Tattoo Update: Wherein it all becomes VERY REAL and VERY SCARY

This past weekend, I did it.
I made the appointment.
To transform something tainted by history into something beautiful, meaningful and new.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of one of my tattoos.    It’s been several years since I closed the door on that chapter of my life, and though I’ve since got other tattoos, this one remains firmly stamped on my back, huge,  a continual reminder of pain,  of mistakes, and of my darkest hours.

In life, I try to learn from mistakes and bad experiences – with people, it can be through the choice to forgive, or to opt out of negative forces.  With work, it can be to focus on how I can better contribute to the future, rather than on errors I may have made in the past.  With anxiety, it can be to remain fiercely determined, taking little steps along the path to finally being free of the fears that have held me back for so long. But with a tattoo? It’s not so easy.

Finances definitely play a part in why I haven’t yet done anything about it.  This thing is six inches high and solid black, and expanding it into something that’s going to really mean something is a big undertaking.  But the biggest reason so far is the pain. My back is an ongoing puzzle I’ve spent the last few years desperately trying to solve. Chronic pain along the right hand side of my back, from the top of my shoulder down to the top of my hip.  I’ve lost count of how much money I’ve funnelled into health care providers; chiropractors, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, massage, and even cortisone injections (that was a fun one.)  I don’t have coverage for this sort of thing, but I’ll do whatever it takes to figure it out.  It stops me being able to do things I want to.  Dance, exercise, go bowling – even going to the movies I carry two tennis balls in with me, placing them in the back of my chair, trying to alleviate some of the pain.  These days, I’m going for incredible amounts of pain deep-tissue massage once a week and diligently doing my exercises every other night. They’re agonizing, and I feel like a total wuss. But I keep my eyes on the prize.

This has, by far, been the biggest reason I haven’t done anything about my tattoo. Yet. But this weekend, I made an appointment for 18th May (that’s two weeks, people!) to get the outline done.  A friend of mine is dating an incredible artist, who worked with what I had and designed something that’s not only amazingly gorgeous, but exactly what I want on my body for life.  It’s an elaborate phoenix, the body of which will cover what I have and extend into artistic and intricate wings that span across the entirety of my upper back.  I love the idea of rebirth and constantly growing into something stronger, better, and more beautiful.  I can’t wait for it to be finished and to show the world.  And it’s a perfect fit.

But I can’t deny I’m afraid.  The artist said we have to get the outline done all in one session – which he imagines will take at least two hours. After that, he told me, I can come back as many times as I like to get the shading done – if I can only stand 45 minutes, I can do 45 minutes.  But two hours? Intimidating, to say the least. Since I’ve started the massage sessions, it’s doing better in that the muscles no longer go into spasm at the slightest touch. But the pain is still there, and the skin very sensitive. I can’t take pain killers beforehand, as they “thin the blood”.  I’m debating going for the cortisone shots again the morning of. But then I remind myself I went into convulsing shock and had to be escorted home in a blanket.

When I’m faced with difficult situations, I try to weigh things out. When I first started facilitating workshops, I was terrified. But I weighed out my fear of public speaking and of judgment with my desire to pass along information that will ultimately help my audience live better lives.  The latter desire was stronger, and that’s what I used to get through it. I also kept in mind that I can’t control what other people are going to think of me – so there is no sense in worry consuming my mind over something of which I have no power. All I can do is the best I can.

In this instance, I’m trying to use the same balancing act to get through it. The first hurdle will be the hardest, but if I can do it, it’ll be the first step on fully closing the chapter on something I have no desire to revisit ever again. I’ve made the mistakes, and I’ve learned from them. They have done their part in shaping me, and shaping the way I look at life.  They have played their part, and it’s fair to be able to close the book and shelve it away for good.  Yes, my desire to do that is stronger than my fear. I know it’s going to be hard. But, as with so many things, the things that mean the most are sometimes the hardest to do.

Wish me luck!


  1. You need to do workout videos. Seriously, if you were doing the workout I’d so pick up the DVD just kidding myself I might look like you.

    On another note, I like the phoenix design. It’s very cool but also totally symbolic. I don’t have any tattoos and I don’t even have a clue what it feels like but you want it badly enough and I’m sure you’ll get it done! Are you allowed to drink beforehand? I can’t remember if you drink, maybe a nice strong shot would relax you enough to get it done? I’m excited for you! I hope all goes well and I can’t wait to see pictures!!!!

