Rejection and Redirection.

BREAKDOWNS & BUCKETS: Feeling lost or stuck? You might be trapped in a Crab Bucket™. How my breakdown last year became a breakthrough and a blessing: leading to my Autism diagnosis, my own business and the start of an incredible healing journey, out of the bucket and beyond…

For my entire life, I’ve always wondered why it felt like I was playing life stuck on HARD MODE… Getting sober 2 years ago started a chain reaction of events and circumstances that I could never have imagined.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

— Cynthia Occelli.
“May you do well, but never better than me” — the mantra of the toxic friend/work colleague.

If you ever feel guilty or uneasy when sharing good news and positivity – you’re sharing it with the wrong people.

Crab mentality, also known as crabs in a bucket mentality, is a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. It’s a metaphor for how humans respond when they see someone else around them achieving some kind of self-improvement that they can’t achieve themselves. The metaphor is derived from a pattern of behavior noted in crabs when they are trapped in a bucket. While any one crab could easily escape, its efforts will be undermined by others, ensuring the group’s collective demise. Crabs can resort to pinching, pulling off arms/legs and even killing their fellow crabs if any of them continue to try and escape. In human behaviour, this can look like undermining achievements, snide comments, belittling positive changes, ignoring, bullying. They do what they can to hinder progress, or even stop the person from simply trying to succeed. Promotions in the office due to sheer focus and hard work get dismissed as unfair, weight loss and new exercise routines can be met with jealousy and sabotage, holidays and travelling can be sneered at. Cutting down drinking can be met with surprise bottles of wine and extra boozy work lunches. Encouragement of unwise and damaging decisions. People with the crab mentality feel insecure when they see other people improve, and assume that they are failing because other people are succeeding. For crabs, and humans – misery loves company. Bad tribalism.

We are built to be tribal. But sometimes that tribalism goes too far. The worst type of tribalism is groups aligned to destroy other groups, such as through ethnic cleansing and genocide. We have heard the word tribalism used a lot today in reference to our politics. Today in our political world, we have “bad tribalism.” Bad tribalism is a group identity that fosters the bullying and scapegoating of others not like you. Bad tribalism joins people out of anger, jealousy, and spite, not for collective well-being. The unfortunate irony is that bad tribalism is easy to provoke, but not healthy to maintain. Staying angry is stressful, and large doses of stress are bad for our health. At the same time, good tribalism is difficult to build, but healthy to maintain. When we connect with others to ensure safety and good health, we lower our own stress.”

— Elizabeth A. Segal, Ph.D., PsychologyToday.com

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”

— Jim Rohn.

In my whole career, I’ve worked at and visited almost 20 studios around the UK. Unfortunately, in my experience, most tattoo studios are Crab Buckets™: breeding grounds for bad decisions, gang tactics, shitty behaviour and Drama Triangles. They’re usually alco-centric, narco-centric performance platforms of enmeshment and trauma bonds. The bad ones will trade healthy behaviour and professionalism for late nights, late mornings, hangovers, overworking and undercharging, lack of boundaries, lines in the bathroom, “after work beers” and smoking weed during work hours. Aren’t we supposed to just do our job, in the cleanest, happiest and most mentally healthy way possible? I wanted to be better, but couldn’t navigate myself out of the environment. I felt stuck, completely lost and unable to really ‘fit in’ anywhere and call it home. Every time the cycle repeated, I thought to myself “it’ll be different this time, it’ll be better.” The only problem was, I didn’t know how to function inside any environment that wasn’t dysfunctional…

🎉 Today’s a great day.

1st December marks the 1st anniversary of my own little micro-studio, YAY! What an insane, amazing, wonderful year it’s been…

My first appointment were those Stitch & Toothless cuties! Line-work was done a month prior. Thanks again to the lovely Leann! I’m so happy with how these turned out.

Since opening my own little business last year and going independent, I was able to confront A LOT of things that I had kept under wraps for a long time, but didn’t have the psychological, emotional and financial capability to tackle any of it before. 

This business move started out as a product of sheer adrenaline and fear

Late 2017, I was suddenly kicked out of my full-time job of 19 months one day with no notice, no real explanation and nowhere else to go. I was confused, devastated and unable to talk about it. I somehow stayed sober, and kept going.

I won’t go into a long, pitiful story of gory details. One day I’m telling my coworkers how excited I am about the staff Christmas dinner, the next day I’m silently, furiously packing up my stuff with everyone watching and a taxi waiting outside. I was utterly ashamed. In less than 24 hours, I found out there had been issues for months that weren’t discussed and campaigns/plans to have me out for ages. One of the owners of the studio, who isn’t a tattoo artist, stormed into the studio during work hours to verbally abuse me (loudly) whilst clients were getting tattooed. I didn’t have a chance to defend myself, and any defence I calmly attempted to make was dismissed before I could finish, so gave up and agreed with everything she said. She stormed out of the studio in tears, past clients getting tattooed. They moved in 2 other artists that day, who were good friends of theirs. They’d moved them in last minute because their last studio had suddenly closed down. I wasn’t told about any of the drama that was going on, but found out about it whilst I was setting up and tattooing a very delicate and personal tattoo for a new client. I packed up my stuff the same morning 2 other people were unpacking theirs. I scraped together what was left of my dignity and self-respect, and disappeared for good. I’m so glad I managed to hold back from lashing out. I considered them family, they considered me a problem. The last thing I was going to do was prove them right in my final moments in that building. I couldn’t change their perception of me. It all was a nasty combination of bad luck, bad timing and good intentions – with the wrong people.

