Tattoosday 018: Trains & Sewing Machines

Content warning: The following ink story makes references to anxiety and depersonalization disorder, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Trains & Sewing Machines," Xavier Pastrano

Back in 2014, my wife and I had an amazing, music inspired opportunity: we would travel to London, England to meet Imogen Heap, in person, at her home/studio to receive a limited edition box set of her album Sparks. Let me back up a bit...

My wife and I both love music. It has served many purposes in our lives, both before we met and while married. My wife's all-time favorite artist is Imogen Heap, so when I saw that Imogen was releasing a limited edition box set of Sparks with a ticket to a release party at her home,I thought to myself, "When will this kind of opportunity ever present itself again? This needs to happen." So I pulled the trigger without hesitation, and surprised my wife with the news as an early birthday/anniversary gift. To say she was excited is an understatement. However, we were unaware at the time that my dormant, psychological disorder would rear it's ugly head during the trip.

Prior to leaving for London, I had been feeling "off." It was a sensation I had experienced numerous times before, but I never talked about it because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. When it happened, it felt like things weren't real; it was as if everything looked and felt like a dream. I tried to shove the thoughts and feelings out of my head, but that was easier said than done. So, I just tried my best to keep it together and off we went to London.

Despite some jet lag, I was okay the first day there. However, on the second day, I experienced a full blown panic attack while waiting for a train in the Underground. I saw a white male wearing a backpack on his stomach, actively "checking out" everyone around him, and making awkward comments to bystanders. I glanced over and we made eye contact. He then walked straight over to me and stood beside me. It was at that moment that I just couldn't take it. I told my wife, "We need to" I was convinced that he was going to blow up the train or something. My wife kept her cool and walked me over to a nearby bench where we sat down and she talked me through my attack. Meanwhile, the passengers boarded the train and left...and we missed our train to see Stone Henge: something I had been dying to see since I was a kid.

The following days were absolute hell. I felt stranded and de-tethered, and the unfamiliarity of a foreign city only made things worse. The night before the party, I barely slept. I experienced one of the worst "dream-like" episodes I've ever had. I literally felt like I was losing my mind and about to derail. The only thing that kept me together was a phrase I kept repeating: "You're not alone. You're with you're wife and you're a team. You're a team."

The next day we went to the party and I was trying my best to keep my shit together. On the outside I was all smiles, but on the inside, I felt like a large, complex machine being held together by loose rubber bands and tooth picks. However, once my wife and I met some other fans from Wisconsin, things started to get better. My anxiety started to loosen it's grip and I was able to relax a bit. 

Once the party was over and we headed back to our hotel, my wife and I decided to go back to the states early. We changed our plane tickets and forfeited our opportunity to check out the Harry Potter Universal Studio Tour and a few other adventures, which I was really bummed about. Once we got back home, my wife just said, "I really think you would benefit from talking to somebody about what you experienced." I agreed, and a few weeks later I had my first meeting with my counselor/therapist. After several sessions and diagnostics, I was diagnosed with Anxiety and Depersonalization Disorder. *Oddly enough, when I explained how I felt during my "episodes", my counselor said it was incredibly similar to the list of side effects in the DSM-5, which I had never read before.

What was amazing was that by simply opening up and talking about what I was experiencing, the grip of my depersonalization began to loosen. Once I realized that it was a real thing, I felt utter relief. The talking helped a lot, but there was still a decent amount of work to be done. Upon our return to the states, I couldn't even go for a car ride by myself to a nearby city (25 miles) without nearly having an attack, so I took baby steps. Eventually, after 6-8 months, I was feeling like my old self again and doing things I never thought possible, like riding my bike as a means of transportation for a weekend in an unfamiliar city.

Eventually, I wanted to get a tattoo that spoke of my journey. Stylistically, I've always loved minimalist artwork and sketchy line drawings, so I opted for a train in this style. However, the train itself has a couple meanings: 1. It's a nod to the line "Trains and sewing machines" from Imogen Heap's song "Hide and Seek" and 2. It's a reminder of what my wife has done for me. She kept me "on track" during a time when I thought I was going to "derail." Without her, I honestly don't know what I would have done. She's my rock, and I love her dearly. 

It's been about three years since all of this has happened, and since then, I have taken on a much more vocal role in promoting the social acceptance of mental disorders and putting to rest societal stereotypes and misconceptions. It has been an incredible journey, and although it was insanely difficult at times, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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