Tattoo Day, in pictures. It was too image heavy to send in an email – I kept trying but it kept freezing up the app.
Sewing on the go train.
My view into the city.
Carbing up in Union Station. You need a good amount of carbs in your system, otherwise your blood sugar levels can crash – essentially you’re putting your body through trauma so it’ll fight what it deems to be an attack on the system. Some people report being extremely healthy after a tattoo session because the body is fighting to protect itself and thus becomes stronger immunity wise.
In the subway for a quick three stop ride. Normally I would’ve walked it but we’re pressed for time here.
Ugh. So much for pressed for time. Construction on Dundas!! That means I’m on a bus and buses make me pukey with how jerky and overheated they are. Also, construction. I hope I’m not late!!
So I didn’t get a shot of the front door. Oops. Also I made it on time!
Here’s what we’re covering up. It’s a 21 year old, poorly applied tattoo. I *could* have had it fixed but … that seems like too much work.
Here’s a panorama of the tattoo shop inside, where the tattoos actually get applied. The front of the shop is not visible in this picture but there are gorgeous plants out there that Ben (co-owner) is a master of taking care of. He’s the plant whisperer!!
Jacqueline’s area is in the corner on the far right, against the wall.
Note how it looks more like an art studio than the typical tattoo shop. It’s clean, friendly, and inviting.
Alright. This is the stencil. We’ve applied it to the leg but she’s realized the entire old Tattoo won’t be covered so she’s going to draw a leaf or petal with a toothpick and then she’ll trace the lines to cover that area.
Meet Jacqueline!! She reminds me of my friend Kate. You spend the day with either of them and they’re like the antidote to a shitty world or a shitty day. You leave there feeling lighter, refreshed, cleansed of the bullshit you don’t realize you’re bogged down with. I could spend all day with J. She’s incredible people. I know you’d love her.
Alright. It’s go time. Are you ready??
Outline of the flower is done. We chose purple because we needed to cover up the blue but we used four different kinds of purples…so it’s got depth and it’s just so pretty.
The flower is done!! You can’t even tell there was a crappy tattoo there before!! Also, her green leaves are incredible. I don’t know if this picture does it justice.
Switch positions and onto the hands, water, and petals. So this is a tender spot and where I start trying to find a way to accurately describe what a tattoo feels like after 6 hours. And I’ve got it. The burn you felt during a vaginal delivery is how a Tattoo feels after 6 hours. Raw. Hot. Sharp. You start attempting each Lamaze breathing exercise you know, and you invent your own, and then you have to remind yourself to continue to breathe.
The hand of the survivors with water flowing through their hands and fingers. Water is cleansing the soul, flowing through the fingers and it represents letting go.
Omg are we done yet ha ha she’s getting more ink for the hand of the one who has passed on. I’m sure my face was hilarious around this time.
Ok, here we go. We’re nearly done. She’s just doing the last of the hand now. The next four pictures are the completed Tattoo.
You can see how swollen my skin is. I don’t bleed much, I hold colour extreeeeeemely well, but I swell up like a balloon as soon as the machine turns on.
A lot of symbolism can’t be seen. The flower petals that have fallen are actually lighter in colour than those ON the flower, representing a loss of life over time, as time passes. The hand that is barely visible represents the hand of the lost loved one, always a reminder that she’s there, in my life, and always a part of me, of us. She unites us, in what was a hard and awful way but is now a beautiful way – there’s love, respect, friendship, and perhaps a need, too. I don’t know what I would’ve done without this friendship. It has made my burden easier to carry.
And so while the Tattoo looks sad, it’s about letting go of that sadness. Recognizing what happened, and not necessarily moving on (because I don’t know that you can), but accepting it for what it is. It will always be there but it doesn’t have to be a burden anymore. At least for me. It’s a transformation. Love, water, life, and death.
They say that everything takes time. Trauma takes time. You just need time. It wasn’t something that I could’ve believed then, though. Hell, I still don’t. Some things there just isn’t enough time for.
In the Aftermath, friends who’d suffered trauma said I just needed time and I didn’t believe them. And I want to ask them, when is enough time enough? How does the soul repair itself when it’s been through hell? And not just a one off moment of trauma but a lifetime of heavy, soul weary, trauma? When does the breath of ones being finally free itself from the binds of hell?
No one has an answer. Those well meaning friends don’t have an answer. The psychiatrist I was sent to could only tell me to read books but the answer I wanted, the answer I still seek, cannot be found in any text – it never heals.
We enter into this world with a soul, one we believe is all shiny and new, freshly polished. Depending on what religion you follow, however, that soul is as old as time or new as the days sunrise.
What baggage has each soul carried with it from previous lives? What do we do to ourselves? What do we continue to put ourselves through? No soul is untarnished and with each passing day, with every little bruise, our souls become stained. With love? Trauma? Pain? Is it weary? Is it hopeful for a new life? A new day?
