Tattoos and Chronic Illnesses

Blog post

[Image shows three spoons on a laptop keyboard, in the centre there is a white banner outlined in black, with words in black text that read “Tattoos and Chronic Illnesses” with two interlocking green and purple awareness ribbons above the text”]

Tattoos and piercings used to be considered taboos almost in the United States, but are now approaching a relative norm. Typically people pick something that means a lot to them to put on their skin forever, other just pick pretty things, or there are the occasional inebriated decision that leads to you picking the name of that ex you missed at 2am that you will inevitably regret and get covered up in a month. Regardless of what you get, tattoos are everywhere anymore.

When I was younger (maybe 15 or so), I knew I wanted to get a purple awareness ribbon for Crohn’s since I had struggled with it most of my life. Of course by the time 18 rolled around, I was actually too nervous to get a tattoo. I put it off for almost a year. I was diagnosed with Gastroparesis in that time and decided I wanted to do something with both ribbons. Every time I went to call the tattoo place my hands would get shaky and I would think back to the videos my friend had showed me on youtube of a grown man throwing a fit because he was in pain. I was terrified that I would start to get a tattoo, wouldn’t be able to handle the pain and end up leaving with an unfinished tattoo.

So I continued to put it off til December, my friend and I were hanging out. She had just gotten her license and a job and wanted to get her septum pierced. She wanted me to get mine pierced too but I didn’t want to give my grandmother a heart attack by coming home with a piercing. While my friend sat there and talked to the piercer. I talked to one of the Tattoo Artists at the Lure  (Click to go to their facebook page). And I decided to make an appointment for the next month and put down a down payment.

Robert, the artist, drew up a quick sketch and showed me and I was excited, still nervous, but excited. I mentioned that I also had some other issues like possible Ehlers Danlos which can cause extra stretchy skin and a slower healing rate. He went out of his way to do some research on it before the tattoo date.

My friend and boyfriend were shocked and told me they bet I would chicken out before the day came. This wasn’t the first time they had made bets with me. I once remember my boyfriend betting me I wouldn’t be able to put down my own NG tube. I hate when people tell me that they don’t think I can do something, only makes me want to do it more so I can prove a point.

Of course though shortly after Christmas, a week before I was to go and get my tattoo I came down with a horrible cold and turned out I had mono. I didn’t want to risk anyone else’s health by getting a tattoo while I had mono, so I called and rescheduled. Though I was partially tempted to just call the thing off.

February came around though and when the day came I was psyched, but my hands still shook as I tried to contemplate in my head how good my pain tolerance was. I kept trying to tell myself I had been through worse pains with my Crohn’s, Gastroparesis, EDS, etc, so a tattoo should be nothing in comparison. I was still nervous.

I remember I sat down and asked him to explain things step by step because it makes me less anxious if I know how things work. I had remembered hearing horror stories from my mom that it’s like they take a small razor and cut the design into your skin and what not. I think it might have been a bit of an exaggeration or maybe that was how they used to do tattoos, I’m not sure.

He explained everything to me down to the smallest things. He got ready to start and my heart beat louder, but once the needles hit my skin all I could feel was the vibrating. I hardly felt any pain. It felt more like maybe a cat scratch or like sometimes if your nails are jagged and you scratch yourself whilst trying to itch. It was a strange sensation but not painful.

I ended up talking through the entire hour of tattooing, we listened to music, talked about how he started getting into tattooing, how he even did some of his own tattoos on himself which blew my mind.

When it was over I was still bleeding a bit but not badly, and was really happy and impressed, not only with the work but with my own tolerance.

image1 (48)

[Image shows a purple ribbon interlocked with a green ribbon on goosebumpy skin and my medical bracelet.]

It had been a couple months since I got it. No regrets. I think it made me happy because when you have a chronic illness you have little control over your body. I don’t get to control my pain levels, I don’t get to control what happens to me often. My body is at the mercy of my defective genetics and the doctors. I don’t have much control over the fact I now have an ileostomy and feeding tube. I wanted something for me. I wanted to do something to my body that nobody else had control over, to make my body mine. And it felt freeing to get a tattoo that I wanted, to control the pain and get something beautiful out of it.

Something beautiful that reminded me that I still had a say in my body.

Naturally, within a week of that one being healed I was already looking at a handful of others that I wanted. Between the endorphins that come with getting a tattoo and that feeling of having control over your body, I understand now why people get covered head to toe in them.

I had a handful in mind: Leopard geckos, chameleons, trout, comic book themed tattoos (the phoenix symbol from X-Men cause I am Jean Grey), and then I found a pretty tattoo of crystals but I wanted my own design of things because I think tattoos should be unique and no two should be the same. It’s why I am not a fan of the overdone tattoos because too many people have the same one and I want mine to be unique.

So towards the end of the semester I decided to reward myself with another tattoo because this semester was rough with my health and I’ve still managed-despite ER trips and hospitalizations and everything- to keep my grade up. I passed my computer final with an A, passed the entire class with a B+, and am doing great in all my other classes.

So about two weeks ago I went back and talked about getting crystals done. This started partially because of an inside joke where while playing a game I shouted “I’m a freakin’ gem!” and now any type of gem reference I get tagged in or they will make references to it frequently, I now own a viking chair that has runes on it that say “Gem” with a gem on the seat. One of my friends got me a sew on patch with a crystal that says “I’m a gem.” So forth. But I also work a lot with crystals in my jewelry. I do wire wrapping, I do crystal healing, meditation, etc. I love crystals and the energy they have. I a bit of a crystal hippie in a way.

Any who, so yesterday I got my 2nd tattoo. Two hours. Well worth it. I was so impressed by the work and his design and color choice. I couldn’t have asked for a better tattoo that really sticks out for me. The colors were three of my favorite: cyan blue, deep purple, and a mix of like a hot pink and bumble gum or pastel pink. Over all super beautiful colors. He did some stippling (learned that word yesterday) aka dots around it to really make it pop and it did.

After the tattoo was done people got photos and I ended up sending a friend request to the piercer because she too loves crystals and working with them. Everyone was stoked and so was I.

[Image shows the crystal cluster tattoo and how it wraps around my itty bitty arm]

This one doesn’t have as much meaning, but never the less, it made me feel in control of my body, it’s the only pain I do get a say in. It’s the beauty of tattoos, I’m not getting them for anyone else, I’m not doing them for anyone else. This is on my body, for me. It’s one of the first times I’ve ever felt like I truly own my own body.


2 thoughts on “Tattoos and Chronic Illnesses

  1. I finally got my first tattoo in November. I had hesitated because I had also heard horror stories about the pain, infections etc. But it was pretty painless and I’m looking at another one or two. I got a small penguin on my ankle since they’re my favorite animal and make me happy. I really like your tattoos, they look great! Also, I’ve been meaning to tell you I enjoy your blog. I hope all is going well 🙂


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