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Monday 16 February 2015

Tattoo Mini Series: Chronically Ill & Tattooed

I'm not 100% on how to go about writing this post.

There are so many misconceptions about getting tattoos & the tattoo process that I want to dispel & things I need to talk about regarding M.E. & getting tattooed that it seems like this post is going to be very dense & crowded & that's not at all what I want.

I think I'm going to start with the process of getting tattooed...

Firstly (& most importantly) you need to find an artist with a style you like that does that kind of work you are thinking of getting done. This part took me YEARS but instagram definitely makes it simpler for spoonies than it could be (I wouldn't like to have to physically go to shops to look through an artists portfolio).

There are almost as many styles of tattoo as there are artists - old school, new school, Chinese, tribal, painterly, water colour, photo realism, line work, black & grey, dot work.... - so it can be overwhelming trying to search for artists.

I recommend starting with the basics. Think about the design you want:
  • Are you looking for a picture or words?
  • Do you want colour or black and grey?
  • Do you want it to look like a photo or like an illustration (I prefer illustration/painterly styles myself)?
Each of these questions will help you narrow down your search & find artists. It's important not to let location put you off an artist. Lots of artists do guest spots up & down the country (that's how I got my latest tattoo) so if they are exactly what you are looking for email them to ask if they have any guest spots planned near you. It can't hurt to ask.
As a spoonie I would recommend getting tattoos as close to home as you can - I wouldn't want to be more than half an hour-an hour away from home personally, just because just after getting a tattoo you can feel very uncomfortable & I can get very brain tired from talking to someone new to me.

Then you email them/their shop to discuss the design, book it & pay the deposit. At this point I would want to tell the artist any problems you may have getting tattooed - you are touch sensitive, you twitch, you are noise sensitive (tattoo studios can be loud), you can only sit upright for a short time, you can only be tattooed on a morning, you may have to cancel on short notice, everything you can think of - a tattoo artist needs to know everything. In my experience they will make it as easy for you as possible but they have to know the details first.

Then you actually get the tattoo.

When you get the tattoo you sit/lay down in a not super comfortable position for a long time (my first tattoo took about half an hour & my most recent one took nearly three hours). In that time you can take rests (tattoo artist are amazingly considerate) but you are bombarded with noise, people & light, none of which you can control.
I recommend taking snacks, something to drink & someone for support - whether that is with the pain/discomfort or the spoonie problems of an unfamiliar, uncontrollable environment. They can also take the pressure off you r.e. chatting. I know I really struggle with that part by about half way through because of the constant sensory overload.

I don't find tattoos to be especially painful. Yes they are needles slamming into your skin over & over but they don't go anywhere near as deep as a medical needle, they aren't as large - more the size of a baby acupuncture needle - & they are wielded more like a paint brush than a hole punch. Plus they don't look like needles (which really really helped me, I HATE needles).
I find that the tattoo feels more like getting a graze over & over & over, but that's how my body reacts, like M.E. everyone feels it differently.

My problem is touch sensitivity. My touch sensitivity is not agonising pain (most of the time) so much as it is that I am hyper aware of anywhere my skin is being touched. When you are being tattooed the needle of the tattoo hammers into your skin 50 to 3,000 times per minute. It is a bit like a sore buzz on the skin but it can be very overwhelming, plus the accompanying loud buzzing noise, I get sensory overload which drains me quite quickly.

The worst part of getting a tattoo for me is the healing process
Tattoos are very sore as they heal, you basically have a huge open graze, meets sunburn plus rubbing random stuff in it & for upto the first 4 days you can really feel it....then it starts to peel which is itchy but you can't scratch it or pick at it....
It can also be swollen so you have to wear loose fitting clothes & you shouldn't lean on it or knock it or rub it, all of which is tricky. I always end up getting fluff on the tattoo or putting on clothes that I think are loose & then tug as they go over the tattoo... I also don't like wearing clothes that cover the tattoo, I find them to be too uncomfortable, so I end up having to roll up sleeves & then I get cold...

