And Then I Got a Tattoo and No One Stopped Loving Me

Two weeks ago I turned 30. While many people seem to struggle with this milestone anniversary, I wasn’t particularly upset by it. Perhaps if I’d been in the same mindset as I was at this time last year it would be a different story, but after undertaking a year-long mental health journey, I can now approach the issue with a degree of pragmatism. I’m not panicking about getting older, or stressing about what I haven’t yet accomplished. Instead I’m using the occasion as an opportunity for reflection – cataloging the goals I’ve already achieved, planning for the ones ahead. I’m celebrating how far I’ve come rather than dwelling on how far I have yet to go.

Still, I felt a need to mark my 30th birthday somehow. Sure, there were family celebrations and well-wishes from friends. The Big Guy surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered to my desk at work. But more than anything I wanted to do something different. Something unexpected, out of character. Something that I could look back on and say, “Yes. THAT was my 30th birthday.”

I mentioned this desire in passing to my mom, to which she responded, “Why don’t you get your tattoo?” And that was it. That was the perfect way to not only commemorate this milestone, but also to memorialize my ongoing journey towards a better, happier, more fulfilled me.

I’ve wanted a tattoo since 2009, when I spent the summer living and working in Banff, Alberta. My good friend and roommate out there was in the process of having a large piece done on her back and I went with her to one of her appointments. I was fascinated by the art and knew that at some point I wanted to get one of my own.

The following year, when another friend and I were vacationing in Las Vegas, we decided we’d pull the tattoo trigger in Sin City. I was just about to finish university and I was feeling rebellious. Unfortunately a tattoo on the Vegas strip costs about four times more than anywhere else. In the end our tattoo dreams were broken by our humble student budgets.

That same year I met the Big Guy and in getting to know one another we discussed the issue of tattoos. He didn’t like really like them. Needless to say, as I was desperate to impress this incredible guy I’d just met (in other words, I didn’t want to fuck it up), I kept my dream of getting a tattoo to myself.

Mom’s comment a few months ago was exactly the spark needed to rekindle the desire and harden my resolve to go through with it. A huge component of my mental health journey has been letting go of my need for approval from others, creating my own yardstick by which to measure my value, rather than relying on everyone else’s. It’s my body and my life – if I wanted to get a tattoo, I needed to give myself permission to do that.

I still told the people closest to me, including my family and the Big Guy. While everyone clearly had very different opinions on the subject they were all supportive of my decision. The Big Guy acknowledged that I could totally do whatever I wanted with my body and that – I admit this made me feel a lot better – he wouldn’t love me any less if I elected to get a tattoo.

Even after I made the decision, however, in the two weeks leading up to my appointment I struggled with an internal battle. The independent part of me was determined to go through with it, regardless of what people may think, while the insecure part of me wondered if a tattoo would affect my current working relationships or future career prospects.

It’s amazing how easy it is for me to commit others and yet how difficult it is for me to make commitments to myself. It took me only 10 months to commit to the Big Guy for life, a year to going back to school and only a few days to buying our house. Yet it’s taken me 8 years to finally work up the courage to take this step for myself. Once it was over, I was so relieved and proud of myself for going through with it.

The finished product! Don’t mind the dry skin and sock impression. It’s winter in Canada.

Anyone who sees it wants to know if it has a special meaning and, in true Mandie fashion, it has several. I wanted the books because I’m a writer and all-around lover of books. But more importantly, the three books represent all of the adventures I’ve been on, the beautiful words I’ve read, the lessons I’ve learned, the knowledge I’ve gained, and all that there is still to discover.

The bird is a chickadee, my favourite kind. I find them agonizingly cute and seeing one makes me instantly happy. I knew from early on that I wanted a bird tattoo but I wanted a bird at rest on a branch, not in flight. There is such beauty in the POTENTIAL that a bird at rest has: the possibility of flight, the inherent ability to soar. It’s a reminder that I, too, have the potential to soar; I just have to trust in myself.

I made the decision to have the bird facing backwards, even though the tattoo artist informed me that it’s customary for people and animals to face forward. I wanted it facing backwards not just because I thought it was more aesthetically pleasing but also because it reminds me to look ahead not back. Now as I walk through life I’m reassured that my little bird is keeping an eye on the past, leaving me free to focus on the future.

And the best part of my design is that the Big Guy made it. I was having trouble visualizing how I wanted my tattoo to look and at my sister-in-law’s recommendation, I commissioned the Big Guy’s artistic talents. He perfectly captured what I was looking for and now I can proudly carry a piece of him with me.

Looking down at this little bird on my ankle puts a smile on my face. It represents my journey, my potential and all that I’ve accomplished so far. It represents my commitment and investment in myself, and my efforts to define myself by my own standards. I’m grateful to the people around me who, despite maybe disagreeing with my decision, supported me nonetheless. I now have a tattoo and no one has stopped loving me. Win-win.

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