“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.”

— Peter Bromberg.

Tattoo studios don’t have HR departments, and don’t care about things like unfair dismissal, discrimination or loss of earnings. If they decide they want you out, you’re out. I had bookings I had to contact and rearrange myself, and clients had to retrieve their own deposits from the studio themselves. I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent and bills that month, let alone be able to think about taking anyone to a small claims court. I closed my diary and lied to so many people. They said that if I told everyone what had happened, I would just be “playing the victim again”. My mental health was at absolute ground zero. I wanted to either kill someone, or kill myself. Mental breakdowns are sort of a death: the death of a current system of thinking that is no longer working.

I was almost 1 year sober at the time. Bookings were increasingly scarce, I had an impending knee reconstruction that I was desperately saving for, due to be scheduled over Christmas time. My mother’s health was deteriorating further. Somehow, I still didn’t manage to drink or take drugs during all of it. Despite how bad everything had become, I knew that it would be even worse if I wasn’t sober. I knew that if I didn’t stay on track, I’d be dead.

I was never told the real reasons why, just that ”the timing never seemed right” and that I would be “too fragile” to handle any feedback they had. I just had to accept it, keep my mouth shut, move on and learn from it as best I could. I survived on travelling and working hard at guest spots, where I managed 5 stays around the UK in about 6 weeks. It was a blur of train rides, suitcases and AirBnBs, trying to save every ounce of energy and positivity for my clients and their tattoos. Most evenings I would kick myself when I was down, yelling at myself in my head: “why didn’t you just ask them if something was wrong?”, “you asked for a shop meeting but you should’ve kept pushing it!”. After I was done yelling, I realised – it shouldn’t have been my responsibility, it should’ve been theirs.

I had a feeling no one liked me there anymore, but didn’t actually believe it was true. I figured it was just my own paranoia. I thought it had something to do with my sobriety, or that I have a blind spot for subtle social cues…

My mind was racing for weeks/months, working backwards and replaying things over and over. I started remembering little things dating back about 8 months – like walking into rooms when people were talking and hearing abrupt silence as soon as they saw me. Comments like “you’ve changed”, “I miss the old La”. Spending days off and early mornings deep-cleaning the studio myself. Being the first one in to clean and set up whilst everyone else ran late. Bookings being messed up. Being blamed for things that were not my responsibility, because they were more emotionally involved with the real person at fault. I remembered the things I did – like always talking about sobriety. Saying things like “sobriety has given me what drugs and alcohol promised me” to my client whilst someone was talking about the benefits of smoking weed to their client. Taking ages to sort my head out and find a place to live in Newport after moving out of Bristol, and complaining/despairing about it. Shaking my head at people’s stories of heavy drinking and hangovers. Proudly announcing my new gym/exercise routine. I was really annoying, and definitely wasn’t the best version of myself at times. I worked much differently than they did, and did things in my own way. When I look back with hindsight from the correct perspective that I am actually Autistic, I am able to forgive myself and have compassion for myself now, when I did not have compassion by others before.

Statistics show that only 15 percent of adults with autism are in full time employment.  That means that there are hundreds of thousands of adults whose often unique skills and talents are not being utilised in the workplace or recognised across society as a whole.  Every one of these individuals will have their own story of disappointment, rejection and embarrassment that they can’t just fit in at work, mixed with the sad knowledge that they have so much to give an employer simply because of their autistic traits.

Kay Lomas, researchautism.org

I was too distracted and wrapped up in myself. Bookings were scarce. My mum was becoming more ill. I saw my estranged father briefly for the first time in 7 years, it brought up a lot of stuff and made new wounds when he left again. I was enjoying being sober and single for the first time that summer after a short, unhealthy relationship/breakup. I redecorated my home. I was worrying about my knee-op and worrying about recovering. I was getting up at 5am, training twice a week in Cardiff at 7am before being back in work for 10am. I should’ve realised what was going on sooner.

Funny thing is, your ego can have you crying over a closed door that had nothing left behind it. I realised that as I transitioned from my old self into the new, that I’d tolerated some pretty bad behaviour and bad professionalism, even in the studio that I considered my “home” and “family” I realised that anywhere that reminds me of those things will always be dysfunctional.

“FRAGILE”, OR FORMIDABLE?

3 weeks after losing my job in that studio, I celebrated my 1st year of sobriety on the 29th October. Although I’d made plans to properly treat myself that day, it didn’t feel like a victory. I spent the day travelling to a guest spot week at a studio in Bristol over Halloween, which was super fun and rewarding. I was exhausted and overloaded, but managed to keep my head above water. The AirBnB had a great bathtub and lovely hosts, so there was definitely another win.

I somehow managed to dress up TWICE for Halloween that year – serving up Little Shop of Horrors and Hocus Pocus vibes. I partied as a witch with my 2 other witchy sisters the week before – I danced on tables and on the dance floor for hours in 7 inch heels. Hundreds of people took photos, it was an awesome night! I then worked 4 appointments over 7 hours wearing a steel-boned corset on the 31st, dressed as a giant green-haired plant lady (note the subtle Joker smile – a performative nod to the sad state of my mental health at the time!)

