Tattoo: The Results (AKA: Epic Fail)

So…. last Tuesday night was the Big Tattoo Expansion Appointment. (For those who missed it, the story of why I had to get it is here.) And it can only be described as one of the most epically awful experiences ever.  I’ll spare you the details of everything I’ve done over the last few years to try and lessen the back pain – you already know I’ve seen more specialists than Heidi Montag’s seen the sharp side of a scalpel. But despite the difficulty, I was determined to get this monstrosity made into something meaningful I could be proud of again.

Monday night, avoiding all advice against psyching myself out, I got barely a couple of hours sleep in apprehension, tossing and turning until about 2am. I spent most of Tuesday researching options for lessening the pain of tattooing over skin that’s already extremely sensitive, bought a topical anaesthetic which would supposedly numb the skin… only to be told by the tattoo artist around lunchtime that it was a bad idea. It would be great if my procedure was going to be less than 45 minutes. Otherwise, for the remaining 2 hours, as it started to wear off, I’d feel all the pain I’d previously been numbed to on top of the new pain I’d be experiencing as he continued, and on top of the already existing condition, it would probably be “unbearable”. His advice: save it for when I come back to get chunks shaded in smaller blocks of time.

So Tuesday. 4:45 pm. I stop at an ATM, take out $300 and head over to the tattoo parlour, feeling slightly sheepish in a white tank top and a black and pink skirt.  They were playing Daft Punk followed by the Spice Girls though, so I couldn’t be that out of place.  They printed the oversized new design, and took me in to get prepped. I’ve had tattoos – I knew what to expect.  I was silently praying for a case of mind over matter, that somehow the pain would be lifted just for a couple of hours so I could get this taken care of.

It didn’t start off too badly, but about 15 minutes in he was already asking if I was okay because my back was “jumping” a lot. The muscles were going into spasm – just like they did for the longest time before I started going for regular massage at the slightest touch. My face was down on the chair; I held my breath hoping the tears would be held back too. 20 minutes in and it was already excruciating. He’d started way out over my left shoulderblade, it being the “better” side of my back, but as he got closer to the spine it became more and more unbearable. I couldn’t help the tears, and I felt like a spectacular loser. I’d told him about my back problem when I initially made the appointment, but I don’t know if he remembered.  I took a break, caught my breath, and decided to keep going. I found myself exhaling, afraid to take a breath in for fear of it hurting more, whispering “it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay” between needlings.  But it wasn’t okay. The muscles kept spasming, and then my whole body started shaking, just like when I got the cortisone shots.  I couldn’t stop, and suddenly I was taken over by fear and pain.  I knew if it was this bad on the left side of my back, the ‘bad side’ wasn’t going to happen. I’d been defeated.

I heard the artist talking loudly, words of this being “a first in all his seventeen years of tattooing” and how there’d be no way he’d ever be able to get it to line up again,” and how I still had to pay him for the whole thing despite only having a quarter of an outline finished. $320 including my deposit, and I left sobbing, my head flooded with all the old voices that told me I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. That not only was I going to have to continue to wear this badge proclaiming my past mistakes, but I have to add another to it, telling the world I just made another one, drawing attention to my former naivety, and ridiculing my present efforts at ridding myself of it.

On the way to the appointment, I’d come up with an idea I thought would help me through it. None of us can write a new past for ourselves, but we can make the choice to start writing a new ending. I wasn’t going to “erase” my past with laser removal, I was going to embrace it for the lessons it taught me, the person it made me, and add to it, it becoming part of something bigger and better, more meaningful; still there, comprising yet also hidden by the person I am today. I thought this would help me get through it, but now it feels like a punishment. That I must be made to wear this badge of past failures, and that I would be made to live with constant pain, day in and day out ensuring I cannot cover it up.

