Essays

How Chronic Illness Caused Me To ‘Accidentally’ Get A Tattoo

Fibromyalgia isn't funny, but the reason it inspired me to get my first and only tattoo is.

I love to laugh. Humor has always been a coping mechanism for me. But I wasn’t ready for chronic illness. It was difficult to be told that I’d be in pain my whole life. It just sort of took the life out of me and things got, well, dark. While the main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain there’s a mixed bag of other symptoms you may or may not develop. Fun, right? Like a symptom lottery, everyone ends up with a unique mix of ailments.

One of these symptoms is insomnia, and boy oh boy, did I develop this one! It happened slowly over time. I didn’t notice it until it was really bad. For two weeks I hadn’t slept more than two to four hours a night. The bags under my eyes were shocking, and my mental state deteriorated quickly. I was dizzy all the time. I would forget simple words and names. I often got lost driving.

It all came to head on a Friday morning. I hadn’t slept more than four hours in the last two days. That morning I woke up with what I thought was the greatest idea ever: I should get a tattoo. I’ve always had a small desire to get one, but the reasons not to have always outweighed the reasons to. My religion and family strongly discourage it, and I’m afraid of the permanency of a tattoo. It was always just a silly little idea, but not something I ever actually planned to do. However, sleep deprived me thought it was a great idea!

I hadn’t slept more than four hours in the last two days. That morning I woke up with what I thought was the greatest idea ever: I should get a tattoo.

You know those public service announcements that say drowsy driving is the same as drunk driving? Well, they’re telling the truth. I stumbled into that parlor, probably looking like a lost little puppy. I know I acted strangely while there, but I assume the artist contributed it to the nerves of a person getting her first tattoo.

The aftermath.

What would the design be?  Spontaneously I decided on the word “purpose” for my arm. I had looked up chronic pain and found the quote “purpose exceeds pain.” Not a terrible idea for a tattoo, so that’s a relief. He asked me how big I wanted it, I looked at him dumbly, he made a suggestion, I agreed.

The great thing about getting a tattoo when you’re not exactly coherent is there’s almost no pain. I don’t really remember it hurting at all. In all honesty, I barely remember the process of getting it at all. In my delirious state, I proudly sent pictures to a bunch of friends and called people to tell them all about it.

That night, I slept more fitfully than I had in a long while.0

Here’s the thing. My tattoo is permanent, but it’s a reminder I can still laugh at myself. That things could still be funny under the immense weight of chronic illness.

But the next morning, I woke up in a panic. What had I done! I wouldn’t be able to hide this tatto from anyone; it was way too big. How was I going to tell my family, and my parents? They’d be so disappointed. I sat there in terror until the ridiculousness of the whole thing hit me. Hysterical giggles burst out of me, and I realized that for the first time in months, I was laughing. I had just gotten a tattoo, not because I wanted to, not because I had gotten drunk. No, I got a tattoo because I had a chronic illness and couldn’t sleep. It’s funny if you think about it. Ridiculous, but funny!

It’s important to be able to laugh during chronic illness, says Caitlyn Lundy.

Here’s the thing. My tattoo is permanent, but it’s a reminder I can still laugh at myself. That things could still be funny under the immense weight of chronic illness. Rediscovering humor has been one of the greatest steps in my recovery process.  I’ll make sure I never lose my laughter again. It is my anchor to the world outside of chronic illness. It reminds me that there is so much more. I have a chronic illness, but the world is still bright. There is still joy and laughter and fun to be had, and moments like these help me remember that.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user m01229.