mental health

Permanent Stories

“I am a canvas of my experiences, my story is etched in lines and shading, and you can read it on my arms, my legs, my shoulders, and my stomach.”

~Kat Von D

Certain things fall out of your notice after awhile. For instance, I forget that my hair’s blue all the time. When I first dyed it, I was always conscious of the color, and I felt people’s eyes on me constantly. Some of the people who saw the color narrowed their eyes in disapproval, and I hunched my shoulders. (Never mind that I loved it and felt like myself for the first time in ages) Others took the time to come over and compliment me, which made me smile and relax. And kids – especially little girls – loved it, which tickled me to no end. It’s been a few years now, and I’ve gone through several other colors, but blue is the most common. And since it’s ALWAYS colored at this point, I forget about it. So I don’t think anything of people turning to look my way – and I stopped caring about their opinion. It only matters when someone comes over to ask me how I did it (and I feel bad when I admit I don’t – that I rely on my fabulous hairstylist to keep me from looking like a Smurf)

My tattoos are the same way.

Now, there’s a slight caveat there. When I got my first tattoo, my mother was panicked. She was afraid I’d risk losing my job. Even in our current “age of enlightenment,” she felt that tattoos equated to rejection by employers. And she wasn’t entirely wrong. The clinic I worked at had a strict “no visible tattoos” policy. We weren’t in the Bible Belt (where damn near everything is against the rules), but they didn’t want clients getting offended. I’m not sure how a tribal shark and Calico Jack’s Jolly Roger might offend someone, but people can get weird about anything. So I brought my scrub top to the appointment, and we made sure the tattoo wouldn’t be visible when I was working. And I did the same with my second (dragon triquetras being horrific images and all).

Every time I got another tattoo (if you’ve never experienced the process, they’re like potato chips – you can’t stop at just one), I made sure it would remain covered by my scrubs so my mom could rest easy. Because the prejudice against ink kept cropping up. Unlike questions about your marriage status and children, it’s acceptable for an employer to ask if you have ink. And they can demand you cover it up. (So much for enlightenment) I decided it didn’t bother me, but I noticed a difference when out in public – where no such restrictions are in place. During the winter, when my arms and legs were covered (and thus no tattoos were visible), I ended up with those annoying kiosk people at the mall coming up to me ALL THE TIME. My Resting Bitch Face did nothing to deter them. (Yes, I am a master of that expression – most Capricorns are) However, during the warmer months when I had on shorts and tank tops, they decided to avoid me. The only difference between the situations was the visibility of my tattoos. I didn’t change how I walked, the expression I wore, or anything else.

The difference was THEIR perception.

Obviously, I’m not hemmed in on tattoo placement restrictions anymore. While I DO have client conversations via Zoom now and then, I feel zero need to worry that a person might decide I can’t write because I have a tattoo here or there. (And I have grand plans for two more – at least one of which will be my forearm) But the prejudice hasn’t stopped – even within my family.

In December, I added my fifth tattoo. I know I discussed it with my mother, and I even posted pictures on my social media accounts (because it’s adorable and came out fantastic. It’s also my first color tattoo, which I was a little nervous about). Earlier this month, we had a surge of warm temperatures, so I had shorts on when my father dropped by to help us with some home improvement things. It’s hard to miss the tattoo since it takes up most of my thigh, and he immediately commented that he didn’t know I got a new one – in a disapproving tone. I was shocked. One, that he wasn’t already aware of it (I mean, it’s been months – the thing’s completely healed). And two, that he sounded like one of those people on the street that ask if you realize tattoos are permanent. I carefully explained when I’d had it done, and that I’d told Mom about it (assuming she’d tell him). It did nothing to change his expression.

Which sums up the reactions I get out in public. It’s like my hair: some people offer positive comments, while others turn up their noses. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I know they’re permanent. (For that amount of pain, they damn well better be) I’m not a spur-of-the-moment tattoo person. I plan them over MONTHS. I think through what I want and why. Every tattoo has multiple meanings and reminders for me. I put them where I can see them for that reason. It’s why I’ll never get one on my back – what good is it if I can’t see it every day? These are important stories for me, marking moments in my life that I don’t want to forget. And I know it’s the same for other people that decide to go under the needle.

Tattoos are a person’s identity.

It amazes me, in the age we’re in, that you can still find pockets of prejudice. If hair color, piercings, or tattoos aren’t your thing, that’s fine. But does that give you permission to judge the people who DO want to embrace them? These are people expressing their personal identity. For a lot of us, it’s finally embracing our self-expression – people we’ve hidden away for decades. Your judgement? That’s not needed. We aren’t walking around telling you you look ridiculous buttoned up to the chin and wearing…oh, I don’t know, a wristwatch. (I have no idea where to go with that – mostly because I don’t engage in this behavior) I’m proud of the hours I’ve sat for my tattoos – because it isn’t easy! They fucking HURT! We’re talking holding incredibly still, trying to distract your body as it screams, “What the fuck are we doing?!” Not to mention the weeks after as you engage in care while it heals, and peels, and ITCHES.

