Here's the second story in our series "For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo", that we are presenting with our good friends over at openoureyes.org. To learn more about this series, check out our introduction blog here. We hope you enjoy!.
Written by Sean Herman
Anyone who has suffered with bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression can tell you that it can be physically crippling. Imagine being in a situation, one that you should be familiar with, but nothing about it feels familiar. Something you have done everyday now becomes foreign and unreal. Your brain begins racing, spinning, your pulse quickens, your breathing is labored, and the obsessive thoughts begin. “Did I lock the door, did I turn off the oven, did I offend someone and say something wrong” and now the world is slowly crumbling. Your vantage point is lost, your anchor is lost, and you are floating around, reality becoming harder and harder to hold onto. From my experience, social interactions become less and less, and isolation becomes the norm. Sleep is a hard thing to find, and time becomes a hard thing to judge. Without having a strong foundation to stand on, we lose sense of who we are, what’s going on, and what reality truly is. The spinning brain becomes enemy number one, and the hopes of overcoming slowly evaporate into the fog. To make it through that haze, the best thing we can do is to relate, to find a common bond that can facilitate understanding, to eventually realize that we are not alone.
As a tattooer, I am extremely fortunate to tattoo people everyday, people that are from all walks of life, coming from all kinds of different places. Once in a while, after tattooing someone a few times, I get a chance to connect with them and share things that we both are challenged with and struggle with; I find a kindred spirit in hope. I was fortunate to start tattooing Jason Taylor years ago, when I was in a much more difficult place, one that we both could identify with. In Jason, I felt like I was less crazy and alone, and I began to realize that maybe there was something else out there besides the fog I had been in. I really looked forward to his appointments, and it was during one of these that we came up with the idea of tattooing a little brain monster on him, representing that place we both found ourselves lost in. Overcoming that brain became just as important to me, and I was lucky to watch Jason take the steps to achieve this, and his example gave me hope. As tattooers we get called therapist, but in this situation with Jason, I found myself being the one finding hope in change.
Jason tells the story of the monster brain from his perspective: a story of learning, growth, and most importantly, hope. Here’s Jason’s story.
“I don't recall starting my life with the social anxiety that eventually led me to avoid crowded places and unfamiliar social settings. I was quite the opposite. As a kid I was always comfortable being the center of attention. I knew no stranger and was completely at ease regardless of my setting. Somewhere in my early twenties, there was a noticeable shift in my ability to navigate large groups of people. I would be short of breath and unable to concentrate. It was as if my mind was attempting to process everything at once resulting in sensory overload. The only cure was to remove my self from the situation."
"One of the more difficult symptoms to regulate would rear it's head as mine was hitting the pillow at night . This maddening byproduct of my anxiety is where the idea for my brain monster tattoo emerged. The creatures dark inset eyes and sharp teeth a representation of the storm brewing nearly every night that I would lay down. Like clockwork a rush of thoughts, ideas, stressors and everything else under the moon would hit me. It was nearly impossible to go to sleep and if I did manage to pass out the swirling thoughts kept me from anything that resembled a good nights rest. I would wake up no more rested than when I hopped in bed. This lasted for years."
"I've been prescribed several different medications in order to help me better navigate my days and nights. The side effects ultimately resulted in trading one problem for another. About once a year I would attempt to ween my self off the medication assuming that a change in my diet and exercise regiment would do the trick. The results were never good. I would clash with the people that I cared most about and end up back on the meds within a week. Then roughly 6 years ago I came down with the flu. After a week in bed only taking medication to combat the flu symptoms I woke up with a clear mind. The withdraw happened while I was sick and isolated so I didn't have the opportunity to experience the side affects like I had when I was well. My next step was finding a counselor to equip me with the tools I need to manage my anxiety. Thanks to the discussions, exercises, and resources she introduced me to, the moments that once caused me to shutdown and remove my self are now few and far between. Sean put the brain monster on during one of my peaks, at a point when I thought that was just the way life was going to be. Stressed, anxious, and minimally social. Today I look at it and appreciate the fact that I'm on the other side of what seemed, at the time, to be a lesser existence.”