This tattoo blog started out as just an idea given to me by my friend/photographer, John Relosa as a convenient way for the many people who often inquire about the meanings of my tattoos and the artists who did them. I thought it would be a good way to network, express myself and bring clients to my artists being as though I travel and meet new artistic people all the time. Something I am also often being asked for is help coming up with unique tattoo ideas, so putting all of that in one place made sense. Only problem was that to understand the meanings behind my tattoos, I’d have to tell the story of my past. I was unsure if I wanted to expose everything about my life but then I thought about possibly giving hope to the many people who have gone through, or are going through what I have experienced. I had no one to relate to when I was younger, and the thought of me being that person someone can relate to is fulfillment in itself. Mental health issues are a topic that is generally not discussed much because most people feel that they should for many reason be ashamed. I can say that I am truly happy as of now, but I have definitely come a long way and I just hope that I can inspire at least one person to change their outlook on life. My intent is not to hurt anyone mentioned, but I am only being true to myself and sharing the way that I perceived situations from beginning to present.  

       me (43)
I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1991 to a navy bound father and a stay at home mother of three. We spent nearly every summer in Louisa, Virginia where I inherited my love of simplicity and nature. I enjoyed spending time with my mother’s side of the family, but I almost always felt awkward around my father’s side back in Maryland. I would come around them and tried to appear to be fine but I was extremely uncomfortable, which came off to them as me being stuck up because I kept to myself. This was all because I was sexually abused by one of my relatives and at that young age I had no idea of how to handle the situation because I would see him all the time, so I chose to play it off like nothing was wrong. I lived with this burden for years without bluntly telling anyone, but my actions definitely spoke volumes.  I was never taken to church as a child so growing up I didn’t know that I could turn to God, so I tried to handle it myself.

        My parents got divorced in 2003, mother moved out and left my dad in charge of raising my two sisters and I on his own. I have to make it clear that he is an awesome father, and one of the sweetest and most caring men I know. Him & I were once very close, but lost that relationship over the years. I allowed this demon to fester and stay inside of my soul growing up. I was definitely the “black sheep” of my family. I grew emotionally distant from the people who were supposed to be closest to me, and dug deeper into my own self. I began listening to music like Eminem and Tupac, became clearly withdrawn, and often went for long walks by myself. I would leave late at night because never having a curfew allowed me to literally do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted especially after I bought my first car.  I know my dad had a lot on his plate but when I got no attention (assuming that’s what I was seeking at the time) I became very resentful. I saw the way he interacted with my sisters, and how my friends parents treated them, and yet I was just existing truly believing that nobody cared which is one hell of a feeling at such a young age. Since nobody else attempted or even mentioned me seeking help, I did it myself. I went to a therapist where I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and that came with a few medications. Therapy helped because I finally had someone to talk to, however I tried nearly every antidepressant on the market and none of them worked so I stopped them all one by one.

       I began hanging with my older cousins more than people my age because despite of all the “friends” I had, I couldn’t help but to still feel alone. I was introduced to non prescription drugs and it was downhill from that point because they numbed all the pain. I was getting ready to enter into high school and experimenting with an absurd amount of liquor, weed, ecstasy, and later even coke. Getting my first tattoo at age 15. I was “the cool friend with the car and the party moves” so while I had a nice amount of people to hang with, in the back of my negative mind I could never allow myself to trust any of them. Even though I was using drugs and having fun, I was still sexual reserved because of the past abuse. I didn’t lose my virginity until the end of my senior year of high school when I met my first real boyfriend. Everything was good at first. His family was extremely welcoming. Cooked us meals, gave us money, washed and worked on our cars on the regular, and checked in on me daily just to see how I was doing. I thought I had finally found the “family” I had never had, and that may be why I ignored some of the warning signs. Over time he became very emotionally abusive due to (later finding out) a psychological problem he was dealing with, and I would find myself in a fight with a male. I eventually left him and moved back home.me (2)

       At this time my depression/anxiety turned my digestive symptom upside down, but I didn’t know that was the cause until a few years later. In the meantime, I would get so sick after eating to the point where I would be alone in my bathroom in fetal position coughing up bile and sometimes blood. I tried many things to get to the underlying issue including MRIs/ct scans of my brain and body, an endoscopy, two colonoscopies, countless bloodwork and Xrays, and cocktails of different medications that never really helped.  After all of my doctors ruled out every other possible disease, they took my history of depression and anxiety into consideration and diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is known as a “trashcan” diagnosis because you’re given it when doctors have exhausted every other option and basically have given up. They prescribed me Xanax and hence started a slight drug dependence. At the time I felt like I had no other choice. My family had grown tired of me “complaining” so most days I drove myself to the hospital because I felt like I was just a burden to them all. I felt so abandoned, depressed and suicidal. One day I was drinking with Xanax and ended up cutting my wrist (something I never really thought I’d do). Not sure what my purpose was, but the slash marks are what made me get my half sleeve because in my naive mind I thought that the tattoo would hide the scars, but of course it did not. They are still visibly there.

