What Getting a Tattoo Meant for Me as Someone With OCD
In July of this year, I had the words love regardless tattooed on my right foot. This phrase has multiple layers of meaning for me.
Ultimately, my number one reason for wanting to inscribe these words on my body is rooted in my faith. I believe God loves each and every person, no matter where we’re at in life, unconditionally. And I wanted to give myself a permanent reminder to exhibit that same love to those around me, regardless of whether we agree or even get along.
On another level, these words were also part of my wedding vows, where my husband and I promised to always work towards what’s best for each other, no matter how many difficult days we have. Finally, love regardless reflects what I admire most about my mom — her ability to maintain her own faith and beliefs, while still striving to treat everyone with kindness, regardless of the mistakes they’ve made or the views they hold.
Even with so much meaning behind these words, it still took five years of me wanting the tattoo before I finally had it done. Why? The biggest hurdle was my OCD.
The barrier my OCD created was not a fear of needles (I do have many phobias, but this isn’t one of them). Instead, it was a fear of permanence. Worries about contamination or possible infection did cross my mind, but the real problem I had with those two little words being inked on my foot was the realization that they would be there forever.
That absolutely terrified me (and still does!). My obsessive tendencies consistently lead me to examine the “what-ifs.” What if the tattoo didn’t turn out right? What if they spell it wrong? What if I don’t like the font? And then there were more exhausting worries. If this tattoo reminds me of my mom, is it going to send me into tears every time I see it after she passes away some day? What if I’m widowed at an early age and this permanent reminder of my wedding vows keeps me grieving forever? What if some unthinkable problem comes along and we get divorced? Then wouldn’t having this phrase permanently etched into my skin make me a perpetual liar?
This fear of permanence slithers its way into every facet of my life. I don’t think I could have found a better partner than my husband, but the idea of being married to someone forever still scares me. Every time I get a cut or scrape, I worry about the possibility of it turning to a scar, because that would be a part of me forever.
I think all these worries really stem from the fear of being out of control, and I know I’m not alone. Nearly everyone I’ve met has a desire for control to some degree. But my OCD heightens this everyday fear to a constant, nagging cycle inside my head. These fears keep me up at night, and making even the smallest decision becomes an incredibly daunting task. For example, something as small as deciding between a burger or pasta at a restaurant leads me through a stressful cycle. What if I don’t like this pasta? I’ve never ordered it before. But what if they don’t cook my burger all the way? What if they can’t take the tomatoes off my pasta? Do I really want a burger right now? What if she brings it and I don’t want it anymore? And this process continues right up until the server asks for our order and I have to make a snap decision. If the possibility of eating a mediocre burger causes so much stress, imagine what the idea of permanently inking my body did to me.
You might think getting so worked up over minuscule decisions like what to eat for dinner is irrational. And I would agree with you. I am incredibly frustrated with my indecisiveness, my fear of finality, and the fact that these issues often stop me from doing things that would be good for me and make me happy. I am in a daily struggle of trying to overcome irrational what-ifs that are created within my own head. So finally getting the tattoo I’ve been wanting for years was a huge victory in my battle with OCD. I almost didn’t schedule the appointment because they required a non-refundable deposit, which, again, set off a red flag for permanence. But I showed up to the parlor, design in hand.
The entire time I was filling out paperwork, my mind was racing. Come on, get out of here. Run! No, you’ve been wanting this for a long time. Stay. Don’t be ridiculous — this will be a part of you forever! Do you really want that? But nonetheless I signed and initialed everything (after having momentary panic about the clause that says “I understand my tattoo may differ slightly from the design”?!), then handed my form to the artist.
Even now I sometimes look down at my foot and wish I at least had the option of just washing off my tattoo in case one of those “what-ifs” comes to fruition. But beneath my OCD, I’m happy when I see love regardless etched in cursive above my toes. It reminds me I’m loved by God, my husband, and my family. On those days I’m exhausted and frustrated by my own mind, it reminds me to love myself. And it reminds me of at least one small triumph against OCD. I know I’ll never be “cured,” but my tattoo tells a story of a day I conquered my fear and anxiety for at least a brief moment. And if I did it once, I can do it again.
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