Brain Tatoos

Most times I write to heal. More often than not … there is no wisdom to be offered … just a telltale of an experience and the hope that someone reading will think “oh, so, I am not alone in that.” Such is my hope today, in a time when I don’t feel particularly inspired but still want to remain connected.

Last night I was reading about the ways in which our brains develop and change, and how that is so much connected to our life experience more than anything else. It made me think of how that is both a blessing and a curse. Of course, I am over the moon with the fact that I am living a life that is much truer to who I am today than I did twenty years ago. But I am also aware of traps that I fall into because at some point in my life some experiences drew tatoos of trauma on my brain.

I have been sick for the past week. Some flu has been traveling through my body and, aside from the various, usual aches and pains, one thing that has been pervasive is the fatigue. Nothing wrong with that if it were not for the brain tatoo that says: fear fatigue!


The year was 2008, it was summer, most probably late June or early July because I remember it was hot outside and school was out. My son was one and a half and I was getting close to the threshold of the worst depression and anxiety bout of my life. I was making steady and sure steps towards the deep, constantly joining the chorus around me in telling myself: what is wrong with you? you have everything you always wanted! snap out of it! Only to make myself feel more and more inadequate and like I belonged to a different life than the one I actually lived (well, I did, but that is a different story … ).

One of the slow but sure ways of pushing myself over the edge was not sleeping. At all. So when it had been enough time without sleep to be worried but not enough to be scared into taking a sleeping pill, I was prescribed melatonin. My mother came to take care of my son so that I could take a nap and the expectations were high: just go, sleep and you will feel so much better after you rest. I went into the bedroom, closed the door, popped the pill and got into bed waiting for sleep to come. Obviously, my mind had other plans and from behind the door I could hear my mother and my son playing, I could hear her pleasure in interacting with him, I could hear him laughing and talking to her – as much as he could utter sounds at that time in his life. All the while I was in bed, trying to fall asleep … to what I felt was a life too hard to live day by day.

Whether depression, exhaustion, anxiety, panic, ailments of the mind feel to me like tatoos burned into my brain. My position in bed, the sheets, the color of the door, the pillbox, they are all vividly imprinted on my brain. Burn! The feeling of being an outsider on my life looking in, of being behind an invisible but unbreakable screen, not able to touch the ones I love or be touched by them – all tatooed on my brain for eternity.

I stumble upon this scar today, as I continue to have a hard time lying down to rest when I am ill, when I ask my life partner to never close the door between the room I sleep in and where she and our teenage son are doing something else. This tatoo encapsulates such grief, such fear, so much pain and sorrow and I wish there was a way I could go back to the 31 year old that I was and just sit with her and tell her that she is never alone behind that imaginary wall. Oh, wait, maybe this is why I write after all … .

Photo by Cloutier Benjamin on Unsplash

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