  2. i LOVE the transformation of the tattoo! love it. what a good way to move forward with life and close that chapter. tattoos are addicting and, yes, funds are usually what keep me from getting the things i really want. good luck! i hope the pain is subdued and the results are out of this world!!

  3. Excellent move, the end product looks like it’ll be stunning when you get there. I know you’ll be scared, but as you say, the desire to grow will no doubt outweigh that.

    I love it!!!

  4. may 18th is my birthday! yay!

    i was going to mention the redness on your back in the last exercise picture. so weird 😦 i assume you’ve seen specialists and stuff?

    have you decided if you’re going to add colour, or just keep it black?

    good luck with everything babes. i can’t wait to see pictures 🙂

    – e

    1. Yay! And yes I have seen specialists… not about the redness though, I’d never noticed it before I took the pictures :S I’ll mention it to my massage therapist this week. I thought about colour but I think I like it black best 🙂

  5. So proud of you for befriending the therapist! Have fun. 🙂

    I cannot even begin to imagine going through the pain that you do. But good for you for doing something about it and not throwing a pity party.

    As for the tattoo – I LOVE the new design. I know two hours is a long time, but remember the outcome. Remember the meaning. Remember why you’re doing it. Hopefully all of these will make it a bit easier.

    When I got my tattoo in my wrist, I watched the part in Saw where he cut his foot off. I didn’t feel a thing!

    1. Thanks!! Except he’s moving in June. D’oh!! We might get to hang out once though.

      LOL did you actually WATCH Saw or just imagine it?? What a terribly strange and wonderfully effective idea!! 🙂

  6. It’s going to look amazing. But it’s going to be a really long and awful two hours. But!! IT’S GOING TO LOOK AMAZING.

    Bring a book. And headphones. And a stress ball. And tissues to cry into.

    I recently figured out that tattoos hurt less, when I can see what they’re doing. I had a swallow done on my back, all line work, and it was AWFUL. But when I could WATCH and track their progress, it made everything more bearable. I could count down to when they were done.

    1. It’s a shame they don’t have a massage table with a little hole where I could mask my sobbing and text you non stop lol!! I think once the outline is done I’ll be done the hardest part and I can just do the shading in smaller chunks. I’ll def. bring headphones!!

  7. Yay! Good luck! And I’m sorry for your back pain. 😦 I hope doing the exercises will help you to feel better. Did an injury cause your back pain? Hmm. Well. Either way, I think the tatoo design is brilliant! How perfectly it’s going to be covered up, and without looking much like a cover up either!! Be sure to post after you get it done, so we can see the finished product! ❤

    1. Thanks!! It’s been a gradual thing which started when I was… 15? A WHILE ago!! It wasn’t an injury – which makes diagnosis all the more difficult 😦 I will definitely post pics after session 1. Though I may be a bawling mess lol

  8. Emily Jane,
    This will be quite the undertaking however I know that you will be able to pull through it and like the rising phoenix you too will rise above the pain and see this through – you are an amazing spirit!

  9. wow em that’s going to look amazing. slightly strange your back going all red like that though can you show your masseuse the pic before your next apt and see what it means???

    stay strong. look back on some of your old entries and see how you always tackle things that are scary. you’ve overcome some of your (& most ppl’s) biggest fears with grace and determination so just do the same thing here. it will hurt a lot and i’m so sorry you ahven’t been able to figure out the answer yet but don’t worry or let it stop you doing the things you want to do. this is going to be awesome & a testament to your strength of character =)

  10. I really like the new design! Are you able to take an iPod with you to your appointment? Listening to music really helps to relax me; it might make your appointment less stressful?

    1. Thanks!! Unfortunately I don’t own an mp3 player… well I do but I lost the cable that plugs it in to charge up so it’s rather useless these days 😦 But they’re so cheap they might be worth the investment for this 🙂 I’m glad you like it!

  11. So you don’t know what’s wrong with your back pain? It’s just something you have to live with?! 😦 I’m sad for you. I hope the exercises, even though they’re painful, help!

    And I think the new tattoo is going to look AWESOME! I’m really not a big fan of tattoos myself but this one I definitely love!

