Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Body Modification as a form of Stress Relief

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

A week and a half ago, my sister was once again hospitalized for trying to kill herself. So, I was called upon to be as supportive as possible, which, to be honest, takes its toll on MY mental health. And, I made a discovery. I realized that I use body modification as a form of stress relief. It is actually quite effective, and much healthier than my former method of relieving mental anguish.

I never made the connection between body modification and stress relief until this past week. I found myself at the tattoo parlor three times this past week, and ended up with three more piercings, and two tattoos. And, upon reflection, I recognized that when I am in a trying situation, the first thing I do is make some sort of change in my appearance.

Last time my sister attempted to kill herself, I pierced my eyebrow, my ears, and got a “Monroe” above my lip. This time, I got three microdermal anchors around my eye, and a tattoo on each arm. Looking at my piercings and tattoos gives me something to smile about when I am stressed or depressed.

I first discovered the thrill of changing my appearance back in college. I was extremely depressed, to the point where I could barely get out of bed to eat my meals. My resident advisor in the dorm had conversations with my about my hygiene, as I was too depressed to wash my clothes or even shower. And one day, I just decided that I was going to do something drastic to try to feel better. I had been cutting for years, but when one of my college friends discovered it and became upset, I figured that I had to  seek out  some other form of stress relief. I ended up shaving part of my head and dying the remaining hair jet black. And although many people thought I looked like a fool, I was thrilled with my new look, and every time I felt down, I would take a glimpse in the mirror and feel a little charge of excitement.

Over the years, I made many changes to my appearance, and most of them were as a response to stress or depression. Sometimes, it was a subconscious thing, but on other occasions, it was a direct response to a bout of depression or anger. I had jet black hair. I had my head half shaved. I had bright red hair. I had my nose pierced. I pierced my tongue. Then my eyebrow. Then I got a “Monroe” (a piercing above the lip). I pierced each ear several times. Then, most recently, I got three piercings next to my eye, and two tattoos. And I absolutely adore my body art.

Body modification can definitely become addictive. Each time I look at one of my piercings or tattoos, I get a little burst of adrenaline. I become temporarily elated, stress free. It is almost like a mild, temporary high.

When I met with my sister and the hospital social worker today, I proudly showed off my new mods. I conveyed the sense of joy and peace that I achieved through body modification, and the social worker actually agreed that this could be a great form of stress relief. He told my sister to start a little savings plan, so that she could continue to get modification (she has several tattoos and has had various piercings over the years). He also told her that when she feels very depressed, a good idea would be to research and think about her next piece of body art.

To get her started, I agreed to pay for her to get a single piercing or tattoo. Most people would not understand the little thrill that comes with each new modification. But for those of use who enjoy tattoos and piercings, body modification can be a healthy alternative form of stress relief. It is far better to take a trip to the local tattoo parlor when depressed than to take one to the knife drawer.