Of my beautiful scars and the ashes from which they rose

Captain’s Log: Day 13 (Guess who can’t count. Surprise!)

I’m still feeling good. My moods are relatively even. I haven’t had any wild reactions, positive or negative, to anything. I’ve been sticking with my to do’s and reporting regularly. To all of my stable ponies, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re sick of my texts. Thank you all, nonetheless. I’ve gotten a bunch of silly little things done that I’d been putting off. I see my neurologist on Tuesday. I’m still planning on discussing what happened, if nothing else to make sure she’s aware of it. The possibility of needed medication won’t be a complete surprise if it does turn out that I need it.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, things are starting to warm up. Instead of posting my annual “dos and don’ts” for tattoos, I wanted to share a story. When I got out of the shower last night, I took the time to study all of my tattoos. I paid special attention to the ones I don’t see every day, one on the back of my left arm right above my elbow [a stylized rose], the little one on my back [it reads “danse avec la vie” which roughly translates to “dance with life” in English], the one on the top of my left thigh [a cardinal sitting on cherry blossoms, a homage to my childhood state of Virginia], and the bottom part of my phoenix which wraps around my right elbow.

There’s also a quill and dagger in black and red on the bottom of my left bicep. I can only see it when I raise my arm over my head while looking in a mirror. I got that tattoo the day I met Boy. The tattoo shop I frequented had an event called “Man Day”. They would do discounted tattoos, then have a party at one of the local bars in the afternoon and evening. The picture of me attached to this profile was taken that day as well. August 14, 2010.

As I was taking the time to examine them all, outwardly, they’re a random collection of artwork. Inwardly, it’s a record of the toughest 4 years of my life. Just like someone who cuts, the more confident (for lack of a better term) I got, the bigger and more visible they became. My retirement piece, which I know I’ve mentioned, is my phoenix. At the time, I hadn’t anticipated that would be my grand finale. Part of me figured I’d just keep going until I ran out of skin. I had plans for the back of my left calf and more work on my actual back. Then as I started to get my shit together, it ended. I finished the phoenix in on my 26th birthday. I had my successes and my failures over the next 3 years, but I never went back under the needle.

For a long time I believed, and was told, that I was damaged. I’d ruined my body because of them. I would always be looked at and judged as a freak. Even the people who cared about me the most silently judged me. That didn’t even hold a candle to my damaged heart. I’m not damaged. I’m not broken. I can allow others to judge me and not feel obligated to defend myself. While the truth would definitely silence even the harshest of critic, I would be telling them out of sheer spite rather than because I genuinely wanted them to know the story behind them. I could get them removed, but the scars it would leave behind would be even more obvious. At this point, most of them are just part of the landscape. I’ll forget about them until someone points them out. I can’t forget the story behind them, but I don’t have to let it keep writing more chapters in my life. That chapter is over. Time to get on with the rest of the book.

Also, happy (early) Friday the 13th. I’ll have plenty of black cats crossing my path, but that happens every other day of the year. Here kitty, kitty.

XOXO!

Of mood swings and keeping your hands to yourself

There was an incident at work last week which could have resulted in disciplinary action against myself and one of my employees. It was a completely bullshit issue and didn’t result in anything other than getting us both pissed. When I was letting her vent, I had an epiphany. She said something about people in other areas violating the dress code & not getting written up. This had no relation to the issue we were supposedly getting written up for. It hit me.

Defend yourself, but don’t change the subject.

I’m very guilty of this. I’ll get in trouble for something & immediately try to find something worse that someone else is guilty of, then point to them. “Well, I did this, but she came in with her boobs hanging out and nothing happened to her!”. What did that accomplish? Nothing. If you didn’t fuck up, defend yourself, but don’t make an example of someone else. The same applies for when you do fuck up. Dragging someone else into it, especially someone who is completely irrelevant to the situation at hand, doesn’t help your case.