       Fast forward some time, and I learned myself what my body could, and could not handle. I completely cut out fast foods, and anything greasy because while IBS doesn’t play favorites to what foods upset the stomach, I found that those upset mines the most. I began working out as well and felt like I was doing good. I got to a point where I decided to finally tell my dad about my past sexual abuse and my depression diagnosis. He cried, and held me, and I sincerely thought our relationship took a turn for the better because all of my wild/rebel ways would now be understood. However I soon came to the conclusion that our talk may not have changed much because a week later and my abuser was in our house like everything was normal. This caused unspoken turmoil in my dad and I’s relationship. Days, weeks, and months passed without him ever asking me how I was coping with my depression that he “didn’t ever know about”.  Not only that, after I made this situation public, my “family” took my cousins side. Trying to use the fact that he was molested by his father as an excuse for why he did it to me. Which is complete garbage because I LOVE children and could NEVER in a million years even fathom what would have to go through my mind to allow myself to ever touch one inappropriately. I found out that he used to abuse someone else I knew, which made her and I relationship extremely close. However, she was not ready to be open about it as I was so she left me to deal with it alone and I can’t be mad because people heal at their own rate. However, I did think I would have at least her for support. I started being more vocal about why I didn’t come around my “family” because I didn’t care  to put myself in the awkward/uncomfortable situations anymore, and that’s when I became a “drama queen who just wanted attention”. I’ve always heard rumors that my dad wasn’t my real dad, but at this point it was being thrown in my face and I was told that I shouldn’t even be able to use my last name. I distanced myself to the point where I had no contact with most of them, and I know that they are okay with that. Don’t get me wrong though, there are still some that I will forever love.

     extra (7)  In my twenties, I was still battling with some anxiety issues but I knew how to subside them and appear to be fine. I was blessed with something that brought me extreme joy. My sister had her son, Jeremiah and I pretty much swept him away from her because I was so in love with him from the moment I laid eyes on him. He went to the daycare I worked at  so we were together all the time. I tried my best to not look at him as my own but I had became very attached and overprotective. Five years later and I eventually had to step down and let go. I always will love and be here for my nephew (& any future nieces/nephews) as “super auntie”. Helping to raise him taught me so much, but most importantly how to love freely and unconditionally, and I would never change the experience for the world. I had no real relationships of my own by this time so I found myself, once again alone. However, by this time I became more comfortable in my own skin thus coming out of my shell.

      During all of this I was still in college trying to find out what exactly it was that I wanted to do. I had received little to no prior guidance on setting goals and doing what I had to do to reach them so I felt like I wasn’t really working towards anything fulfilling. My fault though because I never really imagined a future, so when I was living in “the future” I found myself very lost. Inevitability I changed my major three times. I would describe myself as a dreamer, but a very scatterbrained sporadic one. I went with the wind and did whatever I thought would bring me happiness at the time.  To this day I only have a handful of friends, but I know that they’re genuinely there for me for whatever it is that I need. I will admit that my problem is that I don’t open up to anyone to ask for help, but a few friends like Kayla and Tiara put energy into making sure I am okay and I truly appreciate them for being my support system.

       me (61) I began to value myself a lot more and became more self expressive via tattoos, modeling and social media. I started to receive positive attention, and while this may have added fuel to the fire of my love of tattoos it didn’t ignite the original love of art I had for years. I met a photographer named Ricco, and after doing a few shoots I discovered that he was a very genuine individual which can be hard to find. He was one of the only ones there for me at a very low time and he helped me realize my worth and I truly appreciate him for that because I had never experienced someone who openly expressed what they saw in me that I did not see in myself. I grew emotionally and realized that my parents will not be here forever and that we needed to heal our relationship and God set it up just on time to do so. After a few friends backed out, my parents became my only options to and from the airport on one of my many wild vagabond excursions. I normally didn’t ask them for much but I had no other choice and I am so grateful that it played out that way because it showed me who really had my back. My dad and I got to have a deep conversation where I admitted to him that I know he’s always loved me but it was impossible for me to accept his love because I did not love myself. He admitted that he dropped the ball on raising me as an adolescent but I understand I was more than a complicated situation. My mother and I had a similar conversation and to this day my relationships with both are much better.

        I was on a good path on my pursuit of inner happiness, until I met another boy (of course) a model who all my close friends knew I was literally crazy about way too soon because we didn’t fully know each other. From the very first night we met I discovered he not only was beautiful, but we had almost everything in common from our past to present. Over time he started becoming very distant, and that crushed me to say the least given my past experiences of people I cared about just walking away like it was nothing because I didn’t understand why. I was so caught up in him, willing and wanting to drop everything and move with him to help support him and his lifestyle. I had the imagination of how our lives COULD have been, and I didn’t realize I wasn’t really bringing much to the table. Xanax made me very lethargic in many of our experiences and it wasn’t until one day near the end of our “fling” that he basically let me have it, telling me that all the drugs were going to have me like a vegetable by the age of 30. That one statement resulted in me deciding to take my health more seriously. I stopped  ALL medications/drugs, started eating more, and got back in the gym more frequently than ever especially after signing up for the very challenging Savage Race which I proudly completed. Ironically this is also the time J. Cole’s “Love Yourz” song debuted and it spoke to my soul. Now, some people may be wondering why I put this part in. It is because the whole situation truly taught me to LOVE MYSELF, and to put MYSELF first. I realized that I am not only worth way more than a guy treating me like an option, but it became more clear than ever that I needed to put my health first as well.

      Long story short, sometimes we miss the message while focusing on the messenger. God put all the people listed above in my life for a reason. I used to think that saying was just a popular cliché until I experienced it for myself. Here I am today. Alive and happy. I have never felt more comfortable being alone in my own skin. My self confidence and health are both at all time highs and I can’t say how grateful I am for that. I love the life I have and I wouldn’t change any part of it because everything I experienced made me the person I am today. I am more independent and motivated than ever, and I am just lucky I kept fighting to be able to make it to this point. I hope that my story can help at least one person battling with depression, anxiety, or IBS believe that they too can overcome it all and just live happily. You have to unfuck yourself, and remember that “nothing changes if nothing changes”. All you ever need is inside of you just don’t be afraid to look. 

me (9)

 

The wound is not healed, but it is no longer festering. I cleaned it, applied ointment, and a bandage. But I concluded that the bandage was a bad idea, so I have now removed it, and am exposing the wound to the air and the light for all to see.

-Zuri Yochana
May 14th, 2016