I have been thinking of you a lot lately. I don’t know if it’s because this is 5 years, if this is date and day, or if I just feel your strong presence because our world is in turmoil and I seek something comfortable that I know. But I feel you and think of you daily. Repeatedly. And then, when I’m alone in a room and doing something, I see something moving out of the corner of my eye and I look and there’s nothing there. Is it you? Someone else I’ve picked up? I spent a childhood with dead people. I had dreams of people before they died. Am I a conduit? If only that were the case. I’d speak with my grandparents again.
I don’t understand your pain but I understand my own. The anger. The absolute rage that I have because I was molested and people would deny that truth. For their own protection? Self preservation? I don’t know. I only know that I see you, your face. I see your pain, your death. I see your rage turned inward and onto yourself.
You beautiful girl. How I wish I could ease your pain.
You are with me every day. We are bound together. The girl who lived and the girl who died.
I sometimes wonder if I don’t purposely hold on to you, your death, the gore. Like a security blanket, it’s something I can cling to for safety. A bit of an oxy moron to those who’ve never suffered but it’s a safe pain. Something you know and understand.
I worry that I’m keeping you with me on purpose. And then for five minutes I’ll forget about you. And for five minutes I’m free. I can breathe. I don’t feel a weight tugging at me, a niggling reminder of my own impending death, my own expiry date. I am a helium balloon and you are a weight. We are counterbalanced.
I used to worry that talking about you and what happened, that people would see it as attention seeking. I would go out of my way to not talk about what happened, to not even mention it. Again, how terrible that I worried more about the comfort and opinions of others instead of myself.
First Nations believe that as long as someone tells the story, nothing is ever dead. And so I will tell my story. Maybe I won’t shout it from the rooftops (an unlikely pun) but a quiet whisper from my heart instead.
Edited to include a picture taken of me, a week after the suicide. I’d not slept more than 28 hours the whole week.
I don’t support the Bell Let’s Talk day because Bell doesn’t give two stuffs about the mental health of their employees. So they can shove this day up their asses. They’re hypocritical jerk muffins who are only in this for the PR.
Having said that, I do think everyone should take the opportunity to discuss mental health, be it a personal story of their own, or a story about someone they know/love.
I have had my own struggle with mental health. The causes have been varied but the one everyone knows because I’ve been somewhat vocal about it is – I witnessed a suicide.
The woman who took her life was 30, beautiful, a successful lawyer at one of the best law firms in the country (basing this on how often their lawyers are nominated as top lawyer of something or other). She grew up in an affluent family, travelled, went to the best schools. On the surface she had everything going for her. Beneath the surface, however, she was living a personal hell that she probably kept secret from everyone she knew.
Like many women, myself included, she was molested as a child. For many, there is a disconnect and you brush it under the carpet and hope you get over it. You know what’s happened and just hope to slough it off like dead skin, but you have not acknowledged it. The pain exists in a sort of limbo. It slowly poisons you and you make subconscious decisions based on that poison, without even realizing it.
When you do wake up, when you do fully and consciously face the abuse you suffered, it makes or breaks you mentally. You either become stronger or the pain wears you down.
Sadly, the young, intelligent, beautiful woman could no longer cope. And so she attempted to take her life. Unsuccessful, she checked herself out of the hospital, came to her workplace on the 27th floor, got to the roof through an access window, and jumped.
Her pain ended with her life, yes, but that only started the pain for other people. Her family. Her friends. Her coworkers, one of whom ended up taking three years off work because of her own breakdown. And then me. The unfortunate witness to her death.
In the movies it is portrayed as a slow moving and beautiful fall. The wind whipping her hair. Her fingers floating on the wind as you would out the window of a moving car. Perhaps a tear falling down her cheek. Some flighty dramatization of what we wish suicide by jumping looked like.
The movies are bullshit. Death is ugly and suicide is painful, for everyone.
For the briefest of seconds there is silence, then the most deafening noise, and then the quietest silence again as your brain, soul, eyes, and ears try to put together all that you have just witnessed and heard:
A body hitting the earth.
That someone chose to place themselves there is beyond comprehension and yet, you saw it happen. You know what you’ve just seen is true yet your mind is lagging, unable to compute.
Death by suicide is ugly. It is gut wrenching but not vomit inducing. There is an immediate pain inside you, location unknown, that exists, still to this day. That pain would be PTSD.
In total I took five and a half days off work, what amounted to two weeks. I forced myself back to work because I was afraid of what people would say about me. I was afraid that people would think I was scamming or milking the time off.
I was dying inside, trying to piece together the broken pieces of my soul. But I worried about them and what they would say about me. How insulting. That I spent even an iota of time on their opinions instead of my own health is insulting. But indicative of where we are as a people when it comes to illness, time off, mental health, and trauma.
