World mental health day 2019

#oursay

In this industry, we are no strangers to mental health issues. Over the years, we have been shocked, moved and brought to tears by the stories we have heard from our customers. We think tattooing is simply about giving someone the chance to relax for a few hours outside of their busy and stressful life and do something just for them. Those hours spent in the chair being tattooed are also often the only hours where someone can escape the grind and have a good chat about what’s going on with them – in a space where there’s no judgement. There isn’t a lot that shocks us, and although we’re not legally bound by confidentiality – we take a very serious view on the personal stories we hear. As far as we’re concerned, what you say in our tattoo studio stays in our tattoo studio. 

Every single one of us has our own demons, and we understand that for anyone suffering with mental health issues, everyday life can seem overwhelming. Just leaving the house and having to interact with people can be exhausting and frightening. We sometimes get customers who have shown huge amounts of courage by just walking in the door and talking to us about a project. It might be something they have been thinking about for ages or maybe they want help covering up something with bad memories attached, whether it be self harm scars, or remnants of old lifestyle choices, or simply something personal to them. Whatever the reason, we just want them to feel safe and welcome. We always enjoy seeing our customers happy, but there is no greater pleasure than seeing someone that has overcome a lot of challenges finally get a piece they always wanted. Sometimes they cry, sometimes they smile, sometimes they just say thank you and quietly leave. It is always rewarding. 

Of course, sometimes it isn’t that easy. Oh, how we wish it was. Mental health battles are never really over, and all of us have personal experience with how hard overcoming your own brain on a daily basis can be. Collectively, our med collection could probably take down an elephant. But hell, we do our best, and that’s all anyone can do. Needing medication to be the most functional person you can be is not something to be ashamed of! It represents being brave enough to admit you need help, and taking control of your wellbeing. 

With that in mind, this Thursday we will be launching a small collection of tattoo designs related to mental health. With Mental Health day tomorrow, and National Coming Out Day on Friday, we felt that we needed to get involved. 50% of the proceeds from each design completed will go to ‘MindOut‘, a charity who directly help people with mental health problems and provide mental health support to the lgbtq+ community. 

We will also be posting our own experiences with mental health throughout the weekend, in the hope that if someone is out there despairing, or wondering what the point is, that we can show them that things do get better. Life goes on, and it’s highly important that you do too. 

We are going to break open the conversation, because stigma is the enemy, and hopefully donate some funds to a worthy cause in the process. 

#worldmentalhealthday #endthestigma #selfcare #mentalhealthawareness #personal

Erich

“I walked into a tattoo studio when I was 17, a ball of anxiety – almost unable to leave the house due to depression – and full of fear and concern. I was terrified of the unknown but still wanting a tattoo for my 18th birthday.
It obviously wasn’t that bad, as 6 years later I’m still being tattooed by the same big bearded tattooist. Oh and I work here too now!
Mental health affects us on such a deep level, to the point where it changes what we feel capable of.
My anxiety and depression has taken a lot from me, however due to the respect and care given by Stew (The boss!), it never took my tattoos from me.
It’s something I will carry with me to this day. In this studio, we never judge people for their worries, and we do everything we can to help people feel relaxed and comfy as possible.
I’m a gay transman with clinical depression and anxiety, and at Rivers of Ink, I have never felt ashamed or judged. “

CLO

“I’m writing this at 1am because, well, that’s just how these things go. I made the bold statement that it was time for real talk, that this was important to our studio, and it was time that we opened up in the hope that we might help others to do the same. 
The black dog is ever persistent on my shoulder this week. The change of seasons has wobbled my equilibrium and made me question everything. I tell myself it’s okay, it’s normal. It’s been a hell of a year. I’ve dealt with more grief than I ever thought I could, and had more mad and amazing things happen to me than I ever thought I would. 
The constant monologue is fairly exhausting though. Am I doing the right things? Can I do better? Should I have more friends? Should I be more settled and successful by now? Am I working hard enough? Why am I not coping as well as I should be? And even though I get through every anxiety attack, every racing heartbeat and sweat attack, every moment where I just want to run back to my nice dark room, and I do the things that need doing, I have the ever persistent thought that I just need to hold it together, that I just need to do better. That’s the reality of living with anxiety. It’s incorrigible, it makes you question your very existence. 
I have good days and bad days, and I am lucky that in our studio, I don’t have to hide it. I can be honest about my bad days, because we all have them, and we support each other when we need to. Despite those bad days, there are beautiful and wonderful moments in my daily life. Hell, I get to hang out with a bunch of crazy artists and meet new and interesting people every day. I get to draw and poke holes in people, and I get to have endless banter and karaoke sessions with our little family of weirdos 5 days a week. So don’t feel too bad for me. The struggle is what it is, and this week has been a bad one, but who knows – next week might be better. 
This is my long and windy way of saying to anyone who is reading this – yeah, I feel ya, this stuff is hard work. It takes constant monitoring, and constant care. But I think you know as well as I do deep down that your struggle is valid, and you realise that even though the struggle exists, it doesn’t get to beat you. Don’t let your trauma take you away from you. Life happens, and sometimes it takes a little while to get back to yourself. Don’t stop trying. And don’t beat yourself up when you need to be nice to yourself. 
Breathe. Eat well. Sleep enough. Take your meds. Check yourself. It’s all going to be okay. 
And always, always, talk to someone. “

