My tattoo pays tribute to my history with mental illnesses

For anyone who has ever wondered or asked what those symbols on my wrist mean.

I get a lot of people who ask me what the tattoo on my wrist means. I almost always just shrug and say, “Eh, it’s personal”, but today seemed like the perfect day to share the meaning.

Today strikes a chord with me because it’s World Mental Health Day.

For those who don’t know, it’s been over a year since I got my tattoo, and it was right after a summer of going to therapy for my depression.

It’s hard to explain, but I just remember feeling this pang of emotions welling up inside of me as I was driving home from school, balling my eyes out, wanting to crash my car into a bayou in hopes of ending something that felt worthless. Me.

It took several of these instances to occur for me to realize that I needed to get help.

That was just last year, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve felt that way.

There was that time when I was 14-years-old and I felt completely disgusted with myself. At the time, I was dealing with an eating disorder. I can still remember the time when I drank too much vanilla chai tea that I ran to my room and started crying in front of the mirror. I started yanking my hair and punching myself for being “bad”.

That was my way of dealing with my self-hatred.

I never sought help for that because I’ve never publicly disclosed it, so I wasn’t surprised when those feelings crept back up in a different form.

A year ago, I was a college student struggling through a period of time where I felt the pressure to make myself better and change for my career. I had chosen to become a journalist, a job that often requires you to be outspoken, confident, sociable, etc. All things that I felt I wasn’t.

I started telling myself I wasn’t cut out for the job, that I wouldn’t be successful, that I wasn’t confident enough or smart enough. I started tearing myself down mentally, something I’m clearly a pro at, that by the end of it, all I saw for myself was failure.

I started not caring about anything and sabotaging opportunities because I told myself I was unworthy. By the time I was sitting in front of a psychologist, all I could do was sob.

When I heard Kid Cudi was checking himself into rehab for depression a few days ago, I was happy for him. Although I only know a handful of his songs, I could feel his pain. After all, it feels like yesterday when I felt the same way.

I think too many people consider depression a taboo or this make-believe illness. A sadness that someone just needs to “get over”. But it’s much more than that.

It’s a feeling that drains you physically, emotionally and mentally. It feels like you’re stuck on a roller-coaster that only goes down. You eventually start to feel nothing and the only sign of you being alive is the sound of your breath.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 800,000 people die of suicide every year. That’s an estimated 7.2 million people who have died since I had my first encounter with a mental illness at 14.

That number is hard to imagine for someone who has been right at the edge of it. To picture the silent cries of the people who have suffered in similar ways as me is heart-wrenching.

Those who don’t get help possibly don’t want to be attached to the stigma that comes with admitting you have mental health problems. You don’t want to be made to feel you’re crazy. You don’t want to feel pitied, fragile or weak. You don’t want to rely on people or medication to keep you sane.

I used to feel that way. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or to see me differently, but as I was driving home with the fresh ink on my wrist in August of last year, I cried happy tears for the first time in months.

I was happy and proud of myself for how much I had learned to accept and love myself, regardless of my flaws. I can’t say that I’m perfect now, but I’m definitely in a better place in terms of dealing with my mental health.

My tattoo means “I am greater than my highs and my lows”. It’s a slight reference to God, but more importantly, a reference to the idea that the good experiences we have in life, as well as the bad ones, make us a better person and shape us into who we’re meant to be.