had a doodle written in black Sharpie marker.
A few months passed. I went to university. I decided to get my tattoo. I was barred – by my mama. She couldn’t physically stop me, of course – but she freaked me out enough by talking about risks due to my immunosuppression that I let it go. But I didn’t actually let it go: my tattoo stewed in the front of my mind for months, & months.
Maybe everyone hoped I would forget about it? Maybe I’d lose interest? Who knows. But I kept asking my doctor. I kept asking my mama. I kept getting my blood drawn to check my white blood cell count, to see if it was safe.
Many months (& tears) later, I had my mother’s blessing, as well as my doctor’s. I walked into the tattoo parlor, ready to go. About 20 minutes later, I walked out – big smile on my face, & a bandage on my left “side-boob.”
(I know, you’re probably wondering why I’m not showing the world – I just choose not to, that’s all!)
So…why was I so insistent about this? Why didn’t I just let it go?
Well, for one, it was a drawing Harry Styles made specifically with my body in mind – I didn’t want the drawing to go in a cupboard…I wanted it on me. Like I mentioned before, fruit is sweeter when it’s forbidden, & the tattoo situation was no exception. &, finally, here’s the biggest reason:
When I was diagnosed, put on medication, subjected to countless procedures, infusions, exams, & doctors, I felt like the control I had over my life was slipping out of my hands. I had scars I didn’t ask for; scars I hated. I felt like I was completely at the mercy of my illness. I felt like I wasn’t really my own person. I desperately seeked for ways to reclaim my own body. This tattoo was one of them. I figured that if I had some scars that I hated on my body, I might as well make some permanent marks on my body that I actually liked.
If you’re wondering if I had any issues with healing: no, I didn’t. Well…that’s not entirely true. A few weeks after I got my tattoo, I was in the hospital overnight for a high fever – however, I’m still unsure whether the tattoo was the cause, as it was many days after I’d been tattooed. Regardless, the skin healed just fine, I had no other issues, & it sits happily on my left side to this day.
So, it sat for a few months, & I was all good & happy. By this time, however, I already knew I wanted more. I didn’t know when, or what, but I knew that I would get more.
Not many months after (about 5) I got another. This one was without the blessing of my doctor or my mother – in fact, it was without their knowlege, as well. This one is one you’ve probably seen if you follow me on social media – I don’t hide it, & am, in fact, very proud of it. You know the one: those two pointy things on my right inner upper arm. Some people thing they’re knives (??) others think they’re claws. They’re actually a pair of cat fangs. I decided on this because we’d lost my childhood cat in January (we had to put him down as he had an uncontrollably large tumor). I figured it would be a good way to pay homage to the cat who’d gotten me through my childhood, solidify my status as a cat lady, & also look very cool – fangs are edgy.
So, I saved up some money, called a place a block from my residence at school, & trotted on over one cold evening. I was done, & I was happy. It felt…very good…(sorry, Mama!) to do something so spontaneously.
Did I know the risks? Yes. Did anything bad happen to me, like a fever, a skin infection or the link? No. Did my mother get furious at me when she found out abou 3 weeks later? Yes. But it was already there. Do I regret it? No, I do not.
Maybe I would’ve regretted it if something bad had happend…but I still don’t think I would. Call me irresponsible; it’s fine. But I think it’s hard to make people understand the mindset of a sick person without actually being a sick person. Like I mentioned before: sickness = lack of control. Lack of control = frustration, anger, sadness, & the feeling of helplessness. I hate those feelings. I wanted to feel normal for an hour or two. So, yes – I pulled a rebellious teenager & went out to “get inked.”
My parents were not very happy & actually quite concerned that I’d done this. I get it – from a parental perspective, it’s probably nerve-wracking to have your chronically ill, mentally unstable (at the time) daughter go out & get a tattoo without your knowlege. But…I did it, & it took a long time for me to explain why I did it, but they get it. My mama has literally told me “I understand.” They’re glad I’m okay, they’re glad it went safely & that I was as responsible as I could be for doing something so irresponsible – & that’s the end of it.