We take for granted how fragile our minds are. In one split second I went from a confident, take no shit person to someone who was afraid of the dark and tall buildings.
The anniversary of her death is this Saturday. We have come full circle and on the 5th anniversary, the date of her death coincides with the day of the week on which she died. This is not lost on me. At the minute of her death I will be where I was then. I will try not to think of the pain I suffered, an impossibility, clearly, but I will try to think of her family instead. Because while I witnessed it as a bystander, some poor shmuck in the wrong place and time, they must live with the guilt they place on themselves – of not seeking treatment, not helping her, not calling her enough. They live with self induced torment.
We tell ourselves and our friends, I’m here for you. I love you. Whenever you need me, just call. The fact is, though, we get busy and those who suffer with mental health issues, they suffer alone because they don’t want to burden anyone.
We need to be a better society and take better care of our people. An illness of the heart is just as worthy of medical attention as an illness of the mind. People still look at mental health as either a joke or something to be feared. A man or woman living with schizophrenia cannot divulge their mental illness to a potential employer, are in fact terrified of them finding out, for fear of not being hired. Meanwhile, a heart patient thinks little of it.
We need to talk. We need to normalize. Accept. Understand. We need to open our damn hearts and love.
Don’t isolate someone who is suffering because you don’t know what to say, think it’s an awkward conversation, or it would make you uncomfortable. The best thing that you can do is shake their hand or hug them and offer them support with a mere few words. Because for their entire lives they have felt alone and isolation will only make that worse.
When you witness a suicide, you’re changed forever. You’re altered. It’s almost as if your DNA has been changed because things are no longer the same. The way you think, the way you feel, the way you approach life. The things people say. What once meant nothing to you now has more meaning than breath itself. Because sometimes you are left breathless by the tiniest of happenstances.
I navigate around tall buildings and size them up. Where is the roof? Where would a body land should someone decide to kill themselves? I approach my own and plod forward, pushing myself to walk where she died. At times I am sleep deprived, still afraid of silence, still waking up to non-existent people standing over my bed. I still feel her around me, no longer a pest but a guide. It is not actually her that I feel but the shadow of her, burned into my soul. She is with me, always.
Tonight, so close to her anniversary, a contractor needed access to the very roof she used to end her pain. I asked one of her (former) coworkers where the roof access was and advised there’d be contractors accessing the roof.
I don’t know if they’re as hyper aware of people being on the roof since she died but I know I would be were I them.
But then the contractor jokingly said to the coworker that when they were done they’d jump off the side of the building.
Something changes inside you when someone you know kills themselves. You are forever altered. And the look on her coworkers face was evidence of that. He is forever altered. I bit my tongue and didn’t tell the contractor off because how was he to know? How could he? You don’t know what another person has seen or felt and we cannot traipse around the world, for all our given years, on egg shells. Life is meant to be lived, enjoyed, loved. A simple comment that has such intense meaning for us but none to him. It shouldn’t be held against him.
And yet, it affected me still. More than I wish it could. And so I cried, losing my appetite as my tears fell into my pasta, I cried because I so wish his comment and her death could wash over and away from me. There is no 12 step program to death and grief. There’s no timetable of expectancy when it comes to loss and suicide. It just exists within you. Your DNA. Your fibers. It’s as much a part of you as your freckles and scars.
Tonight, after I took that first step in overcoming my fear of heights, I sat down for my lunch break and cried. When I could breathe again, when I let it wash over me, I checked my email. There was a message from a complete stranger who had read my writing – not even the good writing that has been hidden from view – saying that my writing was a gift. How could you have picked today, of all days, to contact me?, when I chose today, of all days, to take that step out there?
I am forever altered, yes, but on this day my heart is full.
2. celebrate or acknowledge an anniversary.
Origin: late, middle English. From old French observer. From Latin observare‘to watch’.
1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
Origin: late 18th cent. From Greek, literally ‘wound’.
1. the act of killing oneself intentionally.
Origin: mid 17th cent.: from modern Latin suicida‘act of suicide,’suicidium‘person who commits suicide,’ from Latin sui ‘of oneself’ + caedere‘kill’.
*give (someone) greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation;
*give (someone) spiritual knowledge or insight
*archaic shed light on (an object)
Origin: Middle English (in the sense ‘make luminous’; formerly also as inlighten): in early use from Old English inlihtan‘to shine’
1. the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way
Origin: Middle English: from Old French langage, based on the Latin lingua‘tongue’.
Words can never explain or define our lives, our pain, our traumas, or our historical stories and the meanings behind them. We use words because we cannot yet convey to another person what it is we feel, how deep our love is, how deep our well of pain goes, or how, in the face of fear or danger, we found real bravery. We are as yet unable to pass on feeling from one person to another in the same way that we can easily pass on a word, a phrase, or a book. In this way, we can only use small symbols, letters, words, to pass on what it is we’re going through, what it is we live through, what it is we want to tell someone, how it is we want them to feel.