I opened my own little business inside the gym that was helping me prepare for the knee reconstruction.

I managed to get my little studio up and running myself: 2 weeks before the operation date, which was 5 days before Christmas and in amongst a horrendous heartbreak (cheating/ghosting by a Paramedic, tragically ironic!). It made the hospital visits, stays and complications even more stressful. I managed to afford to take 4 weeks off to recover from the surgery. I mostly looked after myself, and planned how I would raise myself up from the tar pit. I sent an invoice to the Paramedic a few months later – for emotional damages, expenses and most importantly, wasting my time. I still keep in touch with one of the women he was dating the same time as me, a then 21 year-old pole fitness student Jess. We compared screenshots, anecdotes and supported each other through the bullshit. Solidarity and feminism done right. Jess, you’re strong, beautiful and wonderful – thank you.

“Fear-based decisions make people more likely to feel they’re not the authority of their own life: make more love-based decisions!”

— Karamo Brown.

Recovery is a process of UNCOVERING and RECOVERING who we truly are.

Trauma is the gateway to addiction. Connection is the remedy to addiction.

I got sober in 2017.

I started the year with a funeral: someone who ended their life, aged 33. I’d only met them once in life, but went to support my ex-partner and friends there. Going to that funeral broke apart and changed me, but what I found the most astonishing was how people behaved. Good people, chemically destroying themselves in unity, all agreeing “it’s what they would have wanted”. So many people turned up, utterly devastated. Getting fucked up at a funeral of suicide seems all the more tragic, spreading further the pain and manifesting more harm. I couldn’t quite understand it, but I joined in anyway and felt disgusting the next day. It should never have happened. I was utterly overwhelmed, and wanted to try and make it stop somehow. I realised that I could stop the harm I was doing to myself, and in turn pay respect to their life by learning and living better. Rest in peace, you wonderful soul.

It took me nearly 11 months to get fully sober. I started with drugs, then alcohol 5 months later. I just couldn’t pretend or hide anymore. I finally took responsibility for my own life. After years of running, hiding, self harm and trauma, I paused to reflect. Around the same time I was coming to my absolute limit, Russell Brand wrote and released his book on sobriety, called Recovery. This was the real catalyst of change for me.

I had NO idea how sobriety would completely transform not only myself, but my entire life.

My sobriety disrupted many people that were in my life. I started to fall out and lose touch with lots of friends, family and co-workers as I transitioned from my old self to the new. It was really hard to see everything I was so familiar with fall apart and change so quickly and so dramatically. Many people with autism hate disruption of routines and comfort, and holy fuck it was traumatic.

I kept it real quiet at first. I remember seeing my best friend from Southampton for the first time in ages. She drove up to South Wales to visit, and didn’t know I was 2 months sober at the time. I bought us dinner and gifted her my bicycle: I wasn’t able to ride anymore because of ongoing injuries. Long story short, I told her that I was sober and pretty serious about it. Shortly after that, she announced she wanted to visit another friend: she left my house and drove to a bar in Bristol to drink with another tattoo artist, either staying at his place that night or driving back to Southampton from the bar. I thought she was joking until she walked out the door. She ate the food I bought, took my bike and left. She’d been my friend for years. I was devastated and felt sick, I kept yelling in my head “we’d been through so much together, worked together, lived together! She has a boyfriend! How could she just leave like that after coming all this way to see me?”. I paused, then realised: “We mostly drank together, complained together, partied together… She wanted to drink that night, why should I stop her? Let her go.” I remained her friend for a year after that, but it was never the same. I wish her well and hope she’s happy. I started to notice more toxicity in the relationships I’d chosen to maintain with people: when people would make little digs at me, put me down, nip at me. I realised my whole life was a bit of a Crab Bucket™ – sobriety was the first step in climbing out.

If I’m not careful, I get sucked into people’s melodrama. I start worrying about everyone in the situation and hyperfocusing on it – trying to understand everything about their problems, and ultimately, try to solve it all. I start mimicking the people around me, copying behaviours. To me, love is always conditional. I feel I have to be of use to people, and require feeling liked and needed to be of any value. Every day I have to work really hard to feel worthy, valuable and deserving. The curse of codependency!

As my mind got clearer and clearer, started seeing so much more. I started feeling better and better, and started to lose interest in my usual habits – complaining a lot, self deprecating humour, ranting etc. I even started eating less sugar. I noticed a part of my mind still craved the familiar, it still wanted all those people and situations. They’d become the last artefact of my old life, and I still craved bullshit. I stayed in the bucket and kept hanging around people that had quite frankly lost interest in me. As the months went on in sobriety, I realised it was the first time I was acting like “myself” since I started drinking 15 years ago. Turns out, the “real” La was a super awkward, Autistic weirdo who had got really good at pretending she wasn’t. I still crave bad stuff when I’m feeling low and run-down, but nowadays it’s just excessive, unhealthy amounts of aggressive sex and chocolate. Not exactly replacement behaviours, but I’m working on it!