But I have to remind myself that nothing that’s worth doing is done easily. The process of personal transformation was sparked by things nobody should have to experience, though I’m not ready to share those just yet. The most difficult times have led to a determination to change them, and I’m confident I’m doing all I can to achieve that.  But it all seems so easy in comparison to ongoing physical pain, when all you want is for your body to have the strength to be a reflection of the person your mind has worked so hard to become.

Lesson learned? No, if the lesson is that I must resign myself to being branded with my past mistakes. I can’t do anything I can keep trying physical therapy, but I don’t know if it’s working. The effects are fleeting and expensive. I have to accept that in its current state, my back (and bank account) isn’t going to be able to handle another attempt at tattooing.  So, I must find another option. Laser tattoo removal? Perhaps. Though there are only two places in the city that do it – one accompanied with a barrage of horror stories, also costing an arm and a leg, and the other, a cosmetic surgery clinic, an awkward experience in that I worked there for all of three days before quitting based on moral objections. Wouldn’t that be fun to go back? Apparently it hurts just as much, and is just as expensive, and would take just as many sittings as finishing the tattoo. Which apparently can’t be done, because “there’s no way my back will be able to take it in this condition, and there’s no way the design would be able to be lined up again.”

This is what I am left with.  It looks strange and unattractive, but isn’t that often what the road to growth is?  It’s not cookie-cutter, it’s incomplete, and it’s not something, at first glance, one would wish for. But it’s real. It’s a representation of a determination to face my past and embrace it, and of trying to make it part of who I am no matter how painful the process. On Wednesday I met with another tattoo place, somewhere infinitely more understanding, more welcoming, with more impressive portfolios. I was told about the options of going to my doctor to get some strong pain killers prescribed before coming in, and that yes, they could work in small sections – but it was going to be incredibly costly to do it that way.  At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  But until I figure it out, I will wear this disfigurement knowing that one day, with guts, strength and tenacity, and  it will become something beautiful.


  1. I’m so proud of you at least trying rather than chickening out before.

    I’ve never had a tattoo and probably won’t get one (I do want one but I’d have to give up giving blood for like a year and then theres no guarantee that the Blood Service will take it after that – and the fact that CJ won’t let me have one!)

    I hope you can get it sorted someway 🙂

  2. bless!!! i’m so sorry you had to deal with such excruciating pain and such an insensitive artist. i hope that you are able to find the means to achieve this transformation. ❤

    1. I’m definitely going to keep trying… removal was a short-lived idea but it sounds even worse. Plus I really want to be able to have this finished one day!!

  3. Em, I’m sorry this journey has been so painful for you. I wish more than anything you could live pain free.

    You are like beautiful bird with an injured wing-battle scars of days gone by. You have come out of the battle victorious, yes with scars but remember you are the beautiful bird, you are stronger from living with this injury. Soar high Em!

  4. I’m so sorry to hear that it didn’t work out this time, but you know what? I would suggest doing it in small, manageable chunks. You talked a lot about how this represents your self-evolution, and as I’m sure you know, that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. So why should your tattooing (or tattoo removal)? It can be a process that represents your internal changes just as much as the finished product will.

    Whatever you decide, I can see that you have a strong spirit, and I know you will be okay.

    1. Thank you so much sweetie. You’re absolutely right, these things don’t happen overnight and I just have to somehow find the strength and determination to keep going rather than give up. The end is in sight..

  5. I’m so sorry your tat experience was a horribly painful one, Emily. I can’t even imagine what you went through, but it sounds like your back really was not cooperating in the least for this session. Bright side? When you decide you are ready to face it again, and I suspect you will, you won’t have as much needling to get done since you’ve already had a portion of it taken care of. And hopefully you’ll also have some stronger meds to help you conquer your goal, too! 🙂


    1. I hope so! I think I’m going to wait until this has healed up and then make an appointment with my Dr and see if he can give me something. You’re right – a portion is already done, and that’s one less portion to go 🙂

  6. Ugh, my heart hurts to read this because I know how badly you wanted something different and something with less bad memories attached to it. I really hope you can get this all sorted out and maybe just trying to do it in small sections. If the pain is that excrutiating, then I think doing the whole tattoo is a bad idea. Just do each section, little by little, until it is complete.