So, now for the questions: the usuals are “what do they stand for?” “how many do you have?” & the big one: “how much did they hurt?”
What they stand for: My “Harry” tattoo marks an extremely happy event in my life that occurred after I was diagnosed, when I was still very angry & sad about my illness, still in stages of denial, & convinced that I would never be truly happy again. Meeting One Direction – especially Harry, who’s inspired my style, helped me come to terms with other parts of myself, including my sexuality – was one of the purest days I’ve had. I experienced nothing but raw, unfilitered joy & happiness…something that I didn’t think would be possible after getting diagnosed. Now, whenever I feel bad, I try to look in the mirror or down my side at my tattoo. It really does serve as a reminder that despite all the fear & pain I experience, there have been & will be days that make being alive a hell of a lot of fun. So that’s that. My fangs tattoo is kind of a symbol of me taking control over my own body, a reminder that in the end, I actually do hold the controls – I can stand up to a doctor, I can refuse treatment, I can decide not to take a medication. It’s a reminder that while I have the authority to end my life, I am actually choosing not to. It’s a reminder that I am actually choosing these treatments, even though they’re no fun at all. It’s a reminder that the disease I have was absolutely not my choice – but I can still do things that help me cope with the things I have to put up with.
How many do you have? Do you want more? As of right now, I have two: the two I talked about in this post. Yup, I do want more! & I will get more. Right now, I don’t have the desire or inspiration. But when I do, I will get another one. Maybe even two more. Or three. I don’t know! But I do want more.
How much did they hurt? For me, not at all, honestly. My pain tolerance has been distorted thanks to my illness – I don’t blink at IVs anymore, & I can even inject myself with my own medications – & they both hurt way less than an IV, in my opinion. Remember: everyone’s pain tolerance is different, & different people have different opinions on what hurts more. I was warned that a tattoo on my side would be very painful, & that the upper inner arm wasn’t a picnic, either. But truly – I didn’t have an issue with either of my tattoos. Granted, they’re both small, & granted, I can usually tune out pain pretty well…but still, even if I weren’t ill, I don’t think I’d be bothered. I was nervous for the first one, yes, but once the gun got going, I was completely fine. I’d best describe it as a cat scratch! It hurts a little more in some places, & less in others, but either way, I would never describe it as a painful experience – uncomfortable is what I’d call it. Both of mine were over very soon, too. After my first one, I was a tiny bit nauseous, & needed some sugar. After my second one, I waltzed out the door, ran to my place to grab my violin, & sprinted to an evening dress rehearsal I had for a concert the following evening. I played difficult music under hot lights for two hours with no issue. No big deal – at least not for me!
By the way…to all of the chronically ill people who might be reading this: I understand your craving for the sense of control. I get it, I really do! I would encourage you to be as safe as possible if you do want a tattoo, a piercing, or some other form of body modification, especially if you’re on immunosuppressants. I actually did wait it out for my first one, & I had good blood levels – good enough to be classified as “normal.” For the second one, my white blood cell count was quite low…& I still went ahead & did it. I’m not saying “don’t do it” because I’d understand if you did. I’m just going to go on the record, be a mom, & say: be careful! I do owe you that.
If you’re not chronically ill, I hope you’ve still gotten something out of this post! I hope I answered the constant question (that I also kept asking) of how much a tattoo hurts as clearly as I could. It’s hard to describe; it’s easier to actually feel it yourself. “Cat scratch” is the closest thing I would pin it to.
People always say: “imagine what that’s going to look like on you when you’re old!”
Guess what? Age is going to affect me no matter what. Even if I’m a tattoo virgin, my skin will still wrinkle! I’ll notice my boobs are drooping; see some age spots pop up. I already have some scars on my body that I didn’t ask for. I don’t care how wrinkly my fangs get, & I don’t care what my left side boob looks like at age 75. I really don’t. Those other scars will be there, & they’ll be a reminder of bad, painful things I went through; the tattoos will serve as a reminder of some happy memories or events that I experienced throughout life. That’s what I like to call tattoos: happy scars that I chose to recieve. I like that…& I like my tattoos. No…I love my tattoos!