My next mental health tattoo isn’t going to be about mental health at all – except that it will be.
I have had several ideas for tattoos recently: a yellow rose for my mother (whose maiden name was Rose and whose favorite flower was yellow roses); a compass rose to celebrate my love for travel; or the constellation Orion for my love of astronomy. I also thought of getting a script “My story isn’t over,” which would, of course, be a mental health tattoo.
But what I decided on was a stack of books.
Why is this a mental health tattoo? Because books have saved my life so many times when I was at the bottom of the pit. I find books the best distraction from thinking about my misery. They are the best escape from what is going on around, and inside, me. They take me to places I never imagined I’d go. They have helped me understand my condition.
And I have written two books myself on mental health topics, Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us. They were compilations of these blog posts, including some of my most popular ones, such as “What Is It with Showers, anyway?,” “When You Don’t Want to Live But You Don’t Want to Die,” “The Fire and the Window,” and several on gaslighting and bipolar disorder.
The tattoo will not be about those particular books specifically, as the tattoo will be too small to have titles on the books. Instead, it will represent all the books that have nourished me, supported me, surprised me, touched me, informed me, and delighted me. Books I return to again and again, sometimes every year. Books that I own, or borrowed, or lost in the tornado that destroyed our house.
There was one time in my life when books were not an option for me – during my last major depressive episode. Then I was so deep in despair that no book appealed to me. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read more than a couple of pages. I missed my books (and my music), but I was unable to respond to them as I normally would. I even tried reading one of my favorites, a novel called Memory, but found it upsetting at that time, as I was having trouble retaining or accessing memories because of one of the medications I was on.
When the depressive episode ended, I was once again able to read and enjoy, for which I am infinitely thankful.
These days, I don’t read many books that are about bipolar disorder or other mental conditions, though books like The Noonday Demon have helped me in the past. In my young adulthood, I did read self-help books that I thought would help me with psychological issues, feminist issues, alienation issues, relationship issues, and more. I no longer read those sorts of books, especially workbooks that are supposed to reveal the inner workings of one’s mind and to help discover how various therapies can help get through the bad patches.
Perhaps I don’t like that kind of workbook because they’re too much like journaling. I once kept a journal, an erratic one that I wrote in irregularly over a year or more. I can’t bear to read it now because it was written when I was undiagnosed, unmedicated, and dealing with a lot of confusion and psychic pain. When, later in life, I tried to return to journaling, it quickly turned into this blog. It contains things I want to say to my old self and my new self, but also things I want to share with others. A blog (and the resulting books) seemed the best way to do that.
Right now I am reading that yearly series of books, plus nonfiction ones (I try to balance my reading between fiction and nonfiction). And when I finish those, I have over a thousand more to choose from, as I keep nearly all my books stored in electronic form on my Nook reader.
So, that’s why I chose books as my next tattoo, and why they represent mental health as well as just plain enjoyment. I have had so little enjoyment in my life when depression has hit me hard. I think it’s time to celebrate the times when books and reading have held me up and helped me through the bad times.