INKED // in it for the long haul

Most people that know me know that I’m a pretty safe person. I’m a pretty wimpy person. I’m not good with roller coasters or horror films, I will probably never go sky diving or bungee jumping, and if you had asked me years and years ago, I would have probably said “no” to the possibility of getting a tattoo.

But I guess people change and Rachel got a lot less wimpy. In fact, I would like to think that this particular Rachel, over time, has become pretty bad ass.

And no, I’m not suggesting that I’m going to get a motorbike license and join a cool all female biker gang anytime soon.

Let’s go back to the tattoo for a second.

August 3, 2016 will go down in my personal history as a momentous day and a personal victory for me. That’s because on this day, I marched proudly into a tattoo parlour downtown, confidently sat down in the chair and didn’t flinch until it was over. It’s official, friends: Rachel has a tattoo.

Okay, so maybe most of that was embellished. Emma, my friend who accompanied me and served as cheerleader and chief hand holder, would testify that I walked in a nervous manner all the way down. I wearily signed the forms that I was finally of age to sign on my own, and I almost suggested to the tattoo artist that he tape down my arm so that I wouldn’t move. It was kind of embarrassing actually.

However, I can say for certain that I didn’t cry, and that I hung on until the very end.

I now know how I’m going to be like when I have my first born child: I can’t stop looking at this beautiful thing on my body.

So what exactly did I do to myself?

On my right wrist, off to the left side, I got a semi-colon that is probably about the size of a quarter. Not overbearingly big, and not so small that it could pass for a ($100, cosmetically added) birth mark. It’s prominent and it’s important to me.

At this point you’re probably asking all the why’s: why a semi-colon? Why that location? Why get it now? Why get it at all?

Cool, okay. I love questions. I also love answering them. So:

Why a semi-colon? The explanation is actually twofold, and it works even more now than it did when I first had the idea of this particular tattoo.

When I was in high school, I was first introduced to the proper use of a semi-colon. One of my English teachers lamented how kids these days would use the semi-colon incorrectly in their written work. I made it my personal mission to prove that I knew how to use it. According to The Oatmeal,  “the most common way to use of the semi-colon is to connect two independent clauses.”

About that same time, I had hit a brick wall with my emotions, relationships, and overall well-being. I was depressed, skipping class, getting into fights and arguments, pushing my friends away and consistently anxious. I wanted to run away and just tell people to leave me alone, but I couldn’t deal with the silence and my own thoughts. I spent months – years even – pretending like everything was solid, everything was good, everything was awesome. But the people that got the abuse were people that didn’t deserve it at all. I tried so hard to blend in with the rest of the school, but with each day I risked falling deeper into my thoughts and having a sudden and angry outburst. Panic attacks were frequent and at one point I couldn’t handle the overwhelming emotions. I couldn’t handle my pain and I couldn’t handle how I was treating people. I couldn’t handle myself, and if this was what life was supposed to be for me, I had no choice in my mind but to commit suicide. I had countless thoughts, numerous plans and wills and suicide notes typed up and written out.

But one night while I was brewing in my own demise, I came across this simple device, the semi-colon, in a mental health context after a friend had sent me something about it on Tumblr. At that time my thoughts were too jumbled to comprehend, so I left it alone. It stuck with me, however, and I would think about it all the time. As I started to get help, I slowly re-integrated myself back into life as I once knew it, with more ups than downs, and realizing that my emotions were okay to have. That bad days come with the good days, and that I shouldn’t be ashamed of what I was feeling.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I came face to face with the semi-colon again. This time I fully understood the meaning of it in the context of suicide:

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

As a writer (or someone that loves writing and takes it very seriously), the use of the semi-colon as a metaphor for my life journey was enlightening to me. Why that location? You know those pesky ideas that you become so enamoured with that you just can’t let go? That was me and this tattoo. Forget my pain tolerance, forget my parents, forget disapproval for a second. This was about me and this tattoo. Once I found out what the semi-colon truly meant, I woke up the next morning looking at my right wrist, and I could see it right there. I put my left index and fourth finger there, as if I was feeling my pulse. The spacing was perfect and it just clicked. From then on, I knew that that was the place it was destined to go.

But why now? 20 seemed like a reasonable age, in part because I was already age of majority (and therefore didn’t need my parents to sign anything), and also because it was three years in the making. I knew that this was a life investment and that I couldn’t rush into it. When the idea was first conceived at 17, I gave myself a year to think about it and see if it was something that I really wanted to get. Though I didn’t think about it constantly, things would remind me of this semi-colon. Over time it became more and more prominent, and as mentioned above, this year proved to be the year that tipped me over the edge. As for date, there really is no significance. I decided to be spontaneous for once: I booked the appointment on a Friday, and the following Wednesday I was walking into the tattoo parlour. The rest is history.

But why get one at all? This is what my parents asked me all the time in the lead up to it actually happening. Is it really necessary to alter your skin in this way? they asked. It’s permanent, they said.

And yes, I am fully aware that I can’t go in a week later and ask them to get rid of it. I got it not to spite my parents and not to pretend to be a rebellious and angsty kid. Ultimately this was for me, to serve as a reminder to myself that this was my past and that my future is full of potential. I hit bumps in the road, and even some major sink holes, but I climbed out of them and continued on. It also reminds me that my life will never be perfect and that there will be bad days, but it’s my resilience and my faith and support systems that will keep me going.

As well, I wanted to show off that I am proud of my past and where I came from, and to show others that this is something that we need to discuss in our discourse. We’re getting there, in the way of Bell Let’s Talk day and other campaigns. But stigma still exists and people are still afraid to seek out help because of it. I hope that this small sign can be a sign of solidarity and openness.

Finally, this design also worked out to fit my pain tolerance, my ability to cover it up if needed, as well as it being simplistic if I want to walk around with bare arms.

My story is far from being over, and I know that my struggles will still haunt me as life goes on. But knowing that I chose to continue my story instead of end it gives me so much joy and gratitude. I look forward to what is to come and am thankful for the second chance.