Tattoo itch is a psychologically classifiable phenomenon defined in the DSM-V as “the fierce desire to adorn one’s bodily-canvas with subcutaneous ink.”
I’ve 3.5 tats mesirch: a feather quill on my foot representing my penchant for writing; the Roman numeral XXXVIII on the back of my neck below my hairline to commemorate family both biological and acquired (four of my five grandparents were born in 1938, except for my paternal grandfather — his birthdate, ’28, fits à la a matryoshka doll); a Venus symbol “prison tattoo” I stuck-and-poked on my ankle featuring an immaculately ballpoint-penned circle; the faded word valkyrie on my middle finger, applied by a friend in her ex-boyfriend’s basement.
For two-ish years, I’ve been flirting with the idea of getting a partial sleeve (insider lingo for “orn(ate)-amentation to mask the self-inflicted scars that ‘decorate’ three-quarters of my left forearm like lines of crude poetry, evidence of epidermal slash-and-burns dating back to August 2015”).
One cover-up option is a phoenix, preferably in black-and-white, photorealist style, because of its implicit rebirth/recovery symbolism. After burning, thy mythical phoenix reincarnates from its own ashes — the same bird, but born anew.
I’m “clean” of self-injury since July 4, 2016 … but I dealt with (mostly) cutting sporadically/dramatically for roughly a year, starting at age twenty.
To people who’ve never struggled with it, vandalizing one’s body — via blades, etc., not tattoo art — may/must seem contradictory. Why would a person hurt themselves? (S)he needs to stop.
Yet “people tend to mistakenly fixate on volatile behavior alone while overlooking its underlying cause,” notes an astute character in my feature-length screenplay, Juniper Hills.
When I took instruments to my skin, I was already in pain — of the emotional variety. I (felt I) needed tangible “proof” to validate the persistent, invisible ache I experienced in perpetuity; if I/others could see it, my inner turmoil must be real (flawed logic. There are manifold healthier ways to express oneself!!).
(Note: Self-harm ain’t just physical. Mentally berating/flogging oneself is another form of the practice.)
Now, horizontal white lines from my elbow-crook up my wrist serve as permanent reminders of a temporary, if extended-exposure, life snapshot marked by intrusive thoughts, apathy and other hallmarks of that tumultuous inner gremlin/warped kaleidoscope-lens, Depression. (Which, I stress, is a treatable illness.)
Behold these resonant lyrics from “Posters” by Jack Johnson: Looking at herself but wishing she was someone else / Because the body of the doll, it don’t look like hers at all … Well, the truth began to bend / And the next thing you know, man / There just ain’t no truth left at all … As a matter of fact, she hasn’t had a day to relax / Since she’s lost her ability to think clearly.
A condescending doctor during my first stint in a psychiatric hospital asked if I considered my cuts “battle” wounds. Um, hard no. In 2015-’16, self-harm was my “coping mechanism.” I forced my body to match my mind.
Though they are charged with volatility, I harbor no guilt/shame about my scars. (Nor am I proud to bear them.) They simply don’t “represent” me anymore. Years along, healthy, I want to replace those slashes/pockmarks with something exquisite and demonstrative of my resilience.
In high school, I came across the above Latin quote that addresses the fraught relationship I had with both: “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” I also read Christopher Reeve’s autobiography, Still Me, and the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby entitled, in its native French, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). Both were penned by quadriplegics underscoring the mind/body dichotomy, and both struck me as profoundly eloquent.
Evanna Lynch, the actress who portrayed Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, wrote an essay about self-image for the Harry Potter Alliance in 2011 titled “Why the Body Bind is My Nightmare.”
All of the above are poignant must-reads, yo — reference points I turn to when I need perspective, obscured by that which I’ve coined the “teenage-girl trifecta”: pressure, perfectionism and visceral self-deprecation.
Of late, the compulsion to self-harm has sprung up in times of stress, though not with the frequency/magnitude it used to — and, unlike in the past, I didn’t act on my impulse. Though I no longer consider myself to struggle with/suffer from depression, I still take tablets to suppress “roiling/ruminating/overanalyzing” thought-symptoms of my anxiety. Mental illness is a minotaur I’ve both conquered and continue to address daily.
On the recent, I’ve gleaned a truth of which I was ignorant when I was too consumed by my own anguish to consider anyone else’s perspective but my own: When I hurt myself, I hurt people who cared about me.
16 months clean.