Warning: This feature discusses self-harm, which may act as a trigger to some readers.
Every tattoo has a story and for the month of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ll be highlighting tattoo stories rooted in an individual’s mental health journey. For our fourth entry, we are highlighting Vanessa’s mental health journey.
When Vanessa was 16 years old she got her first tattoo. The tattoo says “This too shall pass” and symbolizes her struggle with mental illness from a very early age. From 10 through to early adulthood, Vanessa struggled with self-harm.
“The most difficult part about growing up with a mental illness and engaging in self-harm at a young age is that it’s so much harder to hide. There was (and still is) such a strong stigma around it. Those who engage in self-harm are often disregarded and told that they’re simply doing it for attention. The truth is, I hadn’t even been exposed to self-harm yet I had started it at such a young age. It was almost instinctual for me as a way to try to cope with all of the things that were going on in my head – a distraction, or some sense of relief over things that I could not control.
Due to the stigma surrounding this, it made me feel so much worse about what was going on. Once people found out, it then created a new platform for them to tease me, which only sent me further into a downward spiral. It was only when I found people who genuinely cared about me, listened to me, and understood what I was going through that I finally began to feel less guilty about it.
To this day my body still has every scar but I’ve learned to embrace them instead of letting them burden me or hold me back. I even began modeling with my scars to help build my own confidence and acceptance of my body.
It takes a long time to break any kind of habit or defense-mechanism that you’ve relied on so heavily for such a long time but my story is proof that it is possible to overcome and understand that relapse can be inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be the end. Don’t ever give up.”
This tattoo serves as a reminder to Vanessa of the struggles she has gone through and overcome.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you need some advice or want to talk to someone in an open but confidential environment, contact your local mental health organization for all sorts of support and guidance.