When I was in high school, around age 17, I was hit hard with depression and anxiety. I dropped out my senior year and began cutting just to dull the mental pain. Fortunately for me, I started a regimen of therapy and medication that, although not right for me yet, got me to graduate high school with my peers. I continued to struggle for years, winding up in the ER and even an inpatient psychiatric hospital at one point. Somehow, through it all, I survived when some of my friends did not.
During the same time that my mental illness appeared, I was getting into the punk scene. Plaid pants, Doc Marten boots, chains, purple hair…the whole nine. My parents were less than thrilled, but I believe this is what ultimately saved my life and started me on the path to be a better human in general. I fell in mostly with the straight edge crowd, never went to big parties or drank or smoked (and I was a straight-A student before mental illness made me miss more days than I attended and quit trying). I started listening to bands like Bad Religion and fell in love with Greg Graffin’s use of words I didn’t know…so I would look up the lyrics and grab a dictionary (we didn’t have pocket computers back then). I fell in love with the anti-authoratative messages of Pennywise songs, the dark beauty of AFI and Tiger Army spoke to me on an artistic level, and then I discovered a band called H2O.
H2O was a hardcore punk band from New York, but they were different in that the songs were understandable (i.e. not screaming) and the lyrics were all about PMA (positive mental attitude) and just being a good person. One day, the message finally clicked and I knew I wanted to do better, to be better. And that’s when I got my forearm tattoos. I had already gotten the ankh on my left forearm to represent life (the same arm I would cut in high school) and remind myself that I cherished being alive. So to match, I got the scarab on the right arm, which is a symbol of good luck and prosperity, and then added the words from one of my favorite songs: One Life, One Chance.
Of all my tattoos (not that I have many), I am most proud of these because they mean so much to me. They represent an internal struggle and the resilience to continue to overcome and grow. So when I was diagnosed with tongue cancer and found out I’d be losing my left forearm to rebuild the part of my tongue they had to remove, I was actually pretty upset (even though it’s kinda badass that I now have a tattoo on my tongue). But I also haven’t missed the irony (or perhaps serendipity) in the fact that the “one life” ankh is now in the very place that on my body that tried to kill me.
“No one said it was gonna be easy and I’m not afraid to try. With the odds stacked up against me I will have to fight: one life, one chance, gotta do it right.”“One Life, One Chance” by H2O
I have also realized on this journey that had things not happened as they did, with the mental illness and then a divorce, single motherhood, and other minor health issues, I don’t think I would have been able to be as strong as I’ve been in this current battle with cancer. All of the experiences I’ve had have helped me grow my resilience and seek ways of living that bring me peace rather than suffering. I still have moments of suffering, obviously, but I know how strong I really am and can look back and see how far I’ve come. In that way, I’m grateful for the struggles, the heartache, and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m fortunate that at a very pivotal time in my life I was introduced to a scene that helped me believe in myself and want to be a better person. Punk rock most definitely saved, and continues to save, my life. 🤘