. . .
Is it just ’cause it looks cool?
It’s for your family, right? You, your husband, your son. Three of you.
Oh my god, how long have you had that? I just noticed it.
What does it mean?
I get asked these questions on a semi-regular basis. I got my little tattoo just over one year ago; it was a gift to myself and a reminder of hard-learned lessons.
Usually, I simply tell my curious questioners, “It’s an ellipsis. You know, the dot-dot-dot in punctuation?”
They respond, “Oh! I didn’t know it had a name.” Sometimes, they add, “What does it mean?”
“It’s my reminder to pause.”
I usually leave it at that. Because the rest of the story isn’t something you usually tell a perfect stranger, and quite honestly most of those strangers are pretty satisfied just to know what the dots mean. It doesn’t change that there is a rest of the story, however.
In April 2016, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation, stemming from postpartum depression. It was horrifying; I was ashamed, I was scared, and I was desperate. That was the beginning of my healing journey, because it turns out that postpartum depression wasn’t my only struggle. In the following months, I took drastic steps in my mental health recovery. That is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that it was long and hard-won. I had to face fears I desperately wanted to ignore, and I had to let myself experience nearly debilitating emotional pain in order to move forward.
I learned valuable skills. The ability to pause, for example. Mindfulness, the art of staying present, is the kind of thing that is so simple to explain but so incredibly difficult to practice. It is literally just keeping your mind entirely on what is happening in reality in your present. It’s not obsessing over the thoughts in your head, or clinging to the memory of something painful; it’s figuratively grabbing hold of the present and staring it in the face with your full attention. It has been said that depression happens when you focus too much on the past, and anxiety is when you focus too much on the future. Mindfulness is a medicine for the extreme anxiety that I battle on a regular basis.
I had to learn that pain isn’t permanent. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. I could choose to recognize my pain for what it was, and recognize that it wasn’t permanent. Life marches forward without your permission, and pain moves too if you let it.
I also had to learn “No.” It’s a simple word, but a hard word. I commit myself too often to too much and I wear myself thin. My hospitalization forced me to find ways to self-soothe, to self-care, to self-appreciate. Often, this included saying, “No” to extra obligations, “No” to unfinished projects, and “No” to perfection.
Move forward I did, and heal I did, and heal I continue to do.
Which is where my tattoo comes in.
Have you heard of the semi colon project? In sum, it’s about suicide awareness, using the semi colon as its symbol. In punctuation, a semi colon functions as a place where the author could end the sentence, but decides to keep going. The sentence isn’t over yet. Your life isn’t over yet. Get it?
My tattoo is in homage of that. In punctuation, an elipsis, also known as dot-dot-dot or [ . . . ], represents one of three things:
- a pause
- a trailing off, with an implication that there is more information
- a way to omit unnecessary information when quoting material
As such, my tattoo is my own personal reminder of three things:
- Pause. Breathe. Remain mindful, especially when anxiety arises. Mindfulness = medicine.
- Things go on, always. My life went on when I was convinced that it wouldn’t. My pain moved on, even when I thought it was permanent.
- Omit the unnecessary. Say no when you need to, and get rid of the extra.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it’s my perfect metaphor. Every day it reminds me and strengthens me.