    It’s a little like your inner transformation, taking baby steps until you get rid of your anxiety and be a self-assured, confident woman.

    1. Thanks sweetie. Yes this new place said that part of being a good artist is being able to work with the client no matter what – “what would he have done if you passed out?” she said, “he’d have to realign it then”. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping I can just do bit by bit – and the $ I’m not spending on massage treatments while I’m waiting for it to heal up can be put toward each session.

  7. I’m so sorry how painful that was! I am terrified to get a tattoo for exactly that reason. I actually had an appointment, had the stencil put on my back, and then had a panic attack. Your tattoo artist sounds like a complete ass though, I can’t believe he charged you all that much! How unsympathetic. When I couldn’t get mine, I only had to pay for the set up fee for the ink, and my friend got a tattoo so it didn’t all go to waste–all for the price of just the set up. Yours could have at least just charged you half. CLEARLY your body was rejecting it!

    I agree with Kristan’s comment, small manageable chunks may work for you. At least you tried and at least you can recognize when your body is shouting NO at you! 🙂 xoxo!

    1. He was a complete a-hole!!! He wasn’t understanding at all and made me feel like a total loser. I wish I’d remembered I’d given him a deposit too so maybe he wouldn’t have charged THAT much… 😦

  8. I am so sorry this happened to you. That sounds awful, and the tattoo artist kind of sounds like an ass :/

    I know there will be a solution for you. Just hang in there!

  9. I’m so sorry about the tattoo experience. But as you said, “nothing that’s worth doing is done easily.” At least, the other tattoo place gave you more options. It will be better. 🙂

    I tried commenting on your other post (the one about your dad) earlier but it wouldn’t appear. Hope this one does.

  10. After the first place, I would’ve given up. You’re so brave for continuing to research further into getting it done!

    Smaller sections at a time sound like the way to go. It’ll be expensive, painful, but if it means you’re facing your past and growing, you’ll get through it! Hang in there.

    1. It’s true – ultimately as with anything difficult I have to question what’s more important. Fear and pain or overcoming it for something better? I have to remind myself to try never to let fear dictate my life. No matter what. It might take a bit longer than I expected, but I’m going to keep going 🙂

  11. It makes me incredibly sad to hear about all the pain you had to endure, only to meet with such disappointment. But life is always full of setbacks, and not being able to make it through the pain does not make you a failure, and it does not doom you to forever wear the badge of your past mistakes. It’s truly amazing how the tattoo really does parallel what has happened in your life and the journey you’ve taken to get to where you are now. I have faith that one day soon you’ll find someone willing to help you (perhaps this new tattoo place you spoke with!) change it little by little, just as you did in real life with the real situation. I know you’re not one to give up, so just know I’m pulling for you! And maybe next time you have an appointment, take a friend or a family member with you for comfort and support. Having someone there to hold your hand through any pain might prove helpful.

    1. I’m definitely going to take someone with me to talk and maybe try and distract me next time. I hope this new place is going to be the one! Thanks for your encouragement, it really means a lot ❤

  12. aww what a bummer! i mean, you definitely deserve props for trying it anyway. i do hope that when you are able to give it another go, you’ll be extremely happy with yourself when it’s all said and done. keep your head up pretty lady ❤

  13. My goodness! I’m so sorry to hear about all of this =( I can’t imagine what kind of pain you must be going through right now. treat yourself to something lovely!

  14. Ohhh lady, I am proud of you for even going in for the time you did. You will figure it out! I just know you will. I wouldn’t call it an epic fail, more like a lesson learned. You are learning to love yourself no matter what (and doing an amazing job). You are learning to be patient with yourself (something I constantly have to work on). And you are learning that beauty is much more than skin deep. I am so impressed by you!