Last fall, I was dealing with a royal fuck up. I was prepared to stand in front of the board of directors and explain what happened. It didn’t end up coming to that, but I was willing to explain myself without pointing fingers. It wasn’t entirely my fault, but I had a heavy hand in it. As much as it sucks being a grown up and admitting our mistakes, it looks worse to try and shift the blame. In this case, the accusation was unfounded and flat out unfair. I was given the chance to defend us and simply stated the facts. I didn’t blame anyone else. I didn’t drag other areas into it. The facts of the matter outweighed the small error that turned into the threat of something that would be in our HR files for all eternity. I also had a little help from my friends. ūüėÄ

On my mental health front, it comes and goes. I’ve been largely keeping up with my “to do” list. My knee has started acting up, so exercise has been difficult. I have been showering or taking a bath daily, brushing my teeth, putting on makeup, and keeping myself groomed. I’m either writing or blogging every day. If I’m watching TV, I’ll have my knitting with me. Still keeping plans with friends on a somewhat regular basis.My sleeping is hit or miss. I try to listen to my body as best I can. I was asleep at 945 on Thursday night. The night before, I kept having nightmares and waking up every few hours. When I would start to move, that would wake up the kitten & she would keep me awake until she settled down again. I’m still having mood swings, but my therapist said that was normal. I tracked my moods just in the course of one day and I hit 5 or 6 different emotions. I do the best I can with what I have. I’ve found that going to work has helped. If I just sit around or lie in bed all day, I stew. Stewing is only beneficial for tough meat. I would like to remain tough, thank you.

I have my people I check in with daily. I have a very good friend keeping an eye on me at work. I really can’t express how grateful I am for all the people who love me, put up with me, or just can’t figure out how to get rid of me yet. When I’m angry or upset, I remind myself of where I was 5 years ago. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t even cry. I was constantly having seizures (though I didn’t know they were seizures at the time). I was doing dangerous things because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. When I’m sobbing over a broken nail or spilling my coffee, it’s hard to remember that. Then I can look down at my arms and remember how far I’ve come. At least I can cry over a broken nail or spilled coffee. I’m not staring at a bloody stump and thinking “Hrm, maybe I should do something about that bleeding.”. Sometimes it’s not about what you can do, but what you can’t do.

XOXO!

Of black dogs and dirty blondes

No matter how much therapy you’ve had or healing you’ve experienced, there’s a little piece of darkness always lurking around in your head. I happen to call mine Hailey. I haven’t heard from her in a while. Recently, she decided to pop in again. Sometimes it’s due to an actual stress and sometimes it’s just because it’s a day ending in “y”.

It started with the nightmares. Two full days of every time I closed my eyes, I had a nightmare. They ranged from mildly disturbing to waking up sweating making sure that I still had all my teeth and / or limbs. Then I started craving a margarita. Even in my previous life, margaritas weren’t my thing. If I happened to be at a Mexican restaurant or it was a Cinco de Mayo party, then sure. Left to my own devices, it was vodka or wine without a second thought. I could brush both of those off fairly easily. Then came the real kicker.

I wanted another tattoo.

I’ve been retired, as it were, for almost exactly 4 years. I started my final tattoo on September 11, 2010. That was my phoenix, a fitting end to that particular part of my life. I could picture the hypothetical new one in great and gory detail. It was a black and white line work tattoo of the famous Alice in Wonderland illustration with the Cheshire Cat. Mind you, I was never an Alice in Wonderland fan. It was on the back of my left calf, taking up almost the entire space. I saw it exactly how it would look completely finished and fully healed. That’s what jarred me back into reality. I wanted to hurt myself again. She was there, waiting patiently for me to see her.

