On my body there are six tattoos. Collaboratively, they tell everything about my life. Well, almost everything. The tattoos that I have selected for myself all represent the positive aspects of my life. The sun on my ankle represents the color orange, which dominates my love of bright colors. The turtle and the goldfish each declare my love of animals. They are my favorite. The apple on my thigh, a tribute to my profession as a teacher. The vine of flowers around my arm…well, that just looks cool. Finally, my husband’s name over my heart. A testament to our love and the fact that my heart will always belong to him. Each tattoo, though a positive representation of my life, were all permanently placed on me while I sat alone in a tattoo parlor. Even when the first needle pierced my skin, I was alone. Now, several years after the healing of my sixth and what I thought was my final tattoo, I’m ready for one more. Given that I have run out of possible ideas for tattoos that represent something outwardly positive about me, I’m ready to dig deeper and put something permanent on my body that has meaning deeper than any of the other six.
My husband will proclaim until the end of time that Facebook is stupid and a waste of time. I vehemently disagree. This feeling of mine was never stronger than the night that I discovered the group TWLOHA. Intrigued by the title and what it could mean, I clicked on the group.
TWLOHA is an acronym that stands for “To Write Love On Her Arms”. The mission of the organization is to bring awareness and healing to people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts and are self-injuring. Writing “love” on your arm is a way to express love for yourself instead of expressing your pain with a razor blade.
Once I realized the profound importance of their message, I knew I had found my next tattoo. My own experience with self-injury is one that has left me with scars on my arms and only a vague recollection of my first two years of college. The pale pink lines on my arms are probably only visible to my eyes, who know where to look. Pink trails across my forearms are a permanent reminder of the deep depression and despair I experienced. The memory of bolder, red lines that ran the length of my arms does not make me cringe. The relief that the cuts brought me is a feeling that will never completely vanish.
The history of my mental health remains closed off to many people I encounter on a daily basis at work. There is a stigma that still exists in society that makes it difficult at times to feel pride in what I have overcome when revealing the story behind my success has a certain shock value to those not experienced with mental illness. For me, it’s just a part of life.
There will come a time though, when the word “love” will appear on my arm. It will remind me of how far I’ve come. How hard I have fought. The strength I have now that I never thought I would have. My diagnosed conditions, bi-polar and borderline personality disorder, don’t offer much hope when that’s all you can focus on. My hope came in the form of the resolution of my husband not to give up on me, as well as a doctor that changed my life. Together, they pulled me from the wreckage that was self-injury. It is my husband who will be with me when I have “love” tattooed on my arm. If people ask why “love”, it might take me some time before I answer with the truth, or even answer at all. I like the idea that I don’t have to explain it. Some things are too complicated to explain, too special to share. Until the day I “write” love on my arm, I will pray for those still struggling. They are the ones who ought to know what it means to write love on my arm.