Memories of my first tattoo bring about the inner struggle I went through for months. That was 30 years ago but today, considering all that is occurring in the world around us, I am feeling that same inner struggle. The struggle with stigma.
The stigma that surrounded people with tattoos, especially woman, was at the forefront of trying to balance an inner voice of making a statement for myself and the “what would the neighbors think” mentality I grew up with.
My 1st tattoo was my own personal design. A dolphin jumping out of the water. The water wave made from a music staff with music notes floating above the dolphin. It represented the person I longed to be. Beautiful, Bold, Intelligent and Playful. The person I kept hidden to stay small and not put myself out their too much. I am not a musician, but the music staff and notes were the song that played deep in my soul to remind me who I am deep inside. How I longed to dance within my life but kept that hidden to the confines of my living room. The dolphin represented the freedom I sought from being oppressed, especially as an overweight woman. The weight I carry is the armor I used to stay small. I desperately wanted to move beyond my fear, jump out from the things that held me down, and to be happy and playful and enjoy my life.
The attempt to balance the stigma of what others would think of me and who my inner, true self longed to be, I placed the tattoo on my ankle to keep it small, protected and hidden from most to see.
Today, tattoos don’t hold the stigma they use to, yet it still lingers. I find myself back at the place of the same struggle with a different kind of tattoo.
Brain Tattoos represent our mental health. Our thoughts and feeling are the energy that drives the design of these tattoos. The energetic force of thoughts goes out like an electrical current and draw the feeling back in like a magnet. The thoughts start in our brain, but the feelings have a strong physiological place within our bodies. Our bodies hold on to the memories, deep within our subconscious, and the experiences of the past can take hold with a moments trigger.
Imagine with me for just a moment. You enter a tattoo parlor within your brain that is the limbic system. The place where pain and trauma live. The top dog tattoo artist is the amygdala gland. He is well known controlling artist for your stress and fears. He is good at what he does. He sends out the flood of adrenaline to ward off the enemy and shuts down the reasoning and problem-solving part of your brain. He puts you smack dab in the middle of fight, flight, or freeze. There you sit in autopilot, as if the danger is occurring right now.
With each thought that reminds you of the dangers, real or imagined, you unconsciously allow him to continue his tattoo work on your thought patterns. This amygdala tattoo artist continues to engrave with permanent ink the path to our choices. It is the pulse of that tattoo needle that inks the past feelings not the experience into our bodies. These tattoos become our constant loop of feelings that grow with every thought. They then become stress to anxiety to panic to depression to until they finish up as personality traits and our mental health. Personally, I have decided to hire a new tattoo artist.
As with any tattoo, over time, it fades. However, the amygdala artist is so good, it adds more ink to that tattoo with each trigger pull. My new tattoo artist, Mindfulness, is becoming better than the last with each daily practice. A daily practice for just 5 minutes, three times a day, is changing those faded tattoos into beautiful, bold, and playful new thoughts.
It allows me to change the path of the tattoo needle. I can choose each and everyday to get closer to my inner self and allow her to come out of hiding. It breaks the stigma of mental health and puts me in the strength position rather than the survival mode.
The three core skills of mindfulness are: Awareness; Observing the Present Moment; and Acceptance with non-judgement.
Depression is living in the past, Anxiety is living in the future, but Peace lives in the present moment. 95% of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors come from our subconscious mind. When we practice the 3 core skills of mindfulness, we learn to change the old tattoos.
When we can apply awareness, being conscious about the experience in the present moment, and accepting with non-judgment we can begin to change the design of our tattoos and also see the beauty of others and their brain tattoos.
A stigma is just a socially constructed relationship between stereotypes that are viewed as socially undesirable characteristics. Once we can see the brain tattoo for what it is, a past memory, then maybe just maybe we can begin to break the stigma and become a healthier society.