Fighting her is like fighting a Chinese finger trap. The more I struggle to get loose, the tighter her grip becomes. Instead of pitching a fit and trying to beat her back into the dark recesses of my head, I talked to her. She presents herself very simply. She offers things that seem like simple choices, but are deeply destructive. It’s under the guise of helping me get through whatever it is that’s troubling me. She promises the darkness is a good place. After all, don’t gems grow in caves? It’s easier to blend in the dark. In the light, every harsh detail is visible. ¬†Isolating myself from things and people I truly love is for the best. They can’t hurt me if they can’t see me. I listened to all she had to say before offering my response. She presents herself as a false goddess, offering the impossibility of a quick fix.

There is no such thing as a quick fix. She’s eloquent, to be sure.¬†The darkness has done its part to shape me like a gem. I respect those solid crystals for what they are. It’s easy to hide in caves. It’s easy to shut down again. I won’t argue that point at all. I refuse to give up the light I’ve worked so hard to see. It’s not hers to take. It’s easy to take something from someone who doesn’t care. After all, they won’t fight you for something that doesn’t matter. It’s harder to take away something that matters. Of course, if that something is left outside after the walls have gone back up, she can take it and wander off without me being any the wiser. I don’t like that game. I’ve never liked to share my toys. Just read my kindergarten report card. I refuse to let her take away my light along with the people and things that I love. The wall has to stay down so I can protect what’s rightfully mine. It took a strong shake to see what she had already taken. In pieces, I can begin to take those things back. She and I will always coexist, for better or worse, ’til death do us part. All it takes is one little hole, one little rip, for me to walk away.

And then I cried.

I may have set myself up to be hauled off to the looney bin by giving my depression a corporeal form. At least I would be in good company. JK Rowling created the Dementors. Winston Churchill had his black dog. I have a green tinged, gaunt, greasy haired blonde named Hailey. For us, at least, it’s easier to discuss depression as a physical being. It’s also easier to communicate it to others who don’t suffer depression. Show, don’t tell. Perhaps the beasts of depression should have their own twisted support group as well.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I have spoken to my therapist and I will be seeing her next week. No need to fear that your faithful author will do something rash. ¬†As always , this is a solely anecdotal story. I am not a mental health professional qualified to give advice regarding depression. I’m just here to offer the little bit I’ve learned.]

XOXO!

Of not wearing pants to work and turn offs

I was head hunted yesterday (a colloquialism for being recruited elsewhere while still employed) for the first time. I admit, I was flattered. The recruiter found an old resume hanging out online and called me based on that. I decided to play it straight and ask what company they were recruiting for and how much they were willing to pay. The company is a small, local independent firm. The minimum they’re willing to pay is $18,000 more than I’m making now. The maximum is $38,000 more than my current salary. My eyes about popped out of my head.

It’s no secret that my company is one of the lowest paying in the industry. I witnessed it firsthand when I saw how much my new hires were making and how low their salary would still be after a significant raise. After consulting with my dad, Boy, and my boss, they told me to go for it. I submitted my application and now I’m waiting to hear back about an interview. On paper, I’m a pretty good fit. My licenses alone are good enough to get me through the door. With 6 years in the industry under my belt, I’d be surprised if I wasn’t offered the chance to interview. I always knew I could get paid more for what I brought to the table. What I’ve been missing in pay, I’ve been making up for in environment. This opportunity definitely put that into immediate and harsh perspective.

My tattoos are almost universally a turn off to more “legitimate” firms. It doesn’t matter how smart I am, how much experience I have, or what kind of promise I show. You have tattoos? Thank you, don’t call us, we’ll call you. My boss scoffed at the idea saying it was ridiculous that people should judge me based on it. The only thing our dress code mentions regarding tattoos is that they can’t be offensive. Unless I decide not to wear pants to work, my offensive tattoo will remain covered. Frankly, not wearing pants to work is a much larger offense. Should I be offered an interview, I won’t go out of my way to hide them. I’ll present myself in proper interview attire, but I’m not going to show up in a full suit and tights in July. Been there, done that, wasn’t worth the effort. I also don’t currently have a suit that fits. I’ve given up on the bullshit. Let my qualifications speak for themselves. If someone is unwilling to hire me because of my body art, then I have no interest in working for them. Officially, we’re a business casual office. Typically, I’m one of the better dressed ones. I do consider my audience and dress appropriately. If I’m going to be standing up in front of the president of the company and other execs, I won’t show up in a sleeveless top, no matter how well tailored, which shows my arms in all their glory.

