Ruxy Chitac shares with us what the experience of getting a tattoo is like, while also highlighting how the chosen design is a symbol expressing her story of dealing with depression. By talking about the polarizing reactions she has received when talking about her tattoo’s meaning, she emphasizes the ever-increasing need to have open-minded conversations about mental illness and health in general.
It was a cold February morning, and with a drawing in my hand and slight fear in my heart, I was walking to a tattoo parlour to get my first tattoo. These memories are vividly clear in my brain – I remember the nervous anticipation; the awkwardness of not knowing what to do with myself once I got to the parlour; then the awe of seeing the artist imprinting my skin with the desired design; and finally, the terrifying feeling that I might not take proper care of my fresh ink and I might lose it all.
After those few hours of intense and new emotions, I finally felt like I made the right choice in terms of design, artist and tattoo parlour. In my opinion, these three elements need to match perfectly in order to get the best experience out of the whole process – from picking a tattoo, refining the design with the artist to the actual day when you get it. It was a relief to be completely content with my decision and in that moment, I felt like I had no regrets. Even after two years, I could have not been happier to have gotten this tattoo, however I am currently facing an issue that I probably should have anticipated.
When anyone sees the tattoo on my lower arm, almost everyone comments on the perfectly parallel thick lines and vibrant colours of the ink. Then, I know that the dreaded question of ‘What does your tattoo mean?’ is floating in the air. Over the past several months, I have learned that more than half the people I meet don’t want an honest answer to this question and it’s very rare when it doesn’t get awkward afterwards.
The reason why this is the case is because my choice of a tattoo is very closely related to the mental health issues I have been struggling with for years. The symbol I have on my skin is inspired by Twenty One Pilots, a band that has a multitude of songs referring to depression and that, obviously, hit close to home for me, since this mental illness has been a problem I had to learn how to deal with since high-school. For a long time, I couldn’t talk to anyone about the way I was feeling or if I was trying to communicate about what was going on in my head, I was told that I should just ‘toughen up’. As much as I wished that was the case and all I needed was a stern pep talk, depression doesn’t really work like that. For a very long time, as cliché as it sounds, music was all I had that remotely described the way I felt. For me, it was revolutionary that a band like Twenty One Pilots could talk openly about these issues, about how mental health is important and when issues occur, they are just as relevant and serious as physical ailments.
Fast forward a few years later when I started university in St Andrews, I was in awe about how people in the UK had entire campaigns and services meant to provide support for people who are struggling like me. Here I found people more willing to listen and acknowledge when something is not right, rather than dismiss it.
Through all of this, I was so amazed by how far I managed to come during my first year of university and how, just with open-minded conversations, I managed to understand depression better and ways I can help myself through the hard times. So, when it came to picking a design for my first tattoo, something symbolising the way I related to depression seemed like a very appropriate choice. The two sides of my tattoo mean that depression (the dark, black outline) is connected to me (symbolised by the red part of the tattoo). However, this darkness does not represent my entire person as I think it does, when I am feeling low. It is a gentle reminder of my history with this issue and all the things I learnt so far about depression and myself.
Maybe after this very detailed account of my background with mental health issues, the reader can realise why the topic of my tattoo choice can be hard to digest for a lot of people. Mainly, no one really expects to hear that my weird symbol has anything to do with depression, so they are taken aback by my explanation. Some people enquire more about my choice, but more often, they just go quiet or judge the choice of a band-related symbol on my skin. Weirdly enough, the St Andrews environment made me grow accustomed to people being quite open and vocal about healthy mental health conversations, but some of the reactions around my tattoo still remind me that not the entire world is there yet.
If I wanted to inspire any take-home message from this article, it is that people should acknowledge and listen to someone who is brave enough to admit they are struggling with any sort of ailment, either be physical or mental. It takes a lot of effort for a lot of us to admit issues that society might deem undesirable or not serious enough to address. My tattoo was a way of expressing my feelings and experiences with depression and I would like to live in a world one day where people will meet this decision with interest and a healthy open-minded approach, rather than with fear or judgement.
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