Tramp Stamped

I have a tattoo on my lower back.  I had it done when I was seventeen or eighteen to commemorate the loss of an aunt I loved dearly, after her long struggle with cancer; probably also to cement on my body my first real experience with death. I chose the location because I would be able to forever choose whether to hide or show it.

At seventeen, I’d never heard the term tramp stamp; or if I had I wouldn’t have made the association. I heard it when I was around 21, for the first time, and tried to laugh it off, and I’ve been trying to laugh it off for ten years. For some reason over the last two weeks, I’m hearing the term all over the place. Recently I thought about talking to a local artist about changing the tattoo so that it branches left or right or somehow exists less on my lower back, because I absolutely loathe the term ‘tramp stamp’ and all of the connotations that come with it. The thing is, until I heard it, I loved  this tattoo. It meant – means – a lot to me.

So in the grand new tradition of fight, fuck this. Let’s play with Google, shall we? Tramp stamp is not in my real-paper-dictionary quite yet, but it’s in Urban Dictionary (of course):

“Tramp Stamp” is a derogatory term referring to a tattoo which a women places on her lower back. It is especially popular among women born in the late 70’s, 80‘s, and even early 90’s. Fair or unfair, these tattoos have a socially constructed connotation associated with them. These women are labeled as tramps, whores, or other derogatory sexually promiscuous terms.

Well, I was born in 1982. I’ll give you that. There are several other definitions – they only get worse, but then, it is Urban Dictionary. Wikipedia?

Lower-back tattoos (pejoratively referred to as tramp stamps)[1] are a form of body art that became popular among women in the 2000s and gained a reputation as a feminine type of tattoo. They are sometimes accentuated by low-rise jeans and crop tops, and are considered erotic by some.

Hmm. I would have gotten mine in 1999, I believe. So, unusually ahead of a trend by a few months, but otherwise factual. I mean, I’ll be long cold and dead before you catch me in low-rise jeans or crop tops, but I take your point. You could show it off with a judicious use of clothing. That was actually part of my rationale, in fact. But did I get the tattoo in an attempt to be erotic? Er … no. Very few men find it hot. Because the conversation goes like this: “Oh wow, hot tattoo.” “Thanks, I got it as a memorial when someone I loved, died.” “Oh.”

(Less hot, isn’t it?)

Let’s try the dictionary, just for fun:

TRAMP:

  1. vagrant
  2. a woman of loose morals; specifically : prostitute

I see. So when people refer to my tattoo as a tramp stamp, assuming they are fully conscious of the implications, they’re either calling me a vagrant (‘one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support’), or a whore.

Look, most of the time it’s innocuous, and said by people who would be unlikely to even use the word ‘whore’ but that’s sort of my point: language has power, and we each have a responsibility to be aware of what we’re saying.

Ugh. Okay, better. I really just needed to vent. And the next person who uses that term in front of me is going to have to explain why they think I’m a travelling prostitute-hobo.

Fat and happy, my ass

GwenCamping

Me in 2007, four months before Dad died.

When I saw him recently, my doctor asked how I was doing with the off-meds business (as is his wont, since that’s the only reason I see him). I gave him the 40/60% standard answer I’ve got going, and explained that I had no physical symptoms beyond the VERY occasional re-occurrence of The Spins. (Which is fun, I’ve decided, and allows me to pretend that I’m two-glasses-of-wine drunk while at work.) We got to chatting about how I am, ahem-hem, a truly model Cipralex patient (you know, because my BRAIN doesn’t ZAP ME) –

– Damn it all, the parentheses are back, hang on while I wrestle them down –

– and how I didn’t have any significant weight gain while I was on them. This is not a thing I talk about often, but I have actually had a significant weight gain over the past five and a half years. About 40lbs, which on a 5’3″ human, is a lot. Wait a minute – I’m imagining a grocery store cart full of 40lbs of butter – that’s a lot no matter how tall you are. Anyhow, it was something that Therapist warned me about before I started the Cipralex, in her very kind way, saying that she hoped I wouldn’t concern myself with it too much as it was one of the milder potential side effects.

I won’t lie. For a few minutes I was very concerned. I feel like I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life – though in reality up till ’07/’08 I was a healthy weight – and I didn’t want to add ‘Increased Arse’ to my list of reasons to loathe my entire self-hood at two am. What I realized over the three weeks between my appointment with Therapist and my ability to find a GP was this: in the pits of depression, spending time on the couch, never doing any of the active things I loved – Weight gain was in my future no matter what.