When you first get a tattoo it needs to be washed & moisturised A LOT. Follow your artists care instructions obviously but I have healed both of my tattoos so far using hand wash, E45 shower wash, palmers cocoa butter (the stuff in the pump bottle) & coconut oil (only after it started to peel...mostly) it seems to work but apparently I have good skin (and am weirdly proud of that, I'm going to be telling everyone).


Anytime I talk to someone without tattoos about my tattoos I seem to come across a new tattoo myth. I though whilst I'm here I should dispel a few of them ^^

  • Tattoos bleed

When I have gotten tattoos the only visible blood that has come out is on the super pale colours (yellow, white, pale blue). I think a tiny amount of blood must come out with other colours but apparently bleeding (different to a small amount of blood seeping out) is a sign that you haven't been tattooed properly & that the tattoo will heal wrong. Obviously this is different for everyone.

  • Tattoos scab over

When you are healing a tattoo, the point is to avoid scabbing. You may get a few tiny scabs (I have a couple in my new tattoo) but if the whole things scabs over you are healing your tattoo wrong & will loose colour as it heals.

  • You are going to regret your tattoos

Do you regret that classic handbag/leather jacket/pair of shoes that was so perfect that you spent more than you really had to spend on it but that has been with you through everything & now has all these stories & memories associated with it & still makes you feel awesome everytime you pull it out of your wardrobe?
That's what my tattoos are going to be like in 10 years. I might not adore the way they look anymore but they will be even more special the longer I have them.

You might regret that expensive item if it was super trendy & you look at it now & think "OMG what was I thinking, it looks awful/it's so not my style". When you get a tattoo the same is true, something super trendy now may be something you'll regret later but you also might not...that's part of the risk of something permanent, if you're not sure put off the tattoo for a year & see what you think then.

  • Girls shouldn't get tattoos/girls don't look good with tattoos/men don't like women with tattoos

Does saying "F*ck off" dispel the myth enough or do I have to expand?
Why should I care if guys like women with tattoos? My tattoos look amazing, whether they look good on me is not the point (in my opinion). I just adore having beautiful art on my body permanently. It makes me feel like even in my pjs with no makeup & greasy, week old hair that I look amazing & like me because I have these amazing pieces of art on my body.

  • Tattoos get infected really easily

A tattoo (done properly) is probably the cleanest wound you are ever going to have. The needles are sterile & every part of the process is done carefully so that you get the healthiest tattoo possible. Plus you take better care of them than most wounds.
I don't know about you, I've never taken care of scrapes, burns, cuts or grazes after the first day - I once cut my knee open, put another pair of tights over the top of the pair I was wearing & didn't realise till the end of the night that I'd bled all down my leg & that the tights were glued to me with the dry blood....that cut didn't get infected & I don't even have a scar.
Anyway, if all the cuts, burns & grazes of your life healed without infection your tattoo probably will too, just be reasonably careful & you should be fine.

In Conclusion

I'm not saying a getting a tattoo is going to be as easy for a spoonie as it is going to be for someone in perfect health but I feel like it only affected me as much as going into town shopping or getting my hair cut affects me & the result is so much more amazing that it has been way worth it...
The most important part of getting a tattoo a chronically ill person (in my opinion), & the thing that is going to make it as easy as possible, is telling your artist everything they could ever need to know ahead of time so that they can help you have the best experience possible.

If you guys have any questions about my experience, tattooing in general or a tattoo myth you think should be included in the mythbusting part of this post please let me know. I want this post to be as helpful as possible.


  1. I have got so behind on my blog reading Sally I've missed out on a few of these tattoo mini series posts. Definitely going to go back and find them! Although I'm not considering a tattoo at the moment, I think this post would be so so useful for someone with a chronic illness who is :)


    1. Preach, I am SOOOO behind on blog reading I don't even know where to start!
      Thank you! I was so nervous about doing this post, I don't like doing posts where I'm pretending to be an expert lol.

      Sally xx

  2. I love this post! I am a tattoo fanatic and getting my 6th tattoo soon and I can't wait! Everything you've said here is so spot on :) x

    1. Aww thank you so much! I feel like I'm becoming a bit of a tattoo fanatic too, I'm just about to get my 4th ^^

      Sally xx


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