On my left wrist is a little black outline of a heart about the size of a dime. Most people don't even notice it (unless you're my mother who spotted it in two seconds) which is fine since it's for me not anyone else.
It's a little reminder to myself, when days get hard and my mind is dark and cloudy, that I am loved and I'll be OK. Whatever bad thing I'm feeling won't last forever. I have people who love me, need me, and want me here. Sometimes I forget, so I took the plunge and got my first tattoo as a constant reminder. To understand why the tattoo is necessary takes a little background information.
I'm a person with depression who doesn't look like a depressed person should or rather, how a "stereotypical depressed person" should I suppose. Dysthymia is invisible most of the time. It's sneaky and has the ability to pull my mind down a whirlpool without anyone seeing what's happening. I don't cry a lot or spend days at a time curled up in my bed. Most of the time I'm able to get up, go to work, carry on my day and return home. I can put myself together and put on a fake smile on and face the day.
What you can't see is that it takes every single ounce of energy I can muster to do that. I dread the sound of my alarm clock going off because that means I have to get up and do it all over again. I merely exist. I don't feel super happy or super sad most of the time. I'm just there. And the days and weeks of just being there is what leads to the eventual breakdown of calling my parents — who live two thousand miles away from me, mind you — in the middle of the night because I don't know what to do, because I'm so stuck in the scary place that is my mind, because I'm exhausted and ready to surrender. That's pretty much how the last episode went down prior to the tattoo.
After that breakdown I was encouraged to do what I had to do to feel better and to love my life. I found a great therapist and we worked with my doctor to get me on a low dose of an antidepressant. I worked hard to move forward. I started living my life again. I was afraid of ever going back to that place where it was so lonely and dark and I couldn't remember all the amazing things in my life. I lived in that place totally alone, unreachable by anyone on the outside. So, I put a constant reminder in a place I see all the time to remind me.
I catch little glimpses of the heart when I'm washing my face to get ready for my day, when I'm sitting at my desk at work typing away to get my to-do list done, and when I start picking at my nail polish as a little anxiety relieving thing I do. The little glimpses keep my mind on track. I love that it was my first tattoo. I've been told it's a "wimpy" first tattoo by people who don't know the huge significance in the little shape. Sure my first tattoo took all of two minutes to get, but it was a huge step in getting my mental health on track.
It's appropriate that one of my best friends and biggest cheerleaders went with me to get the tattoo. She sat with my through the appointment just as she had sat with me through many difficult days, quietly and patiently. She is an unwavering strength when I needed it. She is someone who authentically loves and cares about me and she supported me in getting a reminder that she's always there even when I drift off to the dark place where it's hard for her to reach me. She swears she'll never stop looking for me if I end up there again. The tattoo on my wrist is more than just a simple outline of a heart. For me it is a lifeline.
The depressed thoughts that take over my mind aren't something that can't be cured by a little tattoo. It helps, but I need to stay aware of my feelings, communicate with my support system, work with my therapist and take my antidepressant. Maybe one day I can be off medication but, that day is not today and I'm in no rush. Being a real person who can feel and think clearly is far too enjoyable to put that in jeopardy.
One thing I'll never be able to quit in my recovery is surrounding myself in positive people. Sometimes I just need a hug, a listening ear or a few deep breaths. The heart on my wrist is my cue to send that text or make that call to seek that out. I'm not a burden, even though my depression tells me lies that I am, and I am well worth the five minutes I need to be alright and keep moving. The love of the people around me is stronger than dysthymia.