I’ve actually lost a bit of weight since going on the drugs and then coming off of them, mostly due to two things. The obvious one is that I am more inclined to be outside, active, and generally in motion; the slightly more complicated reason is that the foods I crave when I’m sad – because for a few moments, they generate something in my brain that simulates ‘happy’ – are not good for me. I believe in being healthy, and my body is remembering that along with my brain, and I’ll land on whatever-the-hell weight I’m supposed to be when I’m once again able to do every activity that pops into my head.

Regarding weight and depression, these are my new truths:

  1. Some antidepressants will make some people gain weight, but so will depression. (Or not, if you go the other way and stop eating. I hear that’s a thing. It sounds awful.)
  2. Food and exercise are the ways in which we tell ourselves that we matter.
  3. Health is not contained in a number, but in a capability to do all of the things that are important to you.

 

Guest Post Redux

Since it’s mental illness awareness month, and I have all these great guest posts about said illnesses scattered about the place, I thought I’d put up links to all the guest posts in one place. La voilà:

Fear and Writing – Ann Becker

Learning to Deal – Seamus Bayne

My Pet Depression – Spencer Ellesworth

Serenity through Iron-Fisted Control – Anon.

Shooting the Wild Duck – Bill Blais

Taming the Wild Voices – Chang

The Rules – Anon.

The Wee Hours – Anon.

What it looks like

May is mental illness awareness month. My own personal pet depression being somewhat under control (Fight. Fight. Fight.) I have been pretty quiet of late. Sometimes it’ll rear up and I’ll spend a day on the verge of tears, or having to journal the actual behaviour of people versus my perceptions of it lest I become convinced that the world hates my useless ass, and sometimes I have to go to bed at five. Sometimes I can only manage my job, and I suspect I’m not the friendliest gal in the office on those days. But I’d say those days are down to 40%, and my own awareness is what makes that 40% bearable. I know what I’m dealing with. Once I recognize, this isn’t me, this is pet depression, and also fuck you pet depression I can generally hold my own against it.

That’s five years of therapy, nearly two years of medication, countless hours of struggle and pain and just-managing. That’s what depression costs. I don’t think I would have responded oh-so-terribly-well if anyone had told me, back in the days of couches and missed showers, that I was depressed … but I wish I had known more about what it looks like.

So here’s what it looks like:

Depression is an angry, frightened, and above all else confused beast. It is never the same two days in a row.

I lived on the couch, and slept in for far too long. I gained weight and lost weight randomly and through no healthy initiatives in either direction. Some days I could go to the gym, or walk the dog, but mostly I didn’t.

I cried all the time. Anytime I was alone, I was crying. I can’t even imagine how I thought that was normal.

I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The books I read, the television shows I liked, all became short and nonsensical. I couldn’t read the books I love because they were so involved, so dense. I was tired from looking at them, and I felt stupid and slow and like I wouldn’t be able to understand them even if I tried to read them.

I wasn’t interested in anything new. I didn’t want to learn. I was overcome by fear at the thought, and trying to make sure no one knew it. And everything was so blurry all the time. My head was stuffed with cotton.

Social occasions were a chore for which I needed at least a week to prepare. When plans inevitably descended, I hoped for some kind of random event to swoop down and save me from it. A massive thunderstorm that would knock a tree through the house. A car crash – nothing fatal, just enough to slow down the evening, and only if I was alone in the car. (These are the rules.)

Once, when making samosas in preparation for a potluck dinner with friends, I accidentally burnt my hands so badly I had to spend the night with them both wrapped in ice, and I was so grateful.

Anxiety was crippling me. 90% of my daily thoughts were directed to how I had failed, who thought what of me, and how I could fix it. I would come up with grand ideas, and fail at them, and start the process all over again. At night my heart would pound uncontrollably and, if I slept, I woke up with crescent-moons in my palms from clenching my fists.

Every word I said for four years about my hopes for the future was a lie. I had no hope. I laid awake at night and thought about each little lie, and how disappointing I was turning out to be.

Depression steals your self-worth, and your hope.

If I had been able to see all of that from the outside – if I had looked in on myself and seen this scared, tearful, isolated person with no future and no dreams – I would have known something was VERY wrong. Now I write it all down, so that I can be the objective observer to my own life; so that I can’t be dragged under when I’m not paying attention.

There is so much help available, and no one ever has to fight alone. It’s easy enough for me to say all of this right now, because of everything else I’ve done, but let me just say that without those little white pills I would still be crying on that couch thisminuterightnow. So whatever that little white pill is for anyone out there – medication, therapy, yoga or Friday night fight club – everyone deserves the chance to find it, and start working with it, and remember that their lives are worth fighting for.

“We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”

-Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker