Into the Storm

Why I am Okay With Having To Explain My Newest Ink For The Rest Of My Life


I sat in the chair of a tattoo parlor and I watched a man probably twice my age, covered from head to toe in tattoos and piercings, hold my hand down so I wouldn’t yank it back in reaction to the searing pain that enveloped my whole hand as he injected ink into the side of my index finger. I couldn’t help but think the physical pain I was in at the moment was some kind of cheesy metaphor for the mental anguish I had experienced since childhood — my whole reason for getting the tattoo.

Lets get this out there straight away — I am 24 years old and have been dealing with various mental health issues for 14 years. I’ve referenced a few in articles before, I struggled with an eating disorder as a young teenager, and I have anxiety that can, at times, be crippling. But the most pervasive mental health issue I have, the one I hid from almost everyone I knew for years, is the major depressive disorder I was diagnosed with at age 10.

I’ve accepted that depression is something I will battle for the rest of my life. Everyone has their crosses to bear, and this is mine, so to speak. With proper medication and ongoing talk therapy, most of the time I live a happy, productive, normal life. The kind of life I like to think I would live if I didn’t need the aid of daily medication. But every so often, for whatever reason, my medication fails and I am sent spiraling back into the tunnel of darkness that consumed my life as a 10 year old little girl.

A few weeks ago, I was experiencing my first major depressive episode in years. I had been feeling as though my world was crashing down around me for weeks when my friend and colleague walked in on me crying. Without saying a word, she hugged me. How long the embrace lasted I’m not sure. It could’ve been seconds or minutes, but she didn’t let go until my uncontrollable sobs had stopped.

She never asked why I was so upset and she’ll never know how much I appreciate her letting me tell her my story on my own, without being prompted. She told me she loved me and that even though I didn’t see it then, she knew I was stronger than my disease.

After some adjustments to my medication, I slowly began to return to my normal self. When I was a kid, I considered depression my deepest, darkest secret. My mother told me not to discuss it with anyone outside our family. I know she did it out of love — kids can be cruel after all and she didn’t want me to be made fun of or treated differently. I love her so much for wanting to protect me, but keeping that secret for so long made me feel more alone than ever.

In college, I made the choice to be more vocal about my struggles with depression. As a result, I have met so many people who struggle with the same demons I do, and those that don’t, have a close friend or family member that does. In fact, as many as one in 33 children, one in eight teenagers and one in 10 adults suffer from depression. I, unfortunately, have been in all three of these categories at some point in my life.

As an adult, I’ve also decided I want to change the way society views mental illness by helping to remove the stigma surrounding it and enabling those with mental illnesses who are going untreated because of the fear of being judged to get the help they so desperately need. I write about it, I talk about it and I support those who I know suffer from depression. I listen to them and tell them how much I love them and that it’s going to be okay.

But the truth is, there are moments when I don’t believe that myself. When I’m experiencing an episode, there is a darkness that follows me. An emptiness that can never be described accurately or fully understood unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Talking helps, but only so much. At some point you have to decide – you either give in to the disease and let it eat you alive, or you fight for your life. No one can make that decision for you. And if I’m being brutally honest, I have come very close to choosing the former, but I always find some reason to fight. It can be anything, even the smallest things. A few weeks ago, it was the thought of my two year old nephew’s laugh and how much I love watching him grow into a sweet little boy whose curiosity about the world around him knows no bounds. When I was truly suicidal right after I was diagnosed as a child, it was the profound hurt I knew I would cause my mom, dad and brothers if I ever harmed myself.

So, what does a tiny tattoo of a lightning bolt and a sun have to do with any of this? When people ask me what depression feels like, I usually tell them it feels as if I am drowning even though I have all the air in the world to breathe, or it feels as if I am in the middle of the worst rainstorm ever and it will never stop.

But, in my 14 years of experience, the rain always does stop eventually and the sun always returns. On December 29, 2015, I decided this message was so important to me that I wanted a permanent reminder of it etched into my skin. When I look at it the next time I’m going through an episode, it will serve as a reminder that the rain will stop, eventually, as it always does and the sunshine will return to my life no matter how much I think it won’t ever will in that moment.

I strategically placed the tattoo on my index finger of my dominant hand so I can easily see it, but also so others can easily see it as well.

In the two days since I’ve had this permanent positive reminder inked into my finger, I’ve had at least 10 people ask me about it and what it meant. At first, I was a little nervous in explaining it. But then I remembered, the more mental illness is talked about, the less taboo it is. Everyone I’ve spoken with about my tattoo has called my message beautiful, or said they admire me for how willing I am to talk about something that most people don’t.

But, this evening at work, I met a woman I will never forget. I’m a barista, and I was handing her back her change when she spotted my tattoo.

“Is that new?” She said.


“Did it hurt?”

“So much. I didn’t know it would be as painful as it was, to be honest.”

“What does it mean?”

I hesitated.

“I suffer from depression,” I said. “I decided that I wanted a permanent reminder that when I’m sad, things always get better.”

She was silent. Then she looked back up at me, with glassy eyes as if she was trying not to cry.

“I know that this is weird,” She said. “But do you mind if I give you a hug?”

I came out from behind the counter and gave the stranger a hug.

“Thank you for being so honest,” she whispered in my ear. “I have it too, and I hope I can be as strong as you are one day.”

I never got her name. She ordered a small coffee and left, but she made a lasting impression on me. I will have to explain this little tattoo on my finger for the rest of my life to friends, to strangers, to anyone who asks. And every time I am asked what the lightning bolt and sun on my finger means, I will think of the woman I met tonight and be honest. Because maybe, just maybe, whoever is asking will find comfort in knowing that there are those of us out there who have been where they are and can honestly tell them that the sun will always return to their lives, no matter how much they may think it never will.