    1. Oh Holly thank you that means such a lot!! I’m learning that life is a series of ongoing lessons… and all the things you mentioned above are things I’m determined to keep doing all I can with. Especially the patience part, haha that is definitely something to work on. I think often in life we’re conditioned to want things NOW, but we have to realise that there are sometimes things we need to go through in order to get what we want, and it’s about how we do on the journey there. Thank you so much for believing in me 🙂

  15. You started the journey, and already you’ve grown from it. Hang in their. Getting the tattoo done in short sessions sounds like a great option – if you spread it out over an extended period of time the money may not seem so bad and you can recover (and continue to grow!)

    1. I think as long as they’re willing to do it in small sessions I’ll be okay – even if it takes a long time (financially) at least it’ll be something that shows determination and not just dealing with something I don’t like and resigning myself to live with it. Right?? 🙂

  16. Wow, that tattoo artist sounds horrible! He shouldn’t have made you pay the entire amount.

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that pain. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like.

  17. Oh my goodness, that seems so painful, but I can understand trying to get rid of memories’ past. Thanks for your comment on my blog, love yours and will definitely be following!

  18. God, you poor thing! That tattoo guy sounds like an ass. You can’t help that you have back issues.. and making you pay the entire thing is a complete con. Seriously. You are a real trouper.. and yes, it’s a change. I think it’s a change for the better!

  19. oh my lovely. i am so sorry about your back pain and not being able to finish it. i don’t think it was an epic fail though. everything happens for a reason and there is a reason you didn’t finish your session with that artist. like with this new studio, you may have an artist who would be able to help you better than that other guy. who sounds like a douche bag. i love your attitude and i am so proud of you for continuing to trek on. don’t let fear get the best of you. you will be able to conquer this and you will able to look back and say that you were strong enough to over come it. (it meaning EVERYTHING)

    ps thanks for sticking with me so long. you are by far one of my favorite bloggers. love you!

    1. You’re right – thank you for the reminder, seriously! Everything DOES happen for a reason and maybe this happened because I wasn’t meant to be there. Maybe because there is a better way out there. 🙂

      And THANK YOU for being such a sweetheart!! xoxox

  20. I’m glad you found a tattoo parlor that can help you with your transformation.
    I’m even more glad you found an artist who can behave like a professional, provide you with a finished product (that accommodates your needs) and DOESN’T make you feel like a freak.

  21. I had pictured something much, much worse (before you posted the pictures) – this just looks unfinished, which is exactly what it is. Here’s lots of hope that you get it figured out soon, however that may be.

  22. you are awesome for at least trying! And do not beat yourself up – you’re definitely not a failure just because of back problems, don’t let it define you like that!

    1. Thanks sweetie!! You’re right – it’s hard not to fall into the trap of believing I’m not strong enough because I guess I believed those sorts of things for so long, but you’re right, I’m never going to get anywhere letting those ideas define me. Instead I’ll try really hard at focusing on determination 🙂 xxx

  23. i agree with what everyone has said – you can’t let this get you down and don’t even dare feel like ‘a failure’ or ‘not strong enough’, your strength is in your DETERMINATION to keep going and not giving up. it is quite the parallell between what’s happened with your life in terms of you deciding to conquer your anxiety instead of being ruled by it. look at that and how you made that decision to not let fear control your life and see how far it got you. you’ve come leaps & bounds since i’ve been reading and its nothing short of inspiring. look at that and regognize that you CAN do this. the road to success is usually rockiest and the most difficult when it comes to things that really truly matter. i know you can do this – stay strong and remember what a great spirit you have. we’ll be here the whole way cheering you on.

  24. I think it actually looks kind of interesting now. If you didn’t tell people it was unfinished, I doubt they’d second guess it.

    I understand why that tattoo artist made you pay the full amount, but at the same time he should have given you the opportunity to come back and have it finished free of charge. Sounds like the new place is better anyway.

