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Michael J. Fox Shares How His New Tattoo Represents His Outlook on Chronic Illness


Chronic illness is such a life-altering experience that it’s not uncommon for people to get tattoos in honor of their disease or a tattoo of a particular saying or image that gives them strength. Michael J. Fox opened up about how his new tattoo pays homage to his own illness, and if you have a tattoo inspired by your illness, you may relate to the story behind his ink.

In an interview with Fortune magazine published Wednesday, Fox revealed the meaning behind the tattoo he first shared on Instagram back in January. It’s a sea turtle swimming through five rings.

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First tattoo, sea turtle, long story

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Fox explained that in 2000, about nine years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he went swimming and saw, as he described, a “damaged” little turtle. (In an interview with Inked, the tattoo shop owner Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy said Fox described the turtle as having a “chunk missing from its fin and a scar on its face.”)

“[I] followed him around for a while, and I came out and decided to start the foundation,” he said.

The five hoops represent his five decades of life.

“It’s the idea of emerging and coming into something new all the time,” Fox said.

Earlier in the interview, Fox echoed this idea, explaining that he tries to find ways to “flourish” in areas of life Parkinson’s disease doesn’t affect.

“Certainly the way I move, the way I walk… I’ve lost a certain amount of spontaneity. There are losses,” Fox said. “But there are equivalent gains, whether it’s an insight or experience or exposure to people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet.”

Fox also described his encounter with the sea turtle in his book, “Always Looking Up,” published in 2009, and how it also led to him leave his TV show “Spin City.” He wrote:

My family and I were snorkeling in the pristine waters of St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’d been visiting this beach for years, and had never seen a sea turtle. Having finally spotted one gliding through the sea grass just inside the coral reef, I swam slowly behind it, keeping a respectful distance. When I finally emerged from the water, I kicked off my flippers, walked over to where [my wife] Tracy was toweling off the kids, grabbed a towel for myself, and informed her that I was leaving the show. It may have been a bone-deep exhaustion from battling symptoms every day just to do my job, or maybe it was just the sublime indifference of that turtle, but a switch had flipped, and depending on how I chose to accept it, a light either just turned on or just turned off.

People with chronic illnesses have created so many unique designs, from quotes to spoons to animals. (Check out more designs here, and here). Mighty contributor Samantha Reid described the appeal of tattooing, and other body modifications, for chronically ill people as giving some control back over your body.

“If I can’t control the chaos going on inside my temple, there’s something empowering about being able to decorate it as I please,” she wrote.