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The road to recovery

I'm not entirely sure why outer cartilage piercings have a reputation for being 'easy piercings' amongst those who have none themselves. Many people sport a helix or two, often even ones inflicted with mall-style guns, yet the piercings lack the same horror that, say, an industrial or a surface anchor elicits. But it seems a lot of people have trouble healing these suckers, with healing times apparently averaging a year, sometimes taking even longer. To my (dis)credit, this was something I wouldn't find out until after this particular piercing experience.

It's common knowledge that the state of one's physical health can have a huge effect on healing times; and, acknowledged to a lesser extent, one's mental health can also have an impact. This tale stands as proof that mental health, in this instance depression, has a direct effect on physical health. Looking back, I can clearly see the relationship between my ailing helix piercing and my declining mental state; at the time, the steadily growing bump on my helix was only another concern on top of the general stress of everyday life. But on with the story.

It was around six months ago that I decided that I was ready for a new piercing, so I headed down to my favourite studio to get the deed done. I explained to my piercer, a very friendly lady with a great sense of humour, that I wanted a helix done through the rim of my ear cartilage, rather than through the 'front' (that is, the large flat part of the ear before the curl of the rim) and out the back, as they're more commonly done in this neck of the woods. She said that she hadn't seen or done anything like that before (this should have been the first warning bell in my head), but promised me that it was doable and that 'it'd look great'. She suggested a labret stud for the initial healing period as it'd give me a bit more length to accommodate for swelling than any of the barbells they had, which I agreed to. I really didn't like the look of the flat of the labret stud sticking out of the rim of my ear, but hey, it would only be temporary.

So, into the chair, the piercer goes through the usual rigmarole of explaining the procedure and showing me that everything had been autoclaved, cleaned my ear off and stuck the needle through. And it hurt like a BITCH. Far more than even my anti-tragus had hurt; I can recall pulling what must have been highly amusing grimaces for the duration of the experience. Luckily, my adrenaline must have kicked in quickly, because the stinging agony subsided after a few moments to a dull throbbing heat. I thanked her and the receptionist, paid my dues, and stumbled out blinking into the real world once more.

The pain was pretty severe for the first couple of days, with accompanying headaches, bleeding of varying amounts, a small amount of swelling, and sensitivity to the touch, all of which I'd been anticipating. I stuck religiously to my cleaning routine - sea salt soaks twice a day, every day, and no touching whatsoever - for the first week or so.

Did you catch that last part? I gave up on the strict cleaning regime far earlier than I ought to have. The thing had been healing so well, and so predictably, that I figured I could let a couple of sea salt soaks slide without issue. I'd just started a new job at a library a month or two earlier, and it required me to get up pretty early in the morning, rush through my morning routine and head off to work with little time to spare. Sitting on the couch for ten minutes with a wad of cotton balls in my ear while I was fretting about getting out of the house on time just wasn't helping the adjustment from lazy university life to the realm of the workplace. So, when the trouble began to arise later on, my lapse in hygiene was what I blamed it on.

It was at about this time that I began to suffer from other health issues. I'd begun to feel stressed, very stressed, about my life, and was starting to worry about things constantly and suffer from insomnia. After seeing a doctor, it was recommended to me that I visit a psychiatrist.

In the meantime, my piercing continued to hurt. And then it developed a big, pink, lumpy bump. Could it be a dreaded keloid? Some quick reading on the BME Wiki put my mind at ease on that count - it had to be hypertrophic scarring, as keloids were apparently very rare and the ones pictured looked a lot more brutal than my little pink bump. But it was massive for a hypertrophic scar - it protruded from my ear rim by a good two millimetres, and it felt hard to the touch. I thought about popping it, but reconsidered and gave my piercer a visit. The best she could do for me was to suggest switching to a titanium bar in case the lump was caused by an allergy to the stainless steel I was wearing, and to restart on the sea salt soaks.

The situation failed to improve. Things weren't helped by the presence of my boyfriend, who, despite being a sweet, supportive guy, just doesn't understand body mods at all and wasn't as careful as I'd have liked him to be about knocking me in the ear. The bump didn't grow, but it didn't go away either, and would occasionally bleed from time to time. It also flaked dry skin off like an onion every couple of days, and sometimes leaked a lymph-like substance, even months after the initial piercing. I revisited the piercer a couple of times, but each time her only advice was to keep up the sea salt soaks. It was at this point that I began to question her advice, and sought out alternative remedies. Tea tree oil was the one I settled on, and the results were dramatic - the bump shrank almost within days, and I was overjoyed...only to have it inflate again a few days after that, almost back to its original size. What was going on?

I then recalled my other health issues, which had been taking up a bit more of my attention lately than the troublesome helix. My psychiatrist had come to the conclusion that I suffered from social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, which makes it difficult to interact with people, particularly strangers, without feeling unreasonable levels of mental stress. My new job at the library required that I spend a large part of the day serving and helping out readers, and unrecognised by me, this social interaction was taking a big toll both on my mental health and my physical wellbeing and energy levels. I was on my way to a breakdown, and it finally came, while I was at work - I simply couldn't handle being around people all day anymore. I quit the job, started on some antidepressant medication, and tried to relax and take stock of what had been happening to me over the last six months.

This takes us to where we are now. Although it's deflated and inflated once or twice in the last couple of weeks, the bump has been on a gradual decline. The tea tree oil is the only remedy I've tried which has had a real visual result, but I'm still sporting the dorky labret stud and I have yet to find out whether the piercing will heal successfully in the long term. Things are looking up, though, and I've got hopes for this one - and any future piercings I decide to get.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 21 Dec. 2008
in Ear Piercing

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Location: Perth%2C+Australia

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