My confidence grew with my sobriety: I started using it for stupid things. Like telling someone I used to work with for years, that I’d always had a crush on them. It lasted 3 months! I was still attracted to people who were irresponsible and drank/partied a lot. Their behaviour still seemed sexy, funny, spontaneous and appealing. I feel it was still a part of me that was holding onto that state of mind, even just a little. I stayed sober on dates, whilst watching them drink. Sometimes they wouldn’t drink either, maybe to impress me or try and prove a point. Most of their conversations revolved around drinking/drug taking, or ex-partners. I realised that this was just another trauma-bond, and that I still had a lot of healing to do. They started drinking again and hooked up with someone else after I left – and later got back with their ex for the 3/4th time. I went celibate for 3 months, joined a gym and redecorated my home. I don’t know what happened after that, but truly hope he’s happy now. I’ve now learnt NOT to chase things that were never, ever meant for me.

I grew stronger, and in growing stronger I grew louder. I started speaking up about things that weren’t right, about people and clients that were being unreasonable and ridiculous. I started being more honest when speaking. I started charging and pricing my time more accurately, my sense of self-worth started to increase. I started to stand up and flex my muscles, literally and metaphorically. Projecting my voice more. Everyone loves a strong woman until she actually starts showing and using her strength. Suddenly, she’s too much. She’s forgotten her place, “too big for her boots.” Too loud, too much attitude. These women are coveted as ideas, as fantasies. Not tolerable as living, breathing humans, threatening to be potentially better than they could ever be.

‘A lesson is repeated until it is learnt.”

After that breakup, I joined a specialist gym at HANGAR in Cardiff with personal trainer Matt Bowring and commuted from Newport twice a week for 6 months. We were focusing on building strength and preparing me for the knee reconstruction. I was hyper-focused and determined – getting up at 5am and making it to the gym for 7am, before getting back to Newport again for work. My personal trainer was fantastic and incredibly patient, and didn’t see me as a lost cause. I fell in love with the gym instantly. My confidence skyrocketed – I started wearing nicer clothes, treating myself better. When I told him what had happened with the studio, he told me that there was going to be a licensed treatment room inside the gym available in December…

After the sheer amount of rejection, missing hints and certain comments in 2018, I genuinely started to wonder if I was “on the spectrum”. I followed my gut and took 2 autistic spectrum tests online (scored 88% on the 1st and 38/50 on the 2nd). I managed to afford to take 4 weeks off – and in that time I mostly looked after myself, and planned how I would raise myself up from the tar pit.

I made a list of things I wanted to do when I could walk again. Start weekly therapy sessions, treat myself to brand new boots. Start hiking again, climb a mountain. I imagined running, being able to weight train and do yoga again. I told everyone it was almost full healed, even when the stitches were still in, even I was still in crutches. It was mind over matter – The reconstruction was successful, and I healed in record time for someone my age and the scale of the existing damage.

As soon as I could drag myself in, I marched into therapy on two crutches in January 2019. I have been to counselling etc in the past, but had very poor experiences with them professionally and just wasn’t ready. I chose a private CBT counsellor who had an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) background. I began therapy with the CBT angle, and only brought up autism a few sessions later. The first few sessions addressed the PTSD I’d suffered from losing my job, the 2 short relationships/breakups and having a particularly traumatic hospital experience and recovering from surgery alone. When I raised the concern myself, she smiled. “ASD” was one of the first things she wrote down in her notes during our first session!

After that, and a lot of doctors/hospital visits, I was professionally and medically diagnosed as autistic with multiple associated conditions/chronic illnesses. I had to navigate and learn to process and manage this with no support outside of therapy, whilst continuing to work hard running/operating my own business, still recovering from a knee reconstruction. I’ve always tried to stay positive without being “fake” – and maintained upbeat professionalism online as much as possible, whilst recovering and healing in private.

(I chose not to follow a clinical “government” diagnosis, as I feel I don’t need to access extra support, and do not work for a company or have an employer. Over the last 10 months, my private therapist has helped me process the diagnosis, grieve my “old self” and helps me manage my life and my autism every week)

Changing bad tribalism into good tribalism: How can we invoke healthy forms of tribalism and lessen bad tribalism? First, recognise that groups built on the foundation of hate, disdain, and anger build those traits in ourselves. With the constant urging of bad tribalism, we stay angry, and that can affect our personal well-being. Second, we can step outside ourselves through empathy and see the world from the view of others. When we use empathy to understand others, we see how we are similar, how we are all human beings. Empathy can broaden our sense of connections to others, and that diminishes bad tribalism. Ultimately our goal should be to build the tribe we all belong to: that of humanity. When we can see each other as human beings, we change bad tribalism into good tribalism. We are part of the work to ensure the survival of our shared tribe of humanity.”

— Elizabeth A. Segal, Ph.D., PsychologyToday.com

Those 6 months were completely life destroying and life changing. I have had to completely rebuild myself, and am navigating most parts of my life all over again from the correct perspective (finally). There has been a lot more darker things I’ve had to deal with too, which quite frankly will stay between me and my therapist.

These were taken 3 months apart. In the photo on the left, I was heartbroken, stressed, sick, soaked in the worst pain/anxiety imaginable and spent the whole day on my own, crying my eyes out and trying to soothe my aching heart and plummeting mental health. Hiking Pen Y Fan was obviously on the list, as a proud Welshie!

