When Body Art Meets Mental Health

Getting a tattoo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, for some it’s the perfect way to express themselves to the world around them. For some, it’s a spur of the moment decision. For others it’s a carefully considered choice. One thing that I have discovered on my ‘tattooing journey’ is that once you opt to get tattooed, it can be difficult to decide just exactly what to have permanently inked on your body. A favourite quote? A picture of your pet? Something tough? Something meaningful? Something funny? Something big? Something small?

I often get asked about my recently acquired tattoo ‘sleeve’. As a man in my forties, I joke that if you look at it in just the right light, from just the right angle, you can read the words ‘mid-life crisis’. This is not actually true… on either front. There are no words in it, and neither was it the result of a mid-life crisis. I prefer to call it my mid-life realization (although I’m having trouble getting my family to adopt the new terminology).

It has taken me 40 years to realize that I suffer with a cyclical mental illness. I have experienced recurring depression since at least my teenage years. The details of my journey with depression can be found in my other blog posts, however, long story short – I decided to have my tattoo reflect aspects of my experiences with mental illness. Here is how:


  1. The circles on my arm reflect the cyclic nature of my mental illness, reminding me that it can come back at any time and that I must be on the look-out for warning signs.
  2. The two mandalas represent my two biggest episodes of depression. After both episodes, there has been an discernible calm in my life where I appreciate things again and I am no longer depressed. At these times, there’s an overwhelming sense of my life starting a fresh.
  3. The triangles (which make up the pattern between the mandalas) represent the three key phases that my mental illness has thrown at me. Picture at each point – mania, depression, and the calm in between.
  4. Finally, a line flowing all the way through the tattoo shows how life carries on with all of this happening around it.

That’s it. I’m happy. Happy that I’m not depressed right now. Happy with my tattoo and the ‘mid-life realization’ that it represents. Happy that I’m in a place where I can talk openly about my mental health. I hope that I don’t need to get any more mandala’s tattooed, but only time will tell. I do have another arm!


Check out more designs by the awesome artist Raimundo RamirezĀ here.

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