Left WITHOUT parental interference, kids don’t judge. They come up to you and examine hair, earrings, and tattoos with interest. They ask questions – and a lot of them are intelligent questions. Have I EVER told a small child they could get a tattoo? No. I always explain it’s something they need to think carefully about and WAIT until they’re 18. With hair, I say they need to ask their parents. I’m not an irresponsible individual (though parents like to make me out to be one – thanks ever so much). Prejudice is LEARNED, it’s not innate. And it needs to stop. People need the freedom to be themselves – whatever that looks like.

Do you want to cover every inch of your skin with ink? Then do it. Want to experiment with every color on your hair? Go for it. Maybe you want to shave your head entirely. Why not? Self-expression represents who you are at your core. There’s nothing wrong with it. Do you need to open yourself to the potential questions? Yeah, you do. But – barring the ignorant – is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so. It gives you an opportunity to open up about YOU. Embrace your self-confidence. You never know when THAT might catch on. And maybe you’ll inspire one of those kids to do the same – away from that misguided parental influence.

mental health

The Great Adult Debate

Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

~C.S. Lewis

At least for the immediate future, there’s nothing we can do about the inevitable march of time; we’re going to continue to get older with each passing year (don’t ask how old I am because I’m not going to admit to that age – suffice it to say that I used landlines as a kid, and my first tool of research was the library and not Google). I have no doubts that science (or some less research-based organization that will go horribly wrong) is tirelessly working on methods to slow this process so that no one need suffer the ravages of old age, but until the Benjamin Button pill becomes available, we’re all stuck with the reality of encroaching wrinkles, body aches, and gray hair. For those of you out there with exceptional breeding (or excessive bank accounts – and, yes, we can all tell), you will still find the following signs of advanced age creeping into your life: a plastic bag full of plastic bags somewhere in the house, multiple chapstick sources (i.e., the car, work, several locations in the house), and multiple ibuprofen sources.

Face the facts, we’re all going to become adults whether we like it or not…and, frankly, we like it not. Who in their right mind likes bills, responsibilities, and taxes?! Sure, being able to rent a car and consume alcoholic beverages (legally – I’m looking at some of you) is a bonus, and there might be a few other perks sprinkled in there, but there’s a lot of dead weight that comes with being an adult…which prompts all of that ibuprofen you start carrying around and popping like candy. Is there anything more depressing than watching your hard-earned paycheck disappear – first to the government, and then to all of those necessities you thought sounded so cool as a kid? You know: a house, electricity, a car, the Internet no one can live without, and the ever-present phone? And, if you went to a higher education, there are those student loans you will be paying off for the rest of your life…and probably from the grave, too. We actually looked FORWARD to this and WANTED to grow up?!

What the hell were we thinking?!

Well, to be fair, we weren’t because we were young and stupid. Also…we didn’t have a choice – no Neverland, and no magic pill to let us stay kids forever. Damn. Okay, so here we are – adults (please feel free to add your own whining sound effect); we don’t get to change that. What we DO get to change – and somehow forget – is what we do with our lives. Yes, we have to be responsible members of society; we have to get jobs and pay our bills because prison really isn’t as glamorous as television makes it out be (unless you are a traffic cone, orange is not your color). This doesn’t mean staying in a mindless, soul-sucking job that makes you wish you were dead – that is NOT the definition of being an adult, and whoever tells you differently is lying (and probably wishing THEY were not in a mindless, soul-sucking job). NOTHING stops you from doing something you love, something that makes you happy…well, except YOU. Have you ever noticed that the word, “can’t” is uttered more by adults than kids? Think about that.

It isn’t just the professional side of things, though; there is this “adult persona” that people feel a need to embrace once they exit the doors of their educational building of choice into the “adult world” (if that doesn’t sound like the lamest amusement park in the world, I don’t know what does). People actually think they have to turn in their toys, posters, games, and books at the gate in exchange for classical art pieces, pottery, furniture that is non-functional (look, don’t touch!), and – my personal favorite – coffee table books. There’s this overwhelming pressure to hold dinner parties with fancy canapes, wine glasses, and conversation with Mozart playing softly in the background. Your dinnerware needs to match (of course), and it should only be in the most refined taste, coordinated with the drapes in your dining room. Your handbag has to match your shoes (or maybe not…I’m not fashion-forward, so definitely don’t trust anything I say in regards to clothing), and you’d better have the proper jewelry accessories. I think you’re allowed one pair of tennis shoes, but they are strictly for outdoor activities or sports. Everything is sophisticated, classic, and screams, “grown-up” – and people believe this is real!

WHY?!

You became an adult, not a Stepford Wife! Just because you age up doesn’t mean setting aside who you are and stuffing yourself into a mold you’ll never fit in. Have you ever set foot into ComiCon or DragonCon? You think a single one of those adults are not fully-functional, responsible members of society? (If you have doubts, go look at the cost to get in and then rethink your opinion) Getting older doesn’t mean letting go of the things that make you happy, regardless of what those things are. Adults play video games, read YA fiction (right now, some of that is better than the other side of the bookstore), read comics, build Legos (no child is building that Millennium Falcon), watch Disney+ and plan to storm Build-a-Bear when The Child is released (I will mow down your kid if they are in the way), and stand in line for animated movies. We didn’t give up on the things we loved just because society decided we were “grown-up.” And we’re HAPPY. Sure, we get some odd looks. Sure, people point. Sure, people roll their eyes, laugh, mutter under their breath – all of those things. So what? Last time I checked, I wasn’t enjoying things for anyone but myself.

