Content warning: The following post contains discussion of anxiety and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.
"I'm Only Human, pt. 2" Rachel
If you were to ask my 18-year-old self what I thought about tattoos, I probably would have said, “That’s not for me." Interestingly enough, several years later, I now have three tattoos, with a few others in mind. The idea of wanting a tattoo solidified when the band Switchfoot saved me from the deep recesses of my mind during my junior year of college.
My school had transferred from the quarter system to semesters, and I was struggling with a lot of things that caused chaos: I had a crush on a guy who I worked with but felt that people like him never date people like me, I didn’t get the job I wanted (at the time, I got it later the following semester), I was working around 2 or 3 jobs at the time since I felt the pressures of having a financial arrangement with my parents if I didn’t get a 4.0 GPA, and I had just found out I failed a prerequisite course to my major. All of these thoughts of self-loathing turned into depression, and that is when I experienced my first major anxiety attack.
The band Switchfoot, which I would classify as alternative rock, saved me from the deep, dark thoughts that would haunt my mind at times when I least expected it. My roommates, of course, had no idea that I was struggling so much. I had reached out to very few people, because my 20-year-old naïve self believed that I was invincible and I did not have any issues with my mental health. It wasn’t until a couple weeks after I graduated that I got my first tattoo, much to my parents’ dismay, and I was immediately hooked. Self-expression is so important, that the ink that penetrates my skin each time I got my tattoos slowly became a part of me, as if I was born with them. The most recent tattoo, however, gives me hope that I can overcome the anxiety and depression I have been officially diagnosed with while I was completing my second and final year of grad school.
I can’t explain the shift I felt inside my head, but I know that something changed inside of me that makes it hard to explain what it feels like to have both anxiety and depression. The best way I can describe it is like a light switch, where it turns on and off whenever my brain decides it’s the best time to cry over something. Grad school was rough as it was, being that the culture was not the best for someone like me and there are some people that caused me to doubt myself in ways I never thought possible. I cried almost all the damn time. I blamed other people for how I felt because I was too insecure about myself. I was sick of it, so goddamn tired of all the bullshit I put myself through and how my brain operated, that when I reached my breaking point, it was right when I was trying to find a job in Higher Education.
When I didn’t find a job, I hated myself. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror each morning as I got ready for work, and it got to the point where I didn’t understand why I getting up each day to help my own students. I had reached an all time low when everyone else was getting on campuses and I had nothing. The anxiety and depression told me I was a piece of shit, and I believed it to be true. No one could console me, not the love of my life, who even now when I experience an anxiety attack, he still tells me I’m beautiful, to my best friends who have been there for me since the very beginning. I couldn’t even tell my family how much I hated myself, until my boyfriend told me I needed to call them after avoiding them for weeks.
Fast forward to April 2016. Around my birthday, I decided that I had wanted another tattoo. I had heard the song “Human” by Christina Perri a while back, and fell in love with it. She got it. She had sung all the pain I was going through. It was a few months earlier when I had stumbled upon Project Semicolon.
While I have never been someone with suicide ideation, I did get diagnosed with depression by my therapist this past year after I had something said to me that caused my anxiety to shift into something darker. After reading testimonies and crying from relief that I had finally been diagnosed with something that made sense as to what I was feeling, I made the decision to get the tattoo inspired by Christina Perri: “I can fake a smile. I can force a laugh... I can hold the weight of worlds if that’s what you need. Be your everything. I can do it. I can do it. I’ll get through it, but I’m only human.”
The concept of humanity proves that I can make mistakes. I am not perfect, even though I am desperate to be the perfect friend, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect daughter, and the perfect employee. I set myself up for failure. The anxiety and depression turn into self-loathing, which turns into despair. I will be fine one minute, talking to you about whatever topic comes up, then BAM! I get self-conscious, I think I’ve said the wrong thing, or feel like you’ve taken too long to respond, and I fully believe that I’m unworthy and unlovable.
The anxiety tells me that my boyfriend, whom I love with my entire being, is going to leave me because I cry too much and I am the ugliest human being in the world, and who the hell would want to be with someone who looks like me? Who would want a daughter who couldn’t manage to get a decent GPA as an undergrad? Who would want a friend who is always self conscious about the way she looks, and knows that every goddamn time we go out, men will always notice the friends and not her? Humanity is tricky, because I have to admit that I have faults, and understand that I am not perfect, even though I try my hardest to be so.
Self-expression and music saved my life. It saved my sanity. Do I still get anxiety attacks and depressive episodes? Absolutely. It can take up to 4 hours for me to calm down from an anxiety attack, and even after it happens, numbness kicks in and I can’t even get the energy to get up off the floor. The light at the end of the tunnel is seeing my tattoos. Particularly I’m only human;. It gives me strength, even when people tell me that “Everyone gets depressed” or “Why are you getting anxious about this? It’s no big deal.” You do not have to tell me about my flaws. I can do that all by myself, courtesy of the anxiety and depression. What I want you to acknowledge is I’m human. I am far from perfect. But by accepting my humanity, I am one step closer into realizing that I was put on this earth for something great. I just haven’t found what that is, yet.
Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.
If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.
These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!
The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!