When I went to Chicago last March, I got tattooed by Alana Robbie. In 2010, she tattooed a Greyhound bus on my left arm, and this time, she tattooed TAKE CARE on my knuckles. I’d written down hundreds of knuckle tattoo ideas over the years. For a long time, I’d wanted HOMESICK, but I felt it might be a sad message to see on my hands everyday; then I wanted KNOW HOPE, but decided to get it on a banner in my friend’s handwriting instead, so that left my knuckles blank. The message that ended up on my knuckles after all was probably the message I’d given the least thought to as a tattoo, but somehow made the most sense. TAKE CARE.
Each time I look down at my hands, I ask myself: What am I doing to take care of myself right now?
A little while, I asked some of my friends, What comes to mind when you hear the words Radical Self-Care? I was struggling at the time, and looking for inspiration. The answers they gave me were just what I needed. We talked about things like, learning how de-romanticize the idea of staying up all night with a bottle of whiskey and how to de-romanticize self-destruction, learning how to say no and set boundaries, remembering to take deep breaths, giving ourselves the compassion & empathy & caring that we so often give to our friends but not ourselves, letting go of overly critical views of ourselves, eating good food instead of attempting to live on coffee & cigarettes, sleeping well, taking long walks and making sure to look around at the beauty surrounding us, simply giving ourselves permission to exist, and knowing that self-care isn’t selfish.
Self-care, to me, is not a selfish act; and if it is, it is a necessary one. Self-care means self-preservation, survival, respect, love, compassion, awareness, and honesty. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take of each other. So, what are you doing to take care of yourself right now?
For more self-care inspiration, check out Be Your Own Therapist, Mindful Communication and Consent (this is what i need), Shyness is nice, but…, What Would You Rather Be Doing (Part One) and (Part Two), and Self-Care When You’re Not at Home (for us travelin’ zinesters!).
I also want to talk about tattoos as safety objects. My friend Erin recently wrote about Safety Objects as Secrets to Survival, which inspired me to think about my own safety objects. My home is filled with them. I often collect branches, rocks, and even broken glass from the ground; I have a collection of beach glass that I gathered when Erin and I went to the Kingston Writers Fest together, and I still have the stones I got from the witchy store in my small hometown when I was a teenager. I have dried flowers, pennies squished on the traintracks, acorns, and pinecones. Some of these things I keep in jars, some I keep on my bookshelves, other I keep hidden in a little pouch in my backpack, with me wherever I go. Safety objects are often used as grounding techniques; when my mind tries to take elsewhere, in a bad memory or a flashback, for example, I can hold onto a safety object and press it between my fingers, tangible evidence that I am still here and that I will be okay. Sometimes just the knowledge that it is with me, without being in my hands, can be enough.
Everybody’s safety objects are different. You could use a pen, a handkerchief, a marble, a keychain… whatever. Even my tattoos work as safety objects. Looking at them, reminding myself of their stories, reminds of who I am, that I am surviving, that I am a wonderful, magical creature (and so are you!). Although unintentional, all of my tattoos have the same theme: survival. My tattoos tell the journey of my survival thus far. They also serve as a kind of coping mechanism: a tattoo appointment to look forward to often keeps me going through some pretty hard times, and the beautiful images and words on my skin make me want to keep my body on earth a little longer.
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