Some choose not to pass those words on at all.
We can never find the meaning or the origin of our feelings in the smattering of a few letters pressed together. We can never find the cause or the reason in those defined terms. It is, at best, a lame attempt to convey or understand. We will never find in them understanding or true knowledge – those we must find within ourselves. We will never know the why behind the words and their causes, what impact they’ve had on the writer and the reader.
We can and often do seek solace in those words, however. As writers and as readers.
I think of you, the words you chose not to share, suffering instead in an absence of words, in your silence; the words pressing forth from my own soul, in a chemical reaction to your silence and action, written words – an attempt at understanding my own pain and the torment I go through; the words shared with me from loved ones, mine and yours. In turn, I choose to share my words in hopes of enlightening others. I cannot ever understand but hope I can offer understanding. For others, yes, but mostly myself.
I have forgiven you. Now I must forgive myself.
Tears inexplicably fell, as if they weren’t pouring forth due to my emotions but were little prisoners escaping for their lives.
My sadness was so deep and palpable that a piece of music could, and did, move me to horrific sobbing, regularly. And not the that-time-of-the-month sobbing, but the sobbing that comes from so deep within you that each tear and each sob feels ancient, as old as your own soul.
I listened to this music, nightly, in an attempt to free my tortured soul from emotions I could not comprehend. At 15 years old I was tired like an old fisherman. I wanted to lay down and sleep and never wake. I never wanted to die – I was far too in love with life and myself for that – but I was exhausted from holding everything in and spending nearly ten years pretending that everything was ok and being strong and resilient. Adults love to use that word when they talk about tragedies, sad things, or trauma that kids deal with. Kids are stronger than we think. They’re resilient.
Kids are weenies but we say these things in order to ease our own guilt for what they’ve suffered and our inability to truly help them. There’s a process we all must go through to.
I was living proof that I was not resilient or stronger than anyone thinks. I was dying inside and was too proud and afraid to ask for help. Anytime I thought I had a handle on my life, something else came along and screwed up the progress I thought I’d made.
There was no progress, by the way. What I thought was progress was me merely building a Berlin-sized wall around my pain, hoping there would never be another 1989. That no one would attempt to free each moment in my life that had scarred, maimed, or bruised me. I had everything under neat, prettily wrapped paper and I appeared to be just fine, thank you very much. At least I thought so. To anyone else, I don’t know how it appeared. I’m sure at first I seemed fine but after a while, things became clearer.
That I was treading water.
The truth was that I was coming apart at the seams and I had no one to help sew me back up. A father who was busy with whatever flavour he was cheating with, a mother who was busy immersing her own pain, and a brother who was suffering an equal amount of coming-apart-ness. Our trajectories were not towards each other like normal families are supposed to be. We were going far and fast from each other, as quickly as possible. Each a reminder of the pain we suffered from, caused each other, caused ourselves.
I hated them all. I hated myself more, but I knew they couldn’t help me, were unable to help me, and for that I hated them. We all had individual and together problems far greater than me. We were hopeless and broken. Not just broken as a family unit but individually, we were each broken. A China set that is cracked and broken, missing half its pieces, scraped and the gold trim is gone. We were ugly broken. And we were each unable to help the other, thus forced to suffer alone.
The sad part is that it was an epidemic passed down. We learned from our parents how to be broken and that would be passed on to our own children. We were a family of not just heartbreakers but souls, too. We were soul breakers. Crushers.
I had to hold it all together by myself, for myself, and there were days when I managed. Get up, go to school, go home, go to dance class, go home. But in there I suffered from such anger, fatigue, and pure mental exhaustion from trying to keep it together that making it home at the end of the school day was a feat. I slept on the couch for two hours. Get up, eat, dance class, home, lay in bed and cry for three hours straight. Repeat.
I have never figured out how to deal with the size of the Berlin Wall that I built. All I’ve been able to do is fill in the cracks and build it higher to cover the ever increasing pain. Never ask a question that could topple it all. My emotional sanity rests atop a weird balancing act of trying to stay calm at all times, trying to be happy, trying to keep everyone else happy, and trying to protect my heart, all while continuously building and repairing this stupid wall.
It’s become habitual, this self preservation. I wouldn’t even know how to deal with my pain now if I tried. There is so much more pain attached to other pain. I’m afraid if I pulled one out, the rest would follow like some cheap magicians kerchief trick, spilling out onto the floor and I’d be left cleaning up the mess alone while everyone stood there and watched, my pain and sadness, fragility and frailty, a spectacle for all to see, watch, and comment on in hushed whispers.