V for VICTORIOUS, not “VICTIM”.

I created my studio myself. I built all the furniture myself, and have brand new top of the range everything. I’ve spent 14 months recovering from and processing everything that happened. I can do things my way, set up and clean everything in my own way. If I want pink kitchen roll, I can buy and use as much as I want! I’m no longer using worn-out, cheap furniture that didn’t belong to me. I’m no longer paying 40% of my earnings every day to 2 people who complained that I used too much kitchen roll to clean with, while they own a large rural house with a swimming pool and vintage cars. When I was being screamed at that day, I was told I was “ungrateful” for everything they did for me, and I understand how they felt that way. But I thanked them so many times, over and over for 19 months. They did not thank me for the 19 months I earned my keep and tried my best to make things work, but I didn’t expect to be thanked. I was happy to do it and be part of the team. Expecting loyalty and conformity in return for helping someone is just a form of control. Gang tactics. Staying in that studio for as long as I did, commuting from Bristol for 5 months in the beginning, turning down job offers in other studios and making a 60-70 mile round trip every day by train and bus, choosing to stay even when bookings were bad and people didn’t want me there anymore, keeping my mouth shut even when I was being abandoned by the people I’d pledged “loyalty” to, now that’s commitment and dedication. Now, I thank my clients more, over and over. They’re the REAL stars, and always were! I’m now able to dedicate myself to the most important parts of tattooing, as much as I am able to. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

What if simply being autistic and not fitting in gives us the need and drive to create our career paths by working freelance, by being entrepreneurial, by making an income out of a hobby or by working creatively or in scientific research?  
Would we really want to lose that unique pool of talent to a big corporation just for the sake of being able to fit in? It seems vital to me that each unique autistic person is given the opportunity and support to succeed at work in whatever career path they want to follow. I believe those of us who have a voice must speak up for the rest of our community when we can.  There’s an awful lot of work to be done before we see any percentage increase for employment levels realised.

Kay Lomas, researchautism.org

Surround yourself with people who will help and celebrate your improvements, and empower you to be a better version of yourself. Pulling someone down will never help you reach the top.

Cultivating a positive, fulfilling life will be almost impossible to do surrounded by negative, unfulfilled people. One of the biggest tests of your strength and commitment to a better life is to be able to pull yourself out of the bucket on your own. You can’t change how other people think, so in order for these destructive thoughts to not affect you, move on and spend your time with people who are more supportive. Attend seminars, listen to podcasts, read books, go to galleries, conventions and shows. Replace self-harm with self-care. Don’t let the crabs get to you down!

I felt compelled to draw crabs back in 2017, whilst mental health was at its lowest.
Based from my reference stock, this is originally a Carpilius Maculatus, or Spotted Reef Crab. From display at the Pit Rivers museum in Oxford. It wasn’t until a year later that I was told about the Crab Bucket theory by a wonderful client who has gifted me with so much wisdom (Sarah, thank you). I’ve created tattoos, artwork and made hundreds of items of colourful tattooed crabs. You can purchase my art and merchandise here.

Earlier this year, the studio sent me back some items of mine I’d left behind at the studio the day I packed up and left; along with a note wishing me good luck with the new business. I sent them a big bunch of flowers to say thank you, and sorry for leaving them behind.

When asked what forgiveness is, the Sufi holy man replied:
“It is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.”

People with autism deserve a place in society and the tribe of humanity. Let them thrive like flowers: they may grow differently, require different soil. Require different conditions to live. Some may flower less than others. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to live and bloom. I hope to raise awareness, offer support and shed light on this beautiful community of rare and precious talents and perspectives.

Traditional tattoo history in the UK has come from seedy beginnings and back alleys, shrouded in mystery, criminal gangs and bad behaviour. It was a big boys club, when clients were second-rate citizens next to the prestigious artists. Tattoos were reserved for criminals, sailors, soldiers and sex workers, and were a symbol of unsavoury, low-brow taste. Bad tribalism. The real roots of tattooing come from good tribalism, thousands of years ago to this present day – symbols of growth and special occasions between communities, ways of connection. Tattooing is a ritual, a sacred event.

🦀 Let’s get out of our buckets and into the tribe, where we all belong.

La x

Life is Too Short To Suffer.

Surviving, thriving, self care and self harm: Why should you give a fuck? Because you deserve it.

Please note: you are not obligated to listen to me, or keep reading. NO ONE is making you practice any of these, ever. You’re sitting/standing/lying down on planet Earth, suspended amongst infinite space. It’s totally up to you. YOU’RE THE BOSS! You can edit and adapt these to suit you, however is best for you. 💜

We need regulation of our appetites. We shouldn’t be able to just run amok. There should be limits in place that stop us, because there are human appetites that are very self-centred and non-communal as much as there is love and community spirit. 

—Laurence Scott.

Most of our behaviour is either self-care, or self-harm.

First of all: FUCK YEAH, you made it this far! Life is a balance between order and chaos. Care and harm can be managed and handled in equal measure. The fact that you’re still managing to hold it together, whilst reading a blog about self care is testament to that! You’re doing much better than you think, I promise.

Humans need regulation!

