For the past six years, I've been ashamed of the scars that line my arms and legs, and the burns that have left parts of my skin purple. Every time I looked down at my pale flesh, I would cringe. Those lines reminded me of the ongoing depression I had throughout my teenage years.
Last year, I got a small tattoo on the side of my wrist in Greek. It translates to "an acceptance of yourself and a healthy state of mind." I thought having the word there would remind me to not continue harming myself.
But as I continued drowning in sadness, anxiety and pain, not even that permanent word on my skin could remind me to stop the self-hatred.
I'm currently almost nine months clean of self-harm. This is the longest I've ever gone without hurting myself since I was 13. I feel as though I'm a whole new person, and I've gotten a strong handle on my mental health.
Although I'm so proud of the progress I've made, I still always felt ashamed when I saw the visible scars lining my body. They made me embarrassed to wear short sleeves. I became self-conscious about people judging me if they were to see my scars.
For a while now, I have been considering getting artwork tattooed on my left wrist, in order to cover up these visible scars. I recently made the decision to choose a drawing by Van Gogh for the tattoo, as he is the artist who has inspired me throughout both my artistic and personal life. His life is so personal to me, and I found myself relating to him on a deeper level.
My scars remind me of my story and how strong I am. But they also served as a reminder of the pain I endured as a young teenager, and how much my struggling mental health played a role in my life.
Getting a work of art tattooed over all of these scars helped me learn to love a part of my body that I had abused so much over the years.
This week, I had an appointment to get my tattoo. It was such a special day for me. I had had a very difficult week, and having this day set kept me going all week long.
Tattoos are so personal to me. I absolutely love adorning my body with art, as it helps me think of my body as a canvas. It has also helped me accept myself. I feel more confident about baring my skin to the people around me.
Tattoos give me a rush of adrenaline. This is similar to how self-harm made me feel. But this time, the result is something beautiful, rather than destructive and unhealthy.
I wanted the visible, permanent things on my body to be there as a result of a happy, thought-out decision, rather than the impulsive, harmful acts I engaged in during my past.
I want people to look at my tattoo and see its beauty and intrinsic qualities, as compared to how people eyed the long, white scars on my visible skin with confusion and disgust over the years. Making the decision to get a decorative, artistic tattoo over my self-harm scars helped me find closure with a past I had previously found difficult to let go of. It helps to remind me that my body deserves to be treated with love and kindness.
People have given me lectures of disappointment over the months regarding my decision to get tattoos. But I've responded with, "After the horrible, destructive things I have done to my body over the years, I have the right to do anything I want to it in order to make it look and feel beautiful."
Maybe people will look down on me because of my tattoos. But I feel more confident by having them there.
Show me a man with a tattoo, and I'll show you a man with an interesting past.