Manic Ink

If I asked my friends to describe me, ‘sensible’ and ‘indecisive’ would probably be on the list. ‘Sensible’ and ‘indecisive’ doesn’t really lend itself to getting a tattoo, but that didn’t stop me from getting one.

I love tattoos. I love hearing about why people decided to get whatever they got permanently inked on their skin and I can spend hours scrolling through artists and their artwork on instagram. But being sensible and indecisive means I never really loved the idea of getting one on me…I thought about it, talked about what I would get and why, but I would probably never actually get one- being sensible meant I worried too much about what I’d look like when I was 90 and wrinkly (yep, I’m one of those people), and being indecisive meant that the thing I wanted six months ago was now a really dumb idea.

But alas, manic me is nothing like ordinary me, and I become reckless and impulsive and every idea feels like the Best I’ve Ever Had and plans to execute it must me made immediately.

The idea comes to me at 2am on Wednesday morning and had there been a tattoo parlour nearby that was open, I would’ve got it done there and then. Instead, I draw what I want on various parts of my body and twist and turn in front of the mirror to see where it looks best, and then spend the night tossing and turning with excitement. It’s about 50 miles to the nearest parlour and Saturday morning before I have any time off work to go. So I bounce out of bed that morning after four hours sleep and a few hours later tweet my mum a picture of it. She thinks I’m taking the piss until she comes back from holiday and sees it for herself.

Ironically, the first thing the tattoo artist asks when I tell him I want the chemical structure of serotonin, is if I’m bipolar (at that point, I wasn’t diagnosed). I grin the whole time he is doing it.


The chemical structure of serotonin, the neurotransmitter thought to be in charge of happiness and wellbeing. I got it as a reminder that…actually, scrap that. Writing this I’m realising that the only reason I got it was because I was manic and thought it was a cool concept- like my own lil’ antidepressant- and god knows I didn’t need one of those at the time…

Everyone is a little shocked. My best friends are appalled that me, of all of us, is the first to get a tattoo. My work colleagues joke that I’m rebelling, and my supervisor pulls me to the side and tells me I’m going off the rails and says ‘what are you going to do when you’re 90 and old and wrinkly??’ I roll my eyes, but if I wasn’t manic, I’d be asking myself the same thing. My parents, who are away, think I’m joking when I send them the picture. When they come home and they find out it’s real, they tut and sigh and say things like ‘you’re being reckless’ and refuse to even look at it.

When I see the psychiatrist a couple of weeks later, I whip my cardigan off and show him my tattoo, asking him to guess what it is. I tell him if he doesn’t know, I will not be able to work with him!! Because as someone who is supposed to be aiding me in reaching optimum serotonin levels, he should know what the damn stuff looks like! And so becomes the custom during my subsequent admissions- I ask every mental health professional I meet to guess what my tattoo is. One doctor isn’t very forthcoming and grumpily snaps that he ‘isn’t a chemist’ so couldn’t possibly know, and when I insist he sighs heavily.

I quite like my tattoo. I like the meaning behind it/concept- while actually getting it was impulsive, the idea was something I’d had in mind in a ‘if I ever got a tattoo, this is what I’d get’ way. And I like the size of it and I like that it’s fine and I like where it is on my body. So it’s not like I regret it right now…it’s just that, knowing what I know about myself- that I am sensible and indecisive, and knowing that when I’m 50 and (hopefully) in a better place, I won’t want a tattoo that pays homage to an illness, it’s got potential to be something I’ll really regret.

One day, a nurse that somehow, hasn’t seen my tattoo is taking my blood pressure and she goes ‘oh my god! What is that on your arm?!’ She spends the next five minutes making jibes: ‘whyyyyyyyyy did you get that tattooed on you?’ ‘people shouldn’t be allowed to get tattoos when they’re manic’ ‘they should ask you if you’re manic before you get one’ and ‘at least when you look at it you’ll be reminded why you don’t want to be manic again- because you do stupid things like that’. She says it all in a jokey, big sister-y kind of way, but her points are pretty valid and for the first time since getting it done, it kind of sinks in. Getting a tattoo when manic is probably on par with getting one when drunk- it’s likely to be of something a little ridiculous, and the fact you’re not really of sound mind means there’s a good chance you’ll probably end up regretting it.

But oh well. YOLO and all that.


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