    1. Aww thanks!! I’ve been told so many different things by so many different people… bad posture… scoliosis… myofascitis… rotated sacrum… I wish everyone could all agree :S

  12. I just love your outlook. I feel like a sort of broken record here, but it’s inspiring to read!

    As painful as it will be, I’m sure you can get through it! Maybe you can practice some breathing/meditating exercises… may be tricky for any deep breathing since he’ll be working on your back, but I’m sure there is something you can do. I just know the best advice anyone can give ME in a painful/hard situation is DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE! (Like a couple weeks ago when I was getting a cortisone shot in the big toe joint on my foot–if the nurse hadn’t reminded me to breathe I may have passed out from holding my breath!)

    Oh and I love the idea for the design. I got goosebumps reading about your phoenix. How completely perfect is that? Can’t wait to see the result, and on the 18th I will be sending lots of positive thoughts in your direction!

    1. You’re such a sweetie 🙂 Thank you! I’m a bugger for holding my breath – when I’m scared, nervous, sore… haha I’ve definitely been called on it before!! I will try to breathe 🙂

  13. em! this is absolutely beautiful! i am so excited for you to get this done.

    what helped me when i was getting my tattoo done was to watch him do it. for some reason it helped to not hurt as bad. i suggest getting a mirror or something so you could? maybe that would help? also keeping a positive attitude constantly telling yourself it’s going to be ok will definitely be a big help as well!

    love the work out pics. i’ll have to try them! thanks love.

    1. Yeah the tattoo guy knows about the situation and he said just don’t psyche myself out too much… I’ve gone through it BEFORE… so I should be able to do it again… Thank you!!

  14. Though I only have two ink pieces, I love tattoo stories. This one is right up there in some of the top inspiring ones, especially since you’re not only going to have to go through the pain of the needle, but because you’ve a particular pain connection to your back. The phoenix is all too appropriate.

    Just remember this mantra: You’re a badass. You can take this.

  15. That new design is really great, especially how it covers up the old design without it being obvious! Good luck with it, I hope you will not be in too much pain.

  16. Wow, he did a great job with the design! Also, Tylenol doesn’t thin your blood. I know it’s not much, but maybe it would help a little?

  17. Yay, that’s so exciting! Can’t wait to see the final product . . . be brave chicka, I think that all the best things we do and strive for come with a little pain and hardwork 🙂

  18. It’s going to look great. My gosh, you look like you’re in perfect shape.

    I don’t have any tattoos so I can’t speak as to how to distract from the pain…but other people seem to have some good suggestions (ipod, etc.) I’d probably get totally hammered before going in 🙂

    Good luck–can’t wait to see the final product!

  19. I’m proud of you!! I can’t wait for you to start fresh: new tattoo, life with David, career prospects, published, creative writing class… it’s all coming together for you, my dear!!

    Love you bunches!! xoxo

  20. First of all: you are in awesome shape. I’m pretty jealous.
    Secondly, I’m sorry that you’re still struggling with the back pain. I can hardly handly my stupid knee pain, so I can’t imagine what constant back pain must be like.
    Thirdly: love the new tattoo look! Good luck with the actual appointment and filling in, if that’s the correct terminology! 🙂

    1. Thanks!! I’m sorry you’re still dealing with your knee pain – I’ve found though that if it’s going to hurt regardless, it might take a bit more effort but not staying positive isn’t going to make it get better. And also my heating pad is my new best friend 🙂

      I’m totally not in shape… I ran one mile last week in 14 minutes. I felt like such a grandma!!!

  21. yes i’m jealous of your awesome shape too 😛
    i can’t actually figure out why you posted exercise pictures, other than maybe to demonstrate how you deal with your back pain for therapy?? but i think the tattoo concept is beautiful, will it be in color? I too want a pheonix on my back eventually! I don’t think it will be smack dab in the center but more coming across diagonally from left to right. Hope I’m not stealing your idea! The pheonix seems to be a popular tattoo concept.

    1. I love the symbolism of it and I love how every phoenix is different. I used to know someone who had one as a sleeve and it was all bright oranges and blues, it was gorgeous!

      I posted pics ’cause the back pain is something I talk about on and off, and last time I wrote about it it was about the horrific cortisone injections I had. This is just a progress post on what I’m doing these days to deal with it (along with a plea for other suggestions before May 18!)

