Rethinking the ink

At 22 years old, I got a tattoo.

I spent a very long time thinking about it, exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it, what it meant to me. I spent around 5 years thinking about it before I eventually got it done, and I loved it, it meant so much to me.

Close to 10 years on, and I could take it or leave it. It’s still a meaningful tattoo to me, it carries a lot of memories, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. I hadn’t really thought about removing the tattoo, but I came across an ad for tattoo removals. It intrigued me. I booked in for a consultation just to get a better idea of what it’s all about.

Now, people get tattoos removed for a variety of reasons, the top two being regret and work. Thankfully, neither of these have been the case for me. Despite the prominent location of this tattoo, it’s never stopped me from getting a job. Then again, bar tattoos directly on your face, I doubt any would stop you getting a job in science. I’ve never regretted this tattoo either. I was told during my consultation that some people turn up within hours of the tattoo being completed wanting it removed. In both of these situations, time is a big issue. For those who regret it, they want it gone right then and there. For those who can’t get the jobs they want, they want it gone immediately too. I wasn’t in that boat, it could take as long as it would take and I was fine with that.

Chloe, my consultant, was lovely. She put me at ease, she didn’t make me feel guilty or that tattoo free skin is the ideal we should all hope for. She and her husband both have tattoos and she went on to explain that some of their clientele are people who are bored of what they have, or wanting to change pieces, so get tattoos removed to have something else in it’s place. I felt so comfortable and happily informed that I decided to go ahead with the removal, and Chloe started my first treatment right then and there.

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It hurts. It’s not unbearable, but then again we all react differently to pain. My tattoo is only small, so it took less than a minute to treat it, much quicker than the original tattoo process. It feels like a burning elastic band is being flicked at your skin, but I found it fine to deal with. A larger area would probably hurt a whole lot more. The location also plays a role in how much it hurts, so there are definitely areas I’ll never get tattooed, just in case…

It’s going to take a while. Depending on the type of ink that’s used, how deep the ink is set in your skin, how old the tattoo, all contributes to the number of treatments you’ll require. Thankfully, mine is getting on in age, the ink seems to sit quite shallow, but there is no way to know the quality of ink. At this stage, it looks like around 6 treatments, but there is of course no guarantee with this. Our bodies react differently, and it’s impossible to know for sure, but as a rough guess, 6 treatments could be enough. I’m happy with that. It’s pricey, but I’m also ok with that too.

So why am I getting it removed? Because I’ve changed. I’ve grown as a person, and though it hasn’t lost it’s meaning, the meaning has changed. I initially got the tattoo as a sign of strength. I had been through some difficult experiences including an assault, and I believed I was still strong, that I was still capable. I loved a quote I’d heard, “when water gets trapped, it carves it’s own path”, and I thought it applied to me. I believed that despite what I had been confronted with at such a young age, I was able to reach my potential regardless. I found a way to deal with things and move on, believing that it didn’t affect me, didn’t control me.

As I get older, I realise that things weren’t as clear cut as I thought. I still believe I am strong and resilient, but I see now how much more I have been affected by things in the past. I was fooling¬†myself into believing a narrative, when instead I should have been facing some incredibly difficult truths. As such, this tattoo now means something different to me. It reminds me of a young, naive and vulnerable girl. Someone trying desperately to show the world that she was strong and capable, that she would not let her past traumatic experiences define her. Someone who was clutching so hard to a narrative of strength, she didn’t realise how much help she needed.

I still see myself as resilient. I’m a functioning member of society, I have a good job, great friends and family, I am fit and healthy, and I take care of my mental health now too. I still appreciate the ability to adapt to situations as they change, to take strength in who I am at my core, but I don’t need this tattoo to remind me of that anymore. I don’t need a symbol to cling to, to turn to when I feel weak or vulnerable, to validate me. Now I embrace those moments and draw my strength from within them.

For super cool info on what is happening when you get tattoos, and what is happening when you get the tattoo removed, check out these links:

Tattooing close up

Laser tattoo removal

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