I fell for the “adult” trap out of college. I scrambled to project the right image, follow the “rules,” and set up my first apartment appropriately. I lost myself, too, watched fragments drift away. I would see something I knew I loved, and I’d point it out to one of my new “friends,” and then wilt under their skeptical eye and crawl back home in shame. It took me a long time to realize how miserable I was, being so “adult” all the time, quashing all of ME inside, away from prying eyes. It wasn’t until I met a friend of mine, who wasn’t afraid to just be herself – consequences be damned – that I started to crawl back out of my shell. Oh, I lost some of those “friends” – they declared me “too weird,” “strange,” “immature,” and plenty of other derogatory things – and my ego took a blow before I realized they were A) wrong, and B) never friends in the first place.

Now? Now, my house has stuffed animals and Funko Pop! figurines in every room, as well as Lego sets. My movie collection is a mixture of animated, superhero, musical, anime, and action. I have a fair amount of YA on my book shelves, as well as manga/light novel, and comics. My purse and wallet are Harley Quinn, my laptop bag is Nightmare Before Christmas, my water bottle has The Child on it, and my gym bag has a Flerken on it. My clothing has Disney characters (including Star Wars and Marvel), DC characters, and cats on it. The vast majority of my jewelry is handmade (not by me – I’m not talented in that arena), and instead of a diamond, my engagement ring is a color-changing garnet. When we have dinner parties, we play Villainous or Unstable Unicorns or Bears vs. Babies, complete with shrieking laughter and accusations of cheating and hateful remarks. And I love every minute of it. Yes, I get weird looks sometimes, but I also get a lot of compliments and smiles. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me anymore, because I’m happy. Maybe it’s not the Webster’s Dictionary version of, “adult,” but it’s my definition, and my only regret is that I wasted a lot of time arriving at that realization.

So, you tell me: what kind of adult do you want to be?

mental health

Be Anyone but Yourself

I've always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be. - Dita Von Teese

One of the biggest lies you will ever hear from another human being has to be, “Be yourself.” Those two little words come from everyone: family, friends, teachers, motivational posters in medical offices. The words come in the form of empowered scripts, cute kittens, every range of emoji, and endorsement by any number of celebrities. Indoctrination begins way back in kindergarten and follows you into adulthood, becoming more and more of a parroted line with every recitation. Now, I’m not condemning the sentiment or even every person who tells you to, “Be yourself,” because there probably are people who were – and are – genuinely honest. Let’s be real, though: the vast majority of people say those words with a little tiny caveat attached.

Be yourself…with the following conditions.

People really don’t like us to be ourselves; they like it when we’re THEIR version of ourselves. So, be yourself…but don’t wear that, don’t say that, don’t speak up, don’t join that group, do join that group, don’t write that way, don’t associate with those people, don’t vote for that person, do vote for that person, don’t support that cause, don’t color your hair that shade, don’t color your hair at all, don’t wear your hair in that style, don’t wear glasses, do wear glasses but not that style, don’t listen to that music, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on and on, and suddenly you’re no longer yourself, you’re a ridiculous clone of the person who told you to, “Be yourself.” Sometimes, you can’t even remember who you actually ARE. Did I really like Top 40 music? Do I even like reading mysteries? Have I always liked the color green? When did I sign up as a member of the Walking History Tour Fans? How did I ever end up with green braids in my hair? Suddenly, you find yourself staring in the mirror, struggling to figure out who the hell that person is looking back at you – not because of depression or any other mental imbalance, but because you’ve lost your personal identity under a tidal wave of, “Be yourself!”

Actually being yourself means NOT listening to those people. It means closing out all of the other voices when you make your daily decisions, not worrying about what someone else is going to think about your choice. Not everyone is going to agree with you (that’s a good thing, by the way), and they’re going to make faces, and they’re going to roll their eyes, and they’re going to say things – usually worded quite cleverly – to make you question yourself. They do that because they want you to BE LIKE THEM! Consider that when you hear that slight inflection at the end of their words questioning your decision. After all, cutting your hair super short and dyeing it ice-blue isn’t going to end the world (personal experience, here). Speaking your mind, rather than keeping things bottled up and eating you alive inside, may or may not be detrimental – depends on how you say things – but it’s a thousand times better than keeping pain inside, allowing it to fester and destroy you. Honesty isn’t going to win you a lot of friends, but it is always, always, always the best policy.

If you can look in the mirror and see YOU – 100%, genuine, YOU – and be content, then that’s a win. It likely means disappointing people, annoying people, aggravating people (all of which has the potential to be fun, if you look at it the right way), but where lies the greater peace? Making everyone else happy, or making yourself happy? Looking in the mirror and seeing the Indianapolis 500 version of yourself, created by everyone around you, or looking in the mirror and seeing the you that you have worked so hard to create yourself?