We all crave discipline, and we all deserve happiness. Pain & pleasure, but in equal measure.

You can learn this whenever you’re ready, and remember it whenever you want.

The One That Thrives is the One You Feed.

I have to chose my higher self over my lower self each day. If I don’t, I’m in big trouble!

Just because I carry everything so well, does not mean it’s not heavy.
I’m Autistic, chronically ill, processing big trauma, grief and working to re-wire my brain and nervous system. Depression and anxiety are dear old friends of mine. I’m self employed, run my own business and live with my cat. I work most days, all day – I clean and maintain my own studio, answer all my own emails, do my own admin, run my merch store then have to clean my home and feed the cat afterwards. Maybe see my partner on the weekend, or my friends at some point. Maybe train, or watch anime and play games. Maybe write some more. Maybe not…

Stuck on HARD MODE: My default setting is pretty harsh and dark. The tar pit is always out there, waiting for me. I have to work really hard to re-wire my default programming every day.

SELF HARM isn’t just about cutting/burning your skin when things are really bad. It can be self sabotaging when things are really good. It can be watching sad, depressing movies and horrible documentaries all the time. It’s winding people up who you know will lash out at you. It’s repeatedly engaging with people who are committed to misunderstanding you.

Complaining that someone’s being a clown all the time? Stop hanging out in the circus! This stuff is totally your choice. Allow yourself to believe that you deserve better.

If you run from your demons, they will chase you – if you turn to face them, they will run from you. Train them, by training yourself!

I can’t turn OFF being depressed or anxious. I can’t STOP being Autistic and chronically ill – but I can manage it all better with self care, and I can chose to be happy and grateful in spite of it all.

“My sanity requires daily maintenance.”

— Julia Cameron.

FEEDING//STARVING YOUR DEMONS:

Self harm can look like:

  • Lack of routines
  • Denying yourself sleep, sleeping poorly
  • Staying up late, then sleeping in
  • Self-isolation
  • Self-sabotage
  • Choosing not to eat/drink well
  • Not keeping yourself/your home warm enough
  • Not keeping on-top of laundry
  • Denying yourself showering/grooming 
  • Keeping your home messy/damp/unclean
  • Spending too much time on social media
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Skipping prescribed medication 
  • Skipping doctors appointments/checkups
  • Avoiding therapy/counselling
  • Not brushing/looking after your teeth
  • Overeating/overindulging 
  • Over-exercising & over-working yourself 
  • Skipping physio appointments
  • Taking on too many jobs/projects at once
  • Substance abuse 
  • Smoking/drinking
  • Staying in contact with toxic ex-partners
  • Cheating/lying/affairs
  • Scratching/picking/pinching your skin
  • Getting tattooed irresponsibly
  • Forcing yourself go out and do things when you’re exhausted 
  • Choosing to put yourself in anxiety-inducing situations
  • Triggering yourself: movies, TV, books, social media etc
  • Looking up abusive/toxic ex-partners, friends or family online
  • Entering relationships you don’t want to be in 
  • Trauma-bonds
  • Hanging out with people you don’t want to be around 
  • Having sex when you don’t want to
  • Setting yourself punishments
  • Not giving yourself enough time
  • Wasting time/procrastination 
  • Always running late
  • Leaving everything last minute
  • Spending less time with people who love and care for you
  • Avoiding healthy, nurturing relationships 
  • Yelling/making fun of yourself in your head
  • Sneering/scowling at yourself in the mirror
  • Criticising your body in the mirror
  • Holding in things instead of venting
  • Overthinking 
  • Over-stressing 
  • Over-apologising
  • Seeking out confrontation/conflict
  • Staying in toxic relationships 

Doormats have to be lying down on the ground, before people are able to walk all over them. Get up!

Self care can look like:

  • Creating routines and sticking to them
  • Waking up early: start with 7am, 6am then 5am
  • Daily writing/journaling
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Seeing a counsellor/therapist
  • Joining a 12-step program in your area
  • Reaching out to someone you trust
  • Self-healing: breath-work, inner child work, re-parenting
  • Sleep hypnotherapy/meditation (apps like Calm & Headspace)
  • Self-compassion
  • Self-trust
  • Sticking to a bedtime: start with 11pm, then 10pm, to 9pm
  • Cooking yourself healthy meals, making raw juice and smoothies
  • Self comfort: warm layers, soft blankets
  • Self soothing: sight, touch, sound, smell, taste
  • Fresh, clean clothes
  • Making time for an indulgent bath
  • Spoiling yourself
  • Spa trips, weekends away
  • Keeping your home tidy/dry/clean
  • Limit time on social media, set screen time limits
  • Sticking to prescribed medication, making sure it’s the right fit
  • Sticking to doctors appointments/checkups: maintaining overall health
  • Physical therapy: sports therapy, massage, acupuncture etc
  • Looking after your teeth: sticking to dentist appointments
  • Mindful eating, self-control
  • Manageable amounts of exercise & work
  • Keeping up with physio, stretching
  • Comfortable schedules of jobs/projects
  • Sobriety
  • Abstinence
  • Replacement behaviours
  • Cutting contact with toxic ex-partners
  • Open, honest communication: speaking your truth
  • Moisturising and protecting your skin
  • Staying in to recharge when you’re exhausted 
  • Choosing not to put yourself in anxiety-inducing situations
  • Comforting yourself: feel-good movies, comedy etc
  • Self-help/self-improvement books
  • Blocking abusive/toxic friends or family online
  • Avoiding relationships you don’t want to be in 
  • Avoiding people you don’t want to be around 
  • Healthy, connected and safe sex whenever you want to
  • To-do lists
  • Rewards, treating yourself
  • Giving yourself enough time
  • Structured task management
  • Running early
  • Spending more time with people who love and care for you
  • Allowing yourself space to create healthy, nurturing relationships 
  • Complimenting yourself in your head
  • Smiling at yourself in the mirror
  • Celebrating your body in the mirror
  • Freely expressing needs
  • Getting tattooed responsibly
  • Quietening the mind
  • De-stressing 
  • Clear boundaries, open communication
  • Working through confrontation/conflict
  • Walking in nature
  • Self-respect: staying out of toxic relationships