  22. After hurting my back at work last week (I strained the lower-half) and seeing HOW MUCH that affected me–it was SO HARD to just walk!!–I don’t know how you deal with constant back pain.

    My pain went away mostly…thank God! I also did exercises that the doc gave me, kind of like yours.

    How did you get your back pain? Do you know?

    I ♥ the phoenix. 🙂 Nice job turning lemons into lemonade, or chicken into chicken salad. haha.

    1. You just kind of learn to deal with it and try not to let it get you down. I’m not going to lie, I do have little meltdowns sometimes when it’s extra bad and I can’t even sit through a movie but for the most part I try and focus on doing everything I can to help fix it. I don’t know what caused it – it started when I was about 15 and I remember having trouble sitting in school desks all day because it would hurt this one side of my back, but nobody ever really took it seriously, and it just got worse and worse 😦

      Glad you like the phoenix! And I love that chicken salad line lol!!

  23. Oh wow! It’s going to look SO awesome. 🙂

    I actually cringed at that second to last photo – the part where one side of your back is all red. It looks SO painful.

  24. I am totally excited for you, Emily. I know it’s not going to be easy to endure, but your new tat is going to be your beautiful reward for not only growing past the pain of the tattoo itself, but beyond the emotional pain you went through in your life. Kudos to you, girl.

    Can’t wait to see the new tat! 🙂

  25. Wow… that looks amazing. I only have little tattoos… I think if I got a big one I would cry. But now you are making me want a 4th one SO bad. Ugh, so addictive.

  26. Good luck! Good luck! Good luck! Have you tried an osteopath yet? They are somewhat like a chiropractor but (in my opinion) better. Mine saved my life. I use to have awful, daily back pain and he fixed it. I think massage helped a lot too. The new tattoo design looks great!

  27. Thanks!! I’ve heard an osteopath wuold be the perfect solution… but they don’t HAVE them in Canada. At least not in Manitoba anyway 😦

  28. This post totally makes me want to do yoga, but right after I click close on the Window, I’ll forget about it. Oh well. I CANT WAIT TO SEE THE TATTOO. And I’m sorry about your back 😦 I think someone is married to a chiropractor in my family. I’ll ask about it. I think they might be in Toronto. Maybe.

    1. I tried chiropractic for a year three times a week and it did sod all, at the end of which he blatantly said he couldn’t do anything to fix it. But to please keep coming back anyway because everybody needs better posture. :S

  29. love the sketch over the old tattoo! it’ll look amazing once it’s done. i’m all about alternative medicine and think acupuncture does wonders, but guess you’ve already tried it. :/

    1. If you don’t mind trying the bitter taste of Chinese herbs, I’d combine that with acupuncture. They can usually tell what’s wrong by your symptoms, plus checking your pulse, looking at your tongue and eyes. It’s a little crazy like that. Perhaps a different doctor? If you were around here, I’d recommend that you go see my acupuncturist. She is amazing!

  30. Oh, that’s a badass tattoo. Very pretty, you can totally rock it.

    Sorry about your back. I would suggest chiropractor and/or acupuncture but I see that they have suggested those already. 😀

  31. Ah, you are quite brave Emily.. I can barely stomach a needle, never mind a whole tattoo! It is going to look so good though lady. Good luck! And btw, sorry for basically falling off the face of the planet these days.. Finals time.


    Hannah Katy

    1. Oh I’m definitely not fit at all lol!! I can barely run a mile and I can’t even get through two sets of these exercises! But thank you!! xx

  32. That’s going to look awesome! I’ve got some Japanese writing down the center of my back that says, “To learn self-discipline,…to seek knowledge.” It’s cool to me anyway, LOL!

    With regards to your back pain, I know how that feels. I’ve had problems for years now, but I find as long as I exercise a few days a week, my pain seems to stay to a minimum, unless I do something to tweak it by accident. Best of luck, take care.

  33. I predict you will fare well in the coming days, and that it will be beautiful!

    You said you’ve tried chiropractic… was it helpful in any way? Being in chronic back pain is certainly no fun – I hope you feel better soon.

    1. Thanks so much! I’m getting more and more nervous as it approaches :S in four days’ time I will be getting into that chair… thank you for your wishes! I have tried chiropractic and it didn’t work at all – although I may just have had a bad chiropractor. I saw him three times a week for a year and he never actually used his hands – just the little “activator” gun a couple of times.

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