My plan is elegant in its simplicity. Show up as I would on a “nice” day to work, be honest about my experience and expectations, then leave it be. If they offer me the job, I can always say no. If they don’t offer me the job, I’m no worse off than I am now.¬†

Watch what happens.

XOXO!

Of warm weather and tattoos

In my part of the world, the weather is starting to warm up. Soon it will be tank top season and once again, people will remember I have tattoos. The vast majority of my work is on my arms. I have one on my thigh that all but covers my right quad. Shorts and sleeveless tops make for a whole host of questions. For those of you who don’t know someone heavily tattooed, especially a woman, here’s a quick and dirty guide of how to handle summer weather.

*Don’t touch me without my permission

I’m happy to show you my tattoos if you ask. Don’t just grab my arm and start examining it. Firstly, it’s assault (learned that in my CNA class). Secondly, it’s just rude. You wouldn’t touch another random person without tattoos without their consent. I’m sure my pregnant friends can relate to this. Also, if I hold out my arm for you to look at my tattoos, don’t wrench my arm behind my back to look at the detail on the back of my arm. This isn’t a martial arts class.

*Don’t ask me if they hurt

Of course they did. There were needles involved.

*Don’t ask if they “mean” anything

Most heavily tattooed people are collectors. Most of my larger pieces were done by a well known artist in the Southeast. None of mine “mean” anything. In some cases, apprentice artists will tattoo themselves to get more practice. I’ve seen a lot of strange tattoos on thighs and calves from practice sessions. Also, don’t get offended if someone says they don’t mean anything or flat out doesn’t want to answer. Things like an evil magician pulling an octopus out of a hat or the traditional sparrow on the chest tattoos aren’t exactly deep statements of one’s inner feeling.

*Don’t ask me what you should get tattooed

I’m not going to tell you what to get etched on your body for the rest of your life. I’m happy to give recommendations for artists I’ve worked with. I’m happy to offer placement advice after a design has been chosen. Beyond that, you’re on your own.

The fact is my tattoos have become part of my skin, just like a mole or a birth mark. I don’t notice them at all. I’ve even forgotten about some of them. The ones I don’t see on a daily basis or only in a mirror have all but faded. This post is merely to educate on the greatest hits of ignorant questions we tattooed folk get asked. Education is important, no?¬†

So let us all enjoy the sleeveless top weather in happiness and peace. And perhaps even frolic in fields singing, tattooed or otherwise.

XOXO!

 

Of deep fried Twinkies and the anniversary of the end of my beautiful scars

In honor of AJ McLean’s 36th birthday today, I dug up Backstreet Boys greatest hits album thanks to Google All Access (seriously, this program is crack like and makes Pandora look like the 90 lbs weakling. Anyway…). It was vastly entertaining to take a little trip back in time to my 14 year old self and what she was crazy about. In my head, I was having a dance party. You know, the trademark Jackson 5, boyband back step that’s recognizable out of the corner of your eye. Their music is the aural equivalent of a deep friend Twinkie. No nutritional value whatsoever, but tastes really damn good. Piggybacking off Carrie’s post, that was half a lifetime ago. Well before I knew much more than pop music, high school, new friends, and living in the dance studio. I had my first boyfriend and my first kiss that year. The worst pain I’d felt up to that point was moving away from the city I grew up in and all the friends who came with it. I would be dumped for the first time with the most ridiculous reason ever, but I didn’t see that at the time. It’s easy to look back at her and smile. If someone had told her where she would be almost 15 years later, she probably wouldn’t have believed them.