Obviously not all these are exactly as black & white as they are here.
They can clash with each other: like going to a dentist appointment when you’re stressed, exhausted and hungry; or dealing with difficult people in your workplace, or keeping up with exercise/training if your work schedule is full. They always require a choice, but sometimes it isn’t easy. I also understand that managing self care can be tricky if you’re a parent, and I totally understand and respect that. I can’t have children, for a number of reasons, but know there are incredible mums and dads out there who are able to navigate parenthood and find their own balance. Following your gut takes practice: breath-work/meditation, therapy and writing can help you tune-in more closely. Feel once, so you don’t have to think twice. Recharging regularly is essential, especially if you have a lot going on.

Here’s some self care basics that have made the biggest impact on me. I hope they can help you too:

Sleep hygiene. 💤

Clean up your sleep routine! Sleep is super important to give you energy to heal each day. Food provides fuel, tea/coffee can stimulate you but only sleep can repair and recover you.

REM sleep allows you to recharge, process stresses/traumas and balance brain chemistry. Negative thoughts and anxieties you’ve stored up subconsciously from the stresses of the day, are able to be processed consciously in the form of dreams. Humans need 7-8 hours sleep per day. It’s proven that if you have less than this each day, your lifespan is significantly less and your quality of life is reduced. REM sleep takes a lot of energy to do – it’s only 20% of the sleep cycle on average. If you’ve got a lot of stuff to process, you’ll go through more REM sleep. This can cause you wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep. You can wake up more tired, as your brain has spent lots of energy repeating a REM cycle.

I’ve been doing sleep hypnosis for 7 months now. As with all of these suggestions, I encourage you to discover for yourself, and find out what works/doesn’t work for you.

🔆 Screen time:

Blue light from artificial screens can stop us sleeping properly, as it has the same biological triggers as blue skies and sunrises. Red app notifications are designed intentionally to grab our attention, make us alert and keeping us looking at the screen. This affects sleep because if your brain is in alert mode, making it harder to relax.

I put my phone on airplane mode, every night, without fail. I can’t be of good use to myself or anyone else if I’m running on a shit night’s sleep. Notifications don’t come through, random app reminders stay away until after I decide to turn it back on. I try to leave it on until coffee/writing/meditation is done. I sometimes use it for when I’m cleaning at home, or when I’m with my partner in the evenings.

I’ve set my phone to turn off the blue light between sunrise/sunset. This can help a more natural circadian rhythm: proven to reduce eye strain, headaches and restlessness.

SAD lamps keep you HAPPY in the darker months! I have a S.A.D lamp that I use every morning now, from September to March.

🌞 Morning routine:

Writing every morning is an amazing way to change your life.

Last time I was writing daily, was over 2 years ago. I’d just moved into my new flat, but was although I was feeling very positive, I was confused and filled with dread. I was heading towards a breakdown without having any idea. Breakdowns are sort of a death; daily writing helps draw it all out. I took a hiatus from writing every day, as I felt I had other things I needed to address. I had a year of big changes to navigate before I settled into the beautiful routine I have now.

Try to write 2-4 pages of shorthand depending on the size of the pages, as soon as you wake up. Whatever comes to mind. Write about not being able to write about anything. Ask yourself questions. Rant about stuff. Maybe make a cup of tea or coffee first!

Fast forward over 2 years later, to now: the flat is filled with houseplants, my newly adopted cat Sid is here. I run my own business. After 3 years of waiting, I finally went through and fully recovered from a knee reconstruction. I’m 2 years sober. I had a life changing trip to Sweden last month. I have a partner that loves me in a way that I never believed I deserved before. The coffee is really, really good.

When I was writing on that desk back in 2017, I would never have believed I’d get to where I am today. I had almost convinced myself that I didn’t deserve any of it…

Get yourself a few good quality pens and a beautiful notebook or two.

🧡 Meditation.

Mind wandering makes us miserable. 4/5 thoughts are negative, this is a left-over survival tactic of risk assessment. Meditation quietens the mind and the ‘internal critic’, making it easier to pull to a soft and calm focus when things get tough.
Lots of people either love meditation or they hate it. When I re-downloaded Headspace this year, I realised the last time I used it was ‘pre-sobriety’. I use that one word to summarise a very long list of harmful behaviour, situations and general misery spanning years and years.

