Ever since I got my tattoo on the inside of my arm, people have stopped and asked to see it, read it, and have it explained to them; why they feel comfortable asking me to explain my tattoo is beyond me. My friends say it’s an interesting conversation starter but, being the generally irritable and private person that I can be, at times the question just seems too much. But since my last post was about vulnerability I’m going to continue that line of thought in this blog post, and explain the personal significance my tattoo holds for me.
If you haven’t been following our Facebook page, then you haven’t seen the picture of my tattoo that’s on the inside of my left arm. The tattoo is seemingly the most pretentious quote from a poem that is blatantly feminist and has scared many of my hookups when they finally get into my room and read the quote that they once thought was cute. The quote is the last stanza from Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus,” and says:
“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And eat men like air”
Usually when people read the last line they glance up at my hair and point out that it’s black and not red, showing that the meaning of the poem —the resurrecting, red-haired phoenix — just totally flew over their heads. Then they ask about my thoughts on feminism or, if they’re a guy, they sometimes give me a concerned look . I got the tattoo recently, but it’s from a poem that I have loved since I read The Bell Jar when I was 15 years old. I never felt so connected to a book or author in such a profound way; when reading Sylvia Plath, I felt as though I was reading my own personal diary. Maybe I should have taken it as a red flag that I related so deeply to an author who had a history of suicide and mental illness. Obviously I didn’t, so here I am today with one of her most famous stanzas tattooed forever on the inside of my arm and a diagnosis for bipolar disorder.
When I look at the words written on the inside of my arm, I’m reminded of my initial struggle with my first depressive episode when I was about 15 years old. I’m reminded of the times I wouldn’t get out of bed, when I would wake up in the middle of the night crying from the never ending migraines or the nightmares. My waking hours were spent staring at walls trying to make up for the time spent awake in bed the night before. I felt as though I was constantly drifting in and out of consciousness. Those were the times that I never felt good enough, as though I was a cancerous mass that needed to be cut from everyone’s life. It was during those times that I would eat lunch by myself because I couldn’t handle the sounds of laughter; I couldn’t walk into a room without thinking everyone was laughing and talking about me. When I saw people look at me I would turn my face to the ground, avoiding eye contact at all costs. The worst memory of all was when I would change in the bathroom or in the corner of the girls’ locker room to hide the fresh red cuts that made their home permanently on my upper thighs —about a hundred in total. I would make it a point to count 50 times on each leg. During that time, it was the only thing that would take my mind away from the persistent, never-ending headaches.
These are the things that no one wants to talk about, the things people wish would stay unsaid.
The depression seemed to be dark and lasting, and a future seemed non-existent. Each day was like struggling through freshly poured cement that was slowly beginning to harden. But ultimately, my tattoo remind me of more than just my struggles with depression. It reminds me that I’m resilient. My tattoo is a reminder to me to rise up like a metaphorical phoenix and overcome any struggle or obstacle that can get in the way of my ultimate goal: happiness. Plath’s poem is called “Lady Lazarus” for a reason: the narrator raises herself from the ashes of her remains but, unlike the actual Lazarus, she doesn’t need Jesus to come save her. She does it all by herself. Along the way, she destroys all the people that doubted her. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.
Everyone, everyday, should make it a point to be their own Lazarus and raise themselves from whatever abyss in which they’ve found themselves. Sometimes we fall down and stay there for a while, contemplating if it’s worth getting back up. No matter how hard or how deep you’ve fallen, it is always, always, worth it to get back up and try again.