There are many types of invisible disabilities. They are conditions I suspect many people would like to forget – even if it was just for a day. Unfortunately, that’s usually not a choice. Disabilities, seen or unseen, often come with unwanted physical and emotional scars – little personal reminders. They remind us of our unexpected life. Yep. A life we did not choose.
Although our condition may never be totally cured, only managed, there are things we can do to empower our invisible selves and maybe deflate the stigmas we often encounter at the same time. We can take control. We can get creative – creating something artistic, powerful, and personal. Hmmm. Have you ever thought about getting a tattoo? No no no, not as another depressing reminder. But as a design you choose to empower your mind, body, and truth surrounding your disability. How cool does that sound!! Oh, wait. Don’t tattoos carry stigmas too? Yes. Yes they do. The fact is, tattoos and disabilities have BOTH been stigmatized in different ways.
Society has become more openminded and accepting of tattoos as part of mainstream culture. There is still the idea that people who have tattoos are somehow related to a gang, unprofessional, or from a bad part of town. In reality, that’s not always true. It’s that kind of thinking that feeds the stigma attached to tattoos. Nowadays, in many professions and workplaces, tattoos have become a little more acceptable. People design tattoos that have incredible meanings and stories behind them. They could even be considered works of art on the human body. And yes, I am well aware that tattoos are not for everyone.
In a similar way, many Invisible disabilities are often minimized, overlooked or misunderstood. You know, if you don’t look disabled, then you must not be disabled. There’s nothing wrong with you – You’re just being lazy, overly dramatic, unmotivated, or faking it. Okay, I believe I can safely say that 99.9% of the time, that’s not true. It’s a stigma attached to invisible disabilities. Since I became disabled myself, I have come to understand the stigma attached to various disabilities, particularly vision loss. I suppose that’s why conversations that include “teachable moments” are so important!
Personally, I think the process of designing and getting a tattoo symbolizing your invisible disability can do two things. One, it can feel incredibly empowering. Two, it can spark conversation and bring awareness to a particular condition. It’s a “two-for-one” that just may help deflate the stigmatization of both tattoos and disabilities.
I have wanted to get a tattoo for years. I just never had the guts, the perfect design, and the whole universe come into alignment for me. Since becoming legally blind, I wanted a tattoo to express my experience from my LHON diagnosis to reinventing myself as Girl Gone Blind. Recently, my guts, a perfect design, and the whole damn universe aligned!
So, I did it. I got my very first tattoo!
What is it? What is it? What is it? Holy crap! Calm down, I’m gonna tell you.
The tattoo is on my right leg. On the inside of my calf to be exact. It starts right above my ankle and ends about 2 inches below my knee. It was drawn in black ink. The design is based on a traditional Buddhist symbol called an “Unalome”. The same unalome design my daughter has on the back of her calf. The unalome represents a path a person takes throughout their life. The path can be messy and swirling with fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, and even happiness. That part of the tattoo, nearest my ankle, is a lot of curls and swirls that loop back-and-forth, creating a beautiful, yet chaotic, design. As the line (i.e. the path) unfolds and straightens, the mind finds clarity, eventually freeing itself from the cycles of struggle and suffering. At the bottom of the unalome, I have the date “9.24.13” – which is the date I was diagnosed with Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). In the line, that has unfolded from the swirling chaos, the words “girl gone blind” is written in cursive. The line continues up from the words and ends with 3 dots. An ellipses. The ellipses means there is more to come.
I absolutely love my tattoo and what it means! I’m not unprofessional, related to a gang, from the bad side of town, lazy, overly dramatic, or unmotivated. And, I am not, in any way shape or form, faking my vision loss. What I am doing is, living, learning, laughing, and moving on after a life-changing diagnosis that no one can see.
Creating this tattoo was so cool for me. It not only empowers me and my disability, but the emotional path I travel. It has already sparked conversations about my vision loss which confirms I have no regrets about my touch of ink!