    1. He probably charged the full amount because he thought I wouldn’t be going back. But yeah the new place feels a million times better – now I just have to start saving 🙂

    2. That would’ve been a great idea… but yes, this new place definitely sounds better. Thanks for the reassurance – maybe it’s not as bad looking as I initially felt 🙂

  25. Oh I’m sorry it didn’t go better. I wouldn’t have expected the tattooist to be so little understanding. I hope that you will be able to have the tattoo finished somehow someday. It sounds like the other tattoo studio would be better.

  26. You are an amazing spirit Emily! Your determination is truly admirable, and I know that you will get this sorted out.
    Thank you for sharing!
    I have been thinking about a tattoo for some time now, but I’m sure I’ll have to wait a while if I ever do go there.
    In that case, I’ll be messaging you to find out the name of the above parlour so that I don’t end up there.
    Quite frankly, I think that the artist really fouled in the customer service department. It would have served both of you to have been more compassionate. Here’s praying for his own sake that he grows…

    1. Thank you so much!! Yes I will definitely let you know the name of the artist and the place if you ever decide to get a tattoo. I’ll keep you posted on how this new place goes too…

  27. I’m so sorry, lady. I think if I ever tried to get a tattoo it would turn out like Phoebe’s from Friends – a little blue speck! 🙂 But then again, I could always say “I got the WHOLE WORLD…”
    Hopefully you’re able get it fixed to your liking, even if it does wind up taking way longer than you hoped!

  28. well at least there’s always cover-up for your wedding day if it’s not done by then, right?

    You definitely should take your time with this one. Chunks of the tattoo at a time sounds like the best option. The outline is starting to look cool, and it’s not as awkward as you think 🙂

    You are definitely stronger for having gone through that, including the cruel words of the tattoo artist. We should sneak attack him and tattoo “Jerk” on his forehead. hehehe.

  29. 0h dear. I was hoping this would go better than it did. I am sorry to hear about the experience – and the pain! Wow. I just can not imagine.

    Hang in there, dear. Sending positive thoughts your way!

  30. I don’t even think it looks that bad. Sure, it’s incomplete…but doing it in pieces is going to be even more symbolic of its story, right? I’m impressed that you have the drive to figure out a solution. Many people would not be able to do the same! Glad you have found a new tattooist who’s more understanding and better to work with too!

  31. You amaze me Emily. You really do. I think that no matter what you do or what becomes of the tattoo, you will always always always be beautiful on the inside and out. Hold your head up. I know the next tattoo place will be better.


    Hannah Katy

  32. “knowing that one day, with guts, strength and tenacity, and it will become something beautiful.”

    … just because your back pain made it unbearable to sit through the outline, does NOT mean that you don’t have guts, strength, or tenacity.

    i’m totally shocked by how rude and mean he was to you. i’m so sorry you had to go through that, and i really hope the new tattoo shop has professional, smart, capable artists.

    coming from someone who has spent years in the industry, i’m totally disgusted by this douche bag. being frustrated by the situation is one thing- but talking to/about you the way he did and CHARGING YOU $320 for a part of an outline is absurd. it’s not like you were being a wuss about your first tattoo or something- you’ve been tattooed before, and you have an unknown medical condition. this guy truly was a stand-up schmuck.

    getting prescribed pain meds is a good idea, and doing it in small sittings is also something you should look into. also, i have plenty of friends who used topical numbing creams, and everything worked out just fine for them.

    i want to punch this dill-hole in the face.

  33. I’m so sorry that you had such a rough experience. You did your best, though. You should be proud of yourself for making the attempt 🙂

  34. I was cringing just reading this – you are way tougher than you think! You are so incredible to use this as an experience instead of dwelling on the negative. Sending you lots of (virtual) hugs!