Stewart

When we first decided to try and do something for Mental Health Awareness, it seemed like a good idea for us all to write and share something about our own experiences. I’m sitting here trying to decide if maybe I temporarily lost my mind in agreeing to this, because now I have to write something, and it is completely outside of my comfort zone. It sets off all of the things I have struggled with in my life and makes me second guess every bloody word I write because I detest self pitying, self indulgent rubbish about mental health that ends up sounding trite and patronising.
Deep breath. Drink some more tea. 
Ok. All my life I have been angry. Angry at myself for never being good enough, for always feeling like a failure and never feeling like I ever fit in or lived up to other people’s expectations. Angry at other people for all sorts of reasons. Angry at society and the world, angry at politicians, angry at the universe. It is the one thing that has always defined my life and it has caused me a lot of problems.
For many years I was caught up in a self destructive cycle of trying to force myself to conform, failing, loathing myself and using all sorts of very destructive coping mechanisms. I have been through some very turbulent times, made some terrible mistakes, hurt people that were trying to help me and for a long time lost myself completely in a haze of alcohol, drugs and superficial friendships. Urgh. 
Long story short, my mental health hit rock bottom about seven years ago. I had a series of operations go wrong, tried to bleed to death a few times and ended up physically and mentally burnt out to the point where I stopped dealing with things. My drinking got worse, as did my self destructive tendencies. It was not pretty and I am amazed that anyone actually tolerated me or stuck around. I am very glad they did though. I hate writing this, so I’m gonna wrap it up in a montage because as they say ‘Even Rocky had a montage’.
So. Six years ago my partner told me I needed help and that things had to change. After much resistance I talked with doctors, joined some support groups and embarked on what is fondly known in our house as ‘hell year’. After some soul searching, getting some help and facing up to the fact that I had some real mental health issues I started to manage my life a bit better. With the help of my family (I include my extended chosen family in this) I got my business up and running properly, got lucky enough to find the right people to build a great team and started actually living my life, being a Dad worth the name and hopefully a little less of a pain in the arse.
Right here, right now? I can’t say I’m all better. I’m not. There are still plenty of bad days and I still have those same old demons to wrestle with. I still get angry and still spend a lot of time wondering when everyone I care about will see me as I see myself and just leave. The only difference is that I am better at keeping the bad parts in check and tapping down the shallow graves I buried some of those demons in.  It also helps that I have some truly amazing people in my life that remind me that I’m not alone and not a freak (or at least not the only freak). Thanks guys.
All I can say to those out there struggling with various mental health issues is this: It sucks, its hard and some days are really tough but you are not alone. Don’t give up, get help, don’t be cruel to yourself and don’t be afraid to use whatever support is available.

Lia

I think it’s difficult for anyone to speak up about their situation, but I’m glad that this subject is being talked about much more than previously. For me, my biggest struggles have been dealing with childhood trauma, abandonment, being bullied because of my ethnic look, anxiety, depression, dealing with a close family member who had fallen victim to alcohol abuse, major surgery as a child and a break up of a 4-year relationship.
Anxiety hit me all of a sudden without warning. I went from being a very confident person who would travel, create and sing in front of big crowds to being unable to leave the house or see friends and family. I moved from one side of the country to another and went from having most of my big Indian family and friends around to knowing no one.
My escape, my love, my passion for tattooing, music and creating art became my everything. Our little tattoo family means the world to me. We support each other and pull each other up. We all have off days, but we all understand. Since meeting people who love and support me and allow me to be open I’ve done so many things I never thought would be possible. There are still days I want to stay hidden under my duvet, but it’s getting easier. Some days will always feel harder than others…. and some days, we can’t do it alone, and that’s okay. Speak up. Reach out. Everyone is special and unique, and can not be replaced.
We all need help sometimes; it’s not something you should feel bad about. Everyone’s journey is different and important. If you’re going through something please never hesitate to reach out. Let’s talk, have coffee, hug, laugh , cry or sit in silence. Rivers of ink is my haven and has made me accept the person I am. I hope everyone who walks through our doors will feel the same.

Em

I’m not like other people. Some of you may have noticed this. I don’t fit into any standard box that anyone has ever come up with. I know this and, now in my forties, have come to accept this. It has been quite a journey. Almost Tolkien-esque at times. It has left me with a dark humour and an overwhelming cynicism at the world around me. I am alone – an island and, now, I am okay with that.
I’m diagnosed with (among other things) ‘A-Typical Depression’ which means they don’t have a clue what causes my depressive episodes. I take medication to control my anxiety (caused by complexities in my day-to-day life) but the depression is a separate thing.
The depression isn’t about me feeling sad. I’m not sad. This is hard to explain, so bear with me. 
I don’t feel anything. I mean, I’m not a particularly emotional person normally (which is really hard for my family), but when I’m in the middle of a ‘depressive’ event I’m completely emotionally numb. I could lie on the beach and wash away with the ebbing tide and not even have the will wake up. 
I don’t always get a warning of the change in mood – it’s quite insidious, but when it happens its like the difference between seeing the world lit by the sunlight or bathed in moonlight. It can last two days, two weeks, two months… The longest was nearly a year. Medication doesn’t help hence ‘A-Typical’.
Death is never far from my mind. I’ve had to learn to be careful about how I answer questions. “Do you think about death everyday?” Er. Yes. I do. And I always have. Sorry. 
Professionals get really jumpy when you say that. It’s not about suicide. I thought it was when I was in my teens. I tried a few times. Now I know that its just me. It’s not that I want to kill myself, but I wouldn’t care if I happened to die. Oh, gods, that sounds awful when I write it down, but it is the truest reflection I can show you. 
On the backs of my calves I have tattooed two horses. One that represents anger, the other despair. These are the two emotions that rule my life. When they’re in balance I can function. The anger gets me out of bed everyday, the despair stops me taking my frustrations out on my loved ones. 
All negative, right? But it works for me. I’ve made it work for me because I have people in my life I value too much to lose by giving in. 
 
 
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