This month is the 3 year anniversary of when I finished my final tattoo. I had my first sitting in September 2010. With large pieces, it’s not uncommon to sit for multiple sessions. It’s a phoenix which I thought was fitting symbolism. Three years ago I gave up hurting myself. Quit it cold turkey along with sleeping around. I haven’t had a drink in almost 10 months, the longest I’ve gone since I started drinking regularly. It just took the right motivation that AA lacked. Maybe I just don’t notice it any more, but I get fewer and fewer comments about my tattoos. Maybe because it’s the winter and everything is covered. I don’t get defensive or angry when people ask. The silly questions still make me roll my eyes, but I don’t get angry like I used to. “Did they hurt?”, “Yes, there were needles involved”. “What do they mean?”, “They’re my self injury scars”. That usually backs people off fairly quickly. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I’ve entertained the idea of having some of them removed. Ultimately I decided to keep them. They’re part of my story for better or worse. Some days I hate them and want to scratch them off. Other days, I hardly notice them like I would hardly notice a mole or a birth mark.

The funny thing about the final sitting was how much it hurt. Up to that point, tattooing had been more annoying than painful. I could sit for hours without so much as a peep. Artists were always impressed with how long and how well I could sit. Up to that point, I’d only ever had a hard time sitting once while getting a tattoo. It was at a convention, they’d worked on me for almost 6 hours without a break, and my quads were about ready to die. It took a total of 8 hours and spanned the entire front of my right thigh. While finishing up the phoenix, I could barely hold still. I spent most of the 3 hour sitting trying to wiggle away. I’d had my ditch (the place where your elbow bends inward) tattooed on the other arm with no problem. Not so on this round. It occurred to me much later that it was a sign of healing. To an outsider, it seems strange that cutting or tattooing would provoke an emotional release. It’s all too true. Once I’d begun to heal the broken bits, the ability to withstand pain went away. I was, quite literally, able to feel again. And goddamn did it hurt. I walked out of the shop and never looked back.

XOXO!

 

Of pretty little boxes and your lovely author

The game on Facebook about random facts has inspired me. Some are obvious, some are less obvious. Some are funny, some are just strange. Since I love lists, a bunch of random facts about yours truly.

*I have visible tattoos and dress like a vintage pin up or Audrey Hepburn which confuses the hell out of people.

*I drink green smoothies in the morning and finish off my day with brie and baguette.

*I’m just as comfortable at a shooting range as I am at a cocktail party.

*Sparkles are mandatory but mascara is negotiable. I’ll wear sparkly bunny ears with jeans and cowboy boots.

*I work in financial services but never had any interest in math or economics.

*I’ll use pet names, even if I’m not your biggest fan. Though I think that’s more Southern than anything. Ten seconds later, I’ll be swearing up a blue streak.

*I’m open minded about social issues, but have irrational dislikes for things like other states. If I have a say, I’ll never set foot in Ohio.

*If I’m listening to music with any regularity, I’m not reading as much. If I’m reading high brow non-fiction or fiction, I’m listening to trashy pop music. If I’m reading mindless beach books, I’m listening to esoteric indie bands I found off Butch Walker’s Twitter feed. It’s a closed system.

*If I like you, I’ll fall all over you with hugs and kisses. If I don’t like you, you try to touch me and you’ll draw back a bloody stump.

*I like the theory of travel, but the actual act is less fun. I hate long flights and car trips. If I could teleport, I’d be all over going to New Zealand. Taking 24 hours to get there in reality? No thanks.

*I love comic book movies, but I could count the number of comics I’ve actually read on one hand.

*I love college football and went to a school that didn’t have a football team (or men, for that matter).

*I can take or leave yoga and circus classes, but don’t take away my ballet classes.

*My wild phase never involved illegal drugs. I’ve never even tried marijuana.

*I’m afraid of heights, but only indoors.

*I have about 3 unfinished novels saved on my laptop.

Nobody fits into a pretty little box. Run with it.

XOXO!