Forget the Taboo and get a Tattoo

I got my first tattoo when I was 16. It was a small heart, half red half purple with swirly bits coming out each side. When my Mam saw it I told her it wasn’t real. When she saw it again a few weeks later she nearly had a canary. People started asking me what it represented, if it meant something to me. I felt pressured into conjuring up a meaning for it and came up with “the red is love and the purple is lust and its about figuring what relationships are based on which feeling.” Sounds very mature considering I didn’t have a clue what the hell love was but I felt I had to justify it with some meaningful nonsense. From that point on I decided that people couldn’t get tattoos unless they’re symbolic of something. They have to represent some significant or traumatic stage of your life, something close to your heart. I got my second tattoo when I was 17. With my new found knowledge I was sure I had got it right this time. I got a quote all along my ribs in my favourite language, Italian. It reads “Vi sara sempre uni parte di mi” and it means “you will always be a part of me.” I got it because it represents my special bond with my Mam. When I tell people they always say “sorry to hear” but I didn’t get the tattoo because my Mam has passed away, she’s alive and well. It made me feel like I had gotten it wrong again.

People are so quick to judge when they see a tattoo, jumping to conclusions about what it means or whether it means anything at all. I got that stupid heart because I thought it looked cute and thats absolutely fine. I got that quote because I wanted to show my Mam how much she means to me. Then I realised that no matter how hard you think about what tattoo you want to get and what other people will think and how it will be perceived, your never going to get through to everybody. When I was 18 I decided to get the heart covered up with a beautiful butterfly – not because it meant anything but because it looked bloody good. I don’t know whether people stopped piping up with their outdated opinions or if I just stopped listening but from then on I felt a lot more confident not just about my ink but about my prerogative.

At 20 I went with a friend to get my third (fourth if you count the coverup) tattoo. I’m a big animal lover and I wanted something that represented that. Anyone who knows me knows my cats are my fur babies 💖 so I choose 3 small paw prints on my foot. Now at 22 I have just gotten my fourth and most amazing tattoo yet. I went for a decorative lion on my thigh and while I could tell you its representative of my ambition and strength or because my star sign is Leo, the main reason I got it is because its fucking awesome. The point is, a tattoo can mean something or nothing at all, it can be a picture, a portrait, a quote or a compass, something with a clear message or something a little harder to decipher. That’s what makes them so special, they’re completely unique to every person. People can perceive the very same thing in lots of different ways. Tattoos are like a personality puzzle, as you piece them together you find out about a person in ways words can’t communicate.

Growing up I wondered who the warrior princess was that graced my Dad’s forearm, her tresses of auburn hair blowing softly in the imaginary breeze. Or the jet black panther prowling up my uncles back. I think it makes people less flat, people with tattoos seem more multidimensional. Theres nothing like the adrenaline on tattoo day, your waiting for the artist to finish your sketch. She comes over and you inspect it, giving her the nod of approval. As you slide into your chair you get comfy, make sure your phone is lying beside you, you might be here for a while. Then the familiar buzz of the tattoo gun and your adrenaline spikes. Two minutes in and your thinking WHY have I done this to myself but once the initial shock is over you settle into the pain, enjoy it even. And the finished result gives you an immense feeling of pride. Like when your driving home with a warm takeaway on your lap after braving the rain but without the guilt.

I cant wait for the generation that see’s nothing wrong with a judge or a doctor having visible tattoos as they go about their professional lives. Reporters on tv giving us live coverage of events as they unfold around the world with their usual air of elegance, but with a cheeky sleeve on show. After all, expressing yourself through art should only be viewed as a good thing. For those of you who are wondering, let me tell you that no, I don’t regret any of my tattoos even the silly love heart. And have I thought about what my tattoos will look like when I’m old? Yeah I have. They’ll look chuffing great.

AMK  ✨

My latest tattoo in steps; 1) The sketch 2) During 3) The result!

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Mental Health Awareness Week

With the week thats in it I have decided to share my views on mental health awareness and my personal experiences with the issue.

I cant remember what age I was when I first started thinking that I might not be the same as everyone else, but it has mulling away in the back of my mind for a very long time. When I was a child I felt I was more mature than the other kids my age, but also more angry, more confused, more defiant. I was sent to counsellors who didn’t understand me by teachers who didn’t know what to do with me and so the cycle continued until I was 15 and I learned to suppress my innermost feelings. And I was not alone. Statistics show that 70% of children who experience mental health problems have not had any appropriate intervention at a sufficiently early age. It wasn’t until recently, at the age of 21, when I started to write all my thoughts down each night that I felt some sort of relief. My head was always so full of anxiety, fear, anger and a constant impeding doom of helplessness. I felt like I was 10 stone lighter after emptying my thoughts out on to the pages. I was able to confide in my diary in a way I could never confide in an actual person, without the worry of judgment or misunderstanding. I have never spoken about what goes on inside my mind to anyone, and no one I know has ever spoken about their mental health to me. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in Ireland will experience a mental health problem in any given year. So why is there still a stigma attached to people who admit that they are experiencing such common issues? In our modern day society where it is deemed acceptable to get ossified from alcohol and strip naked on reality tv shows and have Swarovski crystals glued on to your not-so-private private-parts, it is time that this phenomenon of sufferer-shaming is wiped out once and for all. When something insignificant annoys you, like your hairdresser cutting 4 inches off your hair instead of the trim you actually wanted, nothing makes you feel better than venting about it to a friend. So imagine how isolating it is for people dealing with something as serious as a mental health issue, feeling like they cant get that same “weight off their shoulders” sensation because they’re too used to bottling everything up inside for fear of humiliation and rejection? The changes that need to be made in order to cease this widespread attack on the voices of people with mental illnesses are vast, but everyone has a part to play and together we can change the fact that most people suffer in silence. It’s the blasé bully making casual jibes that someone is “mental” or “unstable” when they admit that they aren’t coping so well. It’s the little things we have let seep into society and now view as acceptable, like the social media monsters who label girls as “crazy.” No explanation required just simply, yes your a girl, your nuts. Sounds absurd, right? I logged on to Facebook just today and was confronted with a meme which quickly informed me that “If a girl is cute, smart and single you know she’s a psycho”. These nonchalant japes at mental illness may seem insignificant, some of the perpetrators may not even realise the negative effect they are having on the fight against mental health taboos, but it all adds up. It contributed towards my decision to not discuss my mental health with anyone, and I am certain I am not the only one. As of yet, I still have not sought any professional advice about my mental health, partly because I wouldn’t know where to go or who to talk to. I have tried googling what I feel and I have been faced with different results telling me I am either depressed, bipolar or suffering from an anxiety disorder. Not helpful, whatsoever. But hey, at least my laptop wont judge me, right? Well I for one am sick of pretending I’m ok if I’m not, hiding how I feel on the inside so people on the outside don’t label me and put me in an isolated box. I’m choosing to be brave and if I can do it, anyone can. Sometimes I feel like I am in control, sometimes I don’t, and thats ok. One of the entries in my diary reads;

“I wonder do other people feel this way, even on my own I feel led astray.”

Of course they do, and when someone is struggling they shouldn’t have to think twice about reaching out for help. Too many things in life are difficult, lets stop allowing being who you are and looking after your mental health to be two of them.