  35. I’m so sorry this happened. I was hoping so hard it would magically be perfect. But I must say your tattoo artist sounds like quite the asshole. Seriously, what a f’ing jerk. I’m happy you have a better place to go now and I think that’ll make a BIG difference in the next sitting. I’m just very glad to see you’re not giving up!! 🙂

    I’m not sure if they’d be willing or if it would even help (or make it worse?), but what if the artist worked in something like 5 minute increments with short breaks in between?

    1. I don’t know – I guess if I was paying for the time, it wouldn’t matter to them if I wanted to take longer – but I think that would definitely help. Fingers crossed!!

  36. Damnnn, that is one of the most intense tattoo stories I’ve ever read, and I had to catch up on all the details. Wow. I’m impressed you attempted it, for real.

  37. I’m glad I didn’t read this before I got my tattoos. I’m so sorry the experience was painful. 😦 I’m glad you met with another tattoo place and hopefully if you decide to continue then you can get pain meds. Would the doctor even give them to you?

    1. I hope so. I’ve been going back to him every few months after he refers me somewhere else saying ok, this didn’t work, now what – he knows it’s chronic and so if I explain what I’m trying to do, I hope he would – the tattoo place said they’ve had people prescribed T3s and even morphine (!) because they just can’t handle the pain, so I’ll just cross my fingers. Apparently there’s different kinds of muscle relaxants too – some with ibuprofen and some with tylenol, and one of them DOESN’T do anything to the blood – time for some research I think!

  38. Poor Em. Sorry to hear about your excruciatingly painful and tough experience, you think the guy would be more sensitive and less jerk-idiot features. I wish I could crane kick him in the face for you 😦 you’re a very brave girl to want this change. But I think whatever happens you will always be beautiful and a terrific person inside and that will shine on through to the outside for all to see. Don’t give up, take little steps to arrive at your goal and seeing the complete work of art will be all the more sweet and satisfactory. I know you have within you everything you need and that strong sense of determination to see this through to the end ❤

    P.S. Awhile ago on my post 'In Many Guises' I left you a little something in the comments section if you click the link 🙂 I should have poked you about it ages ago, EJ blog surf time!

  39. It looks strange and unattractive,

    No. Not at all. It looks like the first steps in the journey to recovery have begun. How brave you are to confront your demons, and demand they behave in the starkest of criticisms. Hats off to you….

  40. Can I just say that you truly inspire me. I really hope you can sort it out and that it won’t be too painful, so you can document your transformation and move on. And I hope you can also find out a solution to the back pain. But I think your courage is incredible, and reading your posts like this help me to reflect on things I want to change and make me feel as though I have the power to 🙂

  41. The tattoo as it is isn’t just a representation of how determined you are, it’s a representation of how brave you are being when facing all this. Chronic pain is hard to understand, but I remember when my back started spasming when I had my back piece done and the just utter blind panic that set in – I can’t believe that your artist railroaded you into paying when you were in that state.

    For what it’s worth, metamorphosis will be amazing to you- at least one of the owners is a registered nurse and their approach to their clients is completely coloured by that background. I remember when I came in to have my nose pierced by them (a number of times!) they would give you a survey and if you hadn’t eaten enough that day they gave you a lollypop to raise your bloodsugar and made you wait until it was safest to pierce. When most people just pop you in a chair and go ahead!

    If you’re still looking at other people to work with, Alex at Tattoo’s For The Individual did my back (her online portfolio doesn’t do her justice) and not only is she a nationally known artist, she’s a honey. She did my mom’s huge piece and let me come back a number of times without charging me any extra. I would really recommend checking her out, but no matter who you choose or how you move forward I hope that your next experience is nothing like this. ❤

  42. Hi Em-J…..
    I say keep pushing forward…find another artist that will understand what this is about & help you complete your journey with this piece. I have the name & place of a female artist who you could check out. I’ve sent many people to her & I love her work. I will inbox you on fb the details. Don’t erase it….embrace it…..
    Good luck sweetie

    Kindness & healing sent your way

  43. Pingback: 2010: Brilliance |

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