How Getting a Skull Tattoo Helped Me Accept My Illness


If you Google “what do skull tattoos mean?,” the first thing that will pop up is that they could symbolize a person accepting their own mortality. And I guess that’s what I did.

The summer before I got my first tattoo, I got sick. At 20 years old, I was so sick that there were times I couldn’t get up the stairs by myself. It took about 15 different specialists and countless tests to finally diagnose me with chronic Lyme disease. It can be a difficult disease to understand, so I’ll try to keep it simple. If you’re bitten by a tick and the wound is not treated with at least a month’s dose of antibiotics (usually Doxycycline), the bacteria that causes Lyme disease stays dormant in your body. This means the bacteria is asleep and hiding as it spreads across your body. When triggered, the bacteria causes your body to go haywire, hitting the nervous system, immune system, digestive system, muscular system and more.

For the next school year, I was trying to learn how to cope with my new norm – new diet, different treatment trials, you name it. Finally, I decided to move back home and go to school in Connecticut. Moving back home from Brooklyn took away so much of the stress that triggered the flare-ups, helping my body go into a remission. Summer 2015 was much different than the last. I had some bad pain days, but I felt normal again. And so, after years of debating what tattoo to get first, I knew just what I wanted.

To be honest, I don’t really know how to explain this without getting a little dark.

As I said before, a skull tattoo, according to Google, symbolizes that the person has accepted their own mortality. There were some days before knowing my diagnosis where I was really scared I might die. I was in unexplainable excruciating pain; my body was against me and I didn’t really know what to expect. When looking through skulls, I knew I didn’t want the skull to be so dark or ominous because I had gotten through all the negativity and I was OK. In my search, I found the picture below, and the detail blew me away. It had the delicacy that I wanted and just the right amount of darkness.

design of skull tattoo

I had the inspiration – now I just needed the artist. I scoured through Instagram portfolios before I landed on an artist I knew could create the look I wanted. I reached out with the picture and she told me she could do it. She just wanted to simplify the details a bit so the ink wouldn’t disperse into a blob over time, considering the size I wanted it.

To make the skull fully represent what I wanted, I decided to change some of the flowers to symbols I felt would complete the piece. The first change was altering the color of the bottom two flowers to keep them a little more in sync with the color scheme of the rest of the skull. Next was changing the two cheekbone flowers into ticks, representing the two little bugs that changed my health. Lastly, the flower in between the eyes was switched out for a cross, symbolic of one of the lessons that was repeated to me over the years – all pain is non-existent after you’re gone.

skull tattoo

Although I’m not sure what will come in the future regarding my health, the tattoo represents that there will be a time when pain won’t exist for me anymore. I refuse to let my pain keep me from living my life to the very fullest, even if that means waiting my whole life for the pain to be gone.

This post originally appeared on Meditate and Contemplate.

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