Finding Expression on the Outside to Match the Inside Transformation
by Matthew Williams
In 2006 I was transformed—painfully and permanently.
That year I suffered a mental breakdown and spent the majority of the year surrounded by the thick fog of depression.
When I emerged from the darkness after many endless months it was apparent to me that I would never be the same again, that everything I thought I knew about myself was open to question, that the very nature of my identity could no longer be taken for granted or accepted as something that merely is.
Out of this transition came another transformation, this time on the outside. Feeling reborn, I booked an appointment for my first tattoo.
I'd always liked tattoos but had never considered myself to be a "tattoo person." And the whole idea of permanence, well, how could I expect to know how I might feel about a tattoo design years, even decades on from the initial novelty?
Like many significant actions I've taken in my life—particularly since that first dance with depression—it didn't feel like I was making a decision. No, it came to my mind unbidden as a statement of fact: I'm going to get a tattoo. No conscious thought, just a clear intent. I opened the book that I had just bought, The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, and I saw the Vajra Guru mantra.
Right then I knew, that's my tattoo.
I've always been interested in psychology and in religion, in why people believe the things they believe and what causes people to do the things that we do. In light of my own transformation from who I thought I was—a positive, blessed individual—to the broken shell of a person that I became, my interest took on a hitherto unknown significance as I searched for the keys to unlock the door keeping me trapped inside the prison of mental illness.
The more I learned about Buddhism the more it struck me how similar its concepts were to the psychological theories and techniques that I learned on my journey to recovery.
And so, in April 2007 I was inked with the Vajra Guru mantra, a permanent change to my body that represented a lifelong reminder of the lessons learned in reclaiming myself from the grip of illness, lessons to serve as protection from the risk of falling into its grasp again.
From the moment the tattoo was completed, I knew I would never regret it, for it wasn't just a tattoo, wasn't just ink on skin; no, it was part of me. The work was just as much a part of the limb upon which it was traced. It was an expression of the most significant, life changing experience of my life; an experience that left its mark on me on the inside finding its expression on the outside.
Finding expression has since become a major feature of my life and in December 2015 I started writing to explore and make sense of the whirlwind of change that my life had become. The preceding couple of years had seen me experience a second major depressive episode, a divorce, and adapting to life as a single parent, and as my swirling thoughts and emotions found their expression in writing, so too my body became a canvas on which life's lessons were etched, each new tattoo symbolising a philosophy shaped by the lessons of a life turned on its head.
An angel adorns my right shoulder, St Michael, symbolising protection and the overcoming of demons.
The late, great comedian Bill Hicks covers my left shoulder, and his accompanying quote a permanent reminder that whatever life throws at me to "Don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride."
My left forearm is wrapped in the cover of one of my favourite albums, its title representative of the the trials that have opened my eyes and ushered in greater awareness of the nature of life and relationships, and of the truth that every day carries the hope of new beginnings; I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning.
My right forearm bears the famous Banksy image of a young girl with a balloon, symbolising for me the power of letting go of those whose presence in our lives no longer serves our best interests, and also a reminder to reach for the love that is out there to be found and not to let life's hurts and disappointments dull the hope that things can be different and that greater happiness awaits.
Finally, one of my favourite song lyrics, inked in December 2016, a reminder that for all life's ups and downs, for all the hard lessons learned and greater wisdom accrued, we are always a work in progress and that in the end,
"There is no right way or wrong way, you just have to live..."
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Matthew Williams is a single father to two children and divorced ex-husband to an ex-wife. He started his blog, Love, Laughter & Truth, in December 2015 in an attempt to make sense of his rollercoaster life following depression, divorce and his introduction into the weird and (occasionally) wonderful world of dating. Matthew lives and writes in the UK.
Please visit www.lovelaughtertruthblog.com.