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The Beginnings of the Solar System

I always had a problem with my body, a sort of disconnect that wound up feeding into anorexia, cutting, and a variety of other unhealthy habits. It just didn't seem to reflect who I was, no matter what I did with it- not at a BMI of 14.9, not at a BMI of 22, not with a pattern of icy white scars across my forearm, not with fresh wounds on my legs. And while my body seemed like a cage, my mind played out on a level far beyond its constraints: I have struggled with mental illness for half of my life, going from the initial, wildly inventive panic attacks to the final symptoms of full-fledged bipolar disorder (with a suicide attempt last summer).

I have known since about age 16 that I wanted a tattoo. Exactly what I wanted changed often: at first, it would be a fern frond in a tribal style (being sixteen, I thought this was mad awesome); it changed later into a fern frond and a peacock feather in full, brilliant color across my chest; and then both of those fell by the wayside and I was left wondering exactly what I wanted as my first semester in college ended-- and I was finally 18.

College had not treated me well. I'd had a manic episode, a depressive episode, and a psychotic break that caused my psychiatrist to put me on another medication and wonder, fleetingly, if I was schizoaffective. My life seemed entwined hopelessly with a very destructive young man I had become romantically involved with (only to have him break my heart and systematically destroy my self-esteem). I took up my old self-injury habits, and spent much of my time in tears on the floor of my room, with my roommate hovering around anxiously. In the last few weeks of term, though, I'd been introduced to the study of symbols by a class, and, in a book, I found the list of alchemical/astronomical symbols for solar system objects. I had always loved astronomy, and stargazing was one of my favorite things to do; I had done a high-school thesis on electromagnetic flux in starburst galaxies. I resolved, then, that I would get the symbols for the solar system down my spine.

The break was good to me, and I managed to get the help I needed. I pulled out of my destructive spiral and began the long process of accepting myself. I'd finally beaten anorexia my first term of college, and I now weighed more than I had since I began starving myself. It was difficult to accept this body, but I began to run and exercise and, slowly, it felt more like an extension of myself. I studied cognitive-behavioral techniques to get a hold of my volatile emotions. I even ceased to speak to my increasingly unstable ex-boyfriend.

It was a week after I made that last, crucial jump that I felt the pressure and anticipation build to unbearable levels. I did not have enough money to get the entire solar system; I am a starving college student. So I landed on the idea of getting one component at a time, starting with the sun at the base of my neck.

I researched tattoo shops in the area. I'd seen Rick's Tattoos on my way to work, and it wound up coming down to a choice between Rick's and Jinx Proof. Jinx was quite expensive, and I knew that with tattoos, you get what you pay for, but I was also not looking for anything terribly complex or artistic: just a circle and a dot on my spine. Rick's had good reviews online, as well as being significantly cheaper ($80 for my two-inch-diameter tattoo), and I chose to go there instead.

I took a friend with me for moral support, and asked at the front desk if he would be allowed back with me. They said he would. Duong was working there at the time. He showed me some of his portfolio and I was satisfied. Duong then took me into a back room and stenciled on the picture I'd brought. He asked me if it was what I wanted; I said yes. He then asked me if it was my first tattoo. I said yes, and he smiled and told me he'd do a small line in the body of the tattoo to show me what it felt like. It wasn't so bad, and made me even more excited to finally get this done.

It hurt. I described it to my friend as being attacked by razor-sharp bumblebees, because the vibration and buzzing was an important component of the pain. But as the 20 minutes progressed, I found that the pain had a constant aspect to it that induced a meditative state. When he'd finished, Duong rubbed ointment on it, bandaged it up, and gave me a list of aftercare instructions. I tipped him, and we left.

The high lasted most of the day. It's a huge adrenaline rush, and I remembered that one of my college friends told me he instantly wanted another.

In the weeks after, I realized that getting that tattoo marked an important turning point in my life: it occurred right when I'd managed to beat back the demons in my head at least enough to make a fight not seem so utterly hopeless. It turns out that the sun sign represents the will to live in certain branches of astrology, and that was exactly what I had finally discovered.

I haven't gotten any of the planets yet. I'm waiting for the right time, so they'll mean as much to me as the sun at the base of my neck. I'm not sure if I'll go back to Duong; I had nothing but great service, but there's something to be said for getting my separate astronomical symbols tattooed by different people in the different places I have loved. Now that I'm at college in Vermont, I think I'll find a local artist to take the next step. When I'm ready.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 13 March 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: Duong
Studio: Rick%27s+Tattoos
Location: Arlington%2C+VA

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