Tattoo tour contd: How tattoos help me heal

2014-12-28 13.07.47I’ve saved the best for last! And conveniently, the tattoos I’ve received since I moved to Portland last summer 2013. There are only two, but each are the most interesting in my opinion! Again, mom…if you are reading this, I’m sorry! I know you don’t like my tattoos…(because she thinks I am perfect the way I am ūüôā ) But maybe now you and my other readers might have more insight as to why I am addicted! And no, I will¬†never¬†regret them!

Excuse my lame flexing, but at least the picture to the left gives more context to the size and placement of some of my tattoos! Otherwise I would have to note “not actual size, enlarged to show texture” under the tattoo pictures (I’m attempting humor, lol).

My first tattoo in Portland was Ganesh (or Ganpati) the Hindu half-elephant-half-boy god on my left forearm. I got this tattoo to commemorate my month-long stay in India in early 2013. (Read this post for more about an amazing half-marathon I ran in Goa where I met a man who said he loved me ‚̧ ) I traveled to India¬†with the Portland New Generations Rotary Club for two weeks, and then solo for the next two weeks, it was the most amazing experience I have had to date. I can not remember ever being¬†that blissfully happy for such a continuous¬†stretch of time, and it was the catalyst I needed to begin digging myself out of my depression and make some changes in my life when I returned home.

ganesh draw

Above is a drawing of a sleepy-eyed Ganesh that I showed my tattoo artist, Xavier at Black Hole Body Piercing & Tattoo in Portland, OR. There are as many variations of Ganesh as there are Hindu gods, and it was important to me to have a more classic image. I wanted to include a¬†lotus design at the bottom as well as the traditionally depicted alms bowl and mouse, which is the animal vehicle of the god Ganesh. When I was in India I had several people teelephant campll me the story of Ganesh. I also learned that he is known as the “gatekeeper god” because most Hindu families will pray to him first before praying to their main deity.

In addition, elephants are my favorite animal…and I had a lot of¬†fun meeting elephants in India (I also had elephants on that shirt I am wearing!). In retrospect, I hope they were treated correctly at these tourist sites ūüė¶ The part of me that fondly remembers the experience hopes the elephants were happy, but the logical and more cynical part of me knows otherwise…

In the top and bottom right corners (of the drawing above) there are a few chalk designs that I incorporated into the tattoo design. The top one is actually tattooed directly onto my elbow…that was a¬†weird¬†feeling! The chalk designs are special because in India, traditionally it is a practice that every morning an individual from every household draws a chalk design on the ground in front of the door to signify that the people in the house are okay. If you are walking by a house with no design out front, then you have a reason to be concerned and should check on the well-being of the people in the house! These designs were a few of the ones outside my host family’s house.

So far, my Ganesh tattoo has required 3 three hour long sittings, and is still unfinished! The picture (left) shows my arm pre-tattoo…and covered with some henna that I got in Jaipur. The picture (below) is how the tattoo looks so far, the lighting is not the best…I’ll never be a food photographer!

hennaIn person this is a beautiful tattoo! There are so many little details, and the colors are amazing! The jewels, especially in the crown contain¬†lots of little highlights that really make everything pop. The tattoo goes all the way around my arm, Ganesh’s 4 arms are in traditional mudras and he also holds a lotus flower and hatchet, commonly depicted with Ganesh. The unfinished part is at the bottom near my wrist, it probably requires another hour and a half to two hours, and a couple hundred more dollars. I definitely need to have it finished, I’m not the type of person who is okay with uncompleted projects…I need to see things through to the end! But for now it doesn’t look too bad. It celebrates the amazing adventure I had in India, and all the wonderful people I met and the friends who helped me make it happen…

ganesh tattooThere is also one more very significant reason that ¬†chose to cover up my left arm. I mentioned that going to India helped change my life, and here’s why: Pre-India, I had been in Corvallis for a couple of years going to school and I was deeply¬†darkly¬†depressed. I failed a couple of classes because sometimes I just didn’t have the willpower to leave my apartment. For awhile I lived alone, and trust me, that just made things worse. I would binge and purge, and then I would cut because I hated myself for binging and purging, failing school, lying to people and my mom on the phone (I was not doing well…but I lied and made everything seem okay). I hated myself for not running, not having friends, and for binge drinking with people I didn’t even like just to feel accepted and less alone. I¬†did¬†want to die…but I didn’t want to do it myself. I wished that my heart would explode (or esophagus would rupture) from all the purging. I would fall asleep at night and wish to not wake up. On days when I never left my apartment and spoke to no one, I felt worthless and disposable. No one would miss me if I were gone. I just hated the thought of wasting everyone’s time and money with my death. If only my mom and a few others didn’t care about me, then I could kill myself guilt-free. But I didn’t, I felt like a coward, instead I just cut…a leftover habit that began when I was thirteen and then went dormant during my anorexia, only to re-emerge because I never dealt with anything. Because I am right-handed, the majority of my scars were on my left arm. The ladder-rung appearance of self-harm scars are pretty identifiable, and I felt embarrassed and stupid anytime someone asked me what happened. I lied with the stereotypical, “my cat did it” (the last year I lived in Corvallis, I lived with a roommate who did have a cat).

Post-India I began making changes. Galvanized by the experience, I kept volunteering in Corvallis and really tried to stay healthy (I had regained energy and some weight in India). I decided to move to Portland with my (not) family from Corvallis for the summer a few months later and I got a job, met some people and felt so much happier that I transferred to Portland State University and made the move permanent. That same summer I got my Ganesh tattoo.

My experience at Black Hole was awesome, the artist was really cool! The first time I went to get the lines done for Ganesh, he gave me a used bike to help me get around Portland when I told him I was new to the area! How Portland and friendly is that?

gazelle sketch

This is my latest tattoo, I just got it this summer. And, it’s running related! I knew you were wondering why I didn’t have any running tattoos ūüôā I got this tattoo at Hawthorne Ink by Memo. It took two sittings about three hours each, plus a touch up sitting. But, this by far is the best looking quality I have received for the lowest price. I know price shouldn’t be a factor, but I was pleasantly surprised by the cost so I thought I would mention it!

2014-12-28 13.06.30This tattoo also helped me deal with a (slightly) traumatic ordeal. One week after my Newport Marathon finish, I injured my hamstring. This was the first time I had ever been significantly injured, I literally could not run for a couple of weeks. After that, I could still only hobble a few slow, painful, and wary miles for another month. I had to seek physical therapy…and I realized that being a runner comprised about 95% of who I am (I know that is not healthy). If you have any running friends, you know we get a little crazy when we can’t run…and I felt myself sinking back into my depressed place. Without running, it’s hard for me to continue to wake up early, eat healthfully and take care of myself…it’s hard to stay motivated, my mind would ask me, “What’s the point?” At first I was an over-zealous injured runner trying to recover…but that zeal left when I didn’t see results. I kept plugging along….and got this tattoo as well.

When I was in high school, my coach was fond of this African proverb. Even though I wasn’t fond of my coach, the proverb has stuck with me and I can recite it almost verbatim:

‚ÄúEvery morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.‚ÄĚ

I identify more with the gazelle…I’m not a meat-eating killer, king of the jungle. I’m introverted, shy, and am happy to work in symbiosis with mother nature. I detailed my vision of a portrait of a gazelle, framed by foliage and backed by a huge, rising sun to my artist. We also included lion paw prints to symbolize the lion. And I tattooed it on my chest. As you can see, it came out beautifully.

Running is my heartbeat.

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