A year ago today, I went in for my second tattoo session to work on my Earth-dreaming, butterfly-chasing cat tattoo on my foot. Did it hurt (what a silly question, but I got asked a lot)? Yes. Did I love it? YES!
Some of the reactions that I got from friends and family upon posting my tattoo picture were on the line of “it’s so good to see you doing better, out getting a tattoo,” although I never mentioned anything about my health. The truth is, I was sickest I had been until that point, and that’s precisely why I needed to get the tattoo.
I struggled mightily with depression in 2014. Earlier in the year, it was mostly fueled by medication side effect, and it got all better once we stopped the offending medications. A new bout of brain chemical imbalance (depression) that started later in the year was all internal. This time, I was desperate because of the state of my health. My overall condition declined dramatically after my first shingles, and that set off misery in my head. By winter, anti-depressant was working remarkably and I was feeling so much better mentally. My physical health was still deteriorating, but I wanted to celebrate bye-bye to depression. The thoughts of unending despair and suicide were fresh in my memory, and I wanted a permanent reminder that things would get better and I wouldn’t be stuck feeling that way if I ever fall into the same state of mind again. Like the idea behind the semicolon movement, but I wanted something more personal and cute looking.
Cats on my foot are my two cats, Benji and Jack Sparrow. My tattoo artist did an excellent job of translating the photo of my kitties into drawings, better than what I imagined in my head. I wanted my tattoo to look like them, but not too photographic, and that’s exactly what my artist delivered. My cats have been my companions for several years, and they show the same love even if I’m no longer taking care of them (my husband does all the feeding and cleaning). On occasions that I sit in the living room on my recliner, they rush to me to cuddle and purrrrrr. Best of all, what better centerpiece than cute little kitties?!
Butterflies are for hope and future. I graduated my high school as a salutatorian, and my graduation speech was about butterflies. It was about us, who were just about to leave our cocoons to fly as beautiful butterflies into the world, full of dreams and hope. The future felt like infinite possibilities. I wanted to remember that feeling. And these butterflies also connect to my husband, my high school sweetheart who was on that podium together with me to give his own speech, and has been with me every step of my journey for last decade.
And the Earth. I wanted something that spoke loud that I am a nerd, and what better than the Earth as an Earth scientist? To reflect my passion for studying deep Earth structures, my Earth has a giant cross-section showing the mantle and the core. You might notice that the Earth is not oriented in a typical way. I picked this specific projection to show both of my two home countries – Korea where I was born, and the U.S. that is my home now.
The Earth on my foot is the reminder. It’s to show me my passion and drive as a scientist, and what I want to achieve in my life. As I was getting sicker physically with each episode of my recurring shingles, I wanted to stamp my foot to show that I am not giving up on my dream, even if my health was making it extremely difficult. It was my way of declaring I would make it happen – get my Ph.D. and go into academia- by making my body permanently. I really hope this does not become an aching reminder in the future of what I lost because of ME. I want it to be just a symbol of my inner nerd.
I was planning on adding more to my tattoo, but my health declined too much for me to return to the tattoo shop. And now it’s already my tattoo-niversary. Last year, I had my foot inked to remind myself that my life was not all about my illness. I cannot wait until I can return to get another tattoo to celebrate my returning to life despite ME.