Headspace & Calm are great, easy to use apps to train your mind by starting with the basics – you can then explore meditation offline if you like. I now can meditate for a few minutes easily, breathe more effectively and access that blissfully empty feeling.

I think the last time I used it I was hungover, miserable from some breakdown of a short toxic relationship and struggling to book work in a studio that was failing. I’d relocated 140 miles away from home hoping to get a “fresh start” – in a doomed, toxic environment. I was trying to clear my mind, but had no idea the real reasons why I couldn’t quiet things down up there. I was also undiagnosed Autistic and was suffering almost continuous ‘sensory overload’ and ‘burnout’ daily without understanding why. I kept spraining my ankles from hyper-mobility, and had long term damage from gluten intolerance. I had surrounded myself with “frenemies” that had similar lifestyles and attitudes, and really just hated themselves as well as me. I was trying to relax whilst sitting in the middle of a fucking tiger enclosure… on fire.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

— Joseph Campbell.

I got fed up of hiding and distracting myself in over-working, people-pleasing, drinking/partying, complaining, despairing and staying stuck.
I knew I had to change, I just had no idea how I would do it.

I moved back home to South Wales in 2017, a few months before I became sober: I (just about) managed to overcome one of the lowest points in my life, eventually finding and creating a gorgeous little home. I stopped drinking and other drugs, embarked on 18 months of training/physio, then suddenly but gratefully got laid off from a job in another ‘alcocentric’/‘narcocentric’ studio. I travelled guest spots for 6 weeks before opening my own business, started to clear my life up of toxicity: I cut ties with harmful people/connections, let go of family members, re-connected with loving, happy and nutritious people, getting closer to my new sense of home. After 8 months of CBT/Autism therapy, 3 months of sleep hypnotherapy and 1.6 years into Recovery, I re-downloaded the app. No more tigers on fire.

I still find meditation tricky, and don’t always use apps – lots of people on the spectrum struggle to focus on nothing. When you feel like your neuro-divergent mind is racing non-stop, it can be really hard to tune-out the noise. Trying is still important, and still counts. It’s all progress. The mind is like a radio, just be aware of it, listen to it, don’t tune into it too much. Breathe in for 4, out for 4. Repeat…

🥥 Coconut oil.

Seriously. I’ve been drinking it in my coffee almost every morning for nearly 3 years. I also use it heal tattoos, and on my hair and skin.

I use it to intermittently fast most mornings (I just have to remember to eat when I’m focused on tattooing!). Intermittent fasting is a process of alternating cycles of fasting and eating – for stamina, metabolism and increasing lifespan and resistance to disease. Coconut oil is quick healthy energy that increases metabolism. It can help your liver, boost brain function, boost bone health, reduce inflammation and aid in fat burning. The healthy fatty acids in coconut oil can kill harmful pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. This can potentially help to prevent infections. You can take your makeup off with it, cook with it – I can’t recommend this stuff enough! Vita Coco, Clearspring and Biona are really good.

🌲 Tree bathing.

Get out into nature, as often as you can. Breathe in the cleaner air, take in the smells and sounds. Sense the trees breathing, listen to your footsteps/wheels/crutches. Clear your mind, and remind yourself what the real world looks like.

CBD oil and supplements are great too – I’ve been taking multi-vitamins for years, and in the last few years have been taking probiotics and amino acids as well as joint care and turmeric stuff. CBD oil is non-psychoactive: stabilising mood and stress levels naturally, whilst managing pain and inflammation. CBD oil doesn’t necessarily make you feel more good, it makes you feel less bad. As with a lot of these suggestions, it can give you a little bit more space to do the work yourself.

This month’s changes are next months results.

“A year from now, you may wish you had started today.”

— Karen Lamb.

6 months of focus and hard work can put you 5 years ahead in life.
Don’t underestimate the power of consistency and desire. It’s never too late – trust the timing of your life, and believe that you already have everything it takes. What a wonderful thought, that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet!

There are people less qualified than you, doing the things you want to do, simply because they decide to believe in themselves.

Writing this blog and making posts like this are not just a hobby of mine, it’s the highest form of self care for me. I’m finally able to share my stories and experiences from a healed perspective, and it’s incredibly cathartic and freeing. If I can help others along the way, this will in turn help me as part of my recovery. Life isn’t about competition: I want you to do well and heal. I want us all to thrive!

Signs you are healing/growing:

  • More observing, less judging
  • More responding, less reacting
  • More self-love, less self-sabotage
  • More boundaries, less resentments
  • More inner peace, less outer chaos
  • More clarity, less confusion
  • More being, less doing.
  • More faith, less fear.

I’m outgrowing harm, and taking root into care.

For various reasons, beyond my control: I spent my early, formative years frozen in survival mode. I was neglected, abused, lacking emotional/spiritual nutrition and constantly analysing risks and anticipating/avoiding more harm. I’ve had to learn how to become my own nutritional, caring source. I’m now in control. I’ve stopped avoiding pain, and am moving through it. I’m now able to make myself safe and well, more often. As I navigate the decades of trauma and pain, I’m breaking cycles. I want the same for you, too.

Trust me – if I can do this stuff, you’ve got this.

Take care.

La x

Boundaries and Business.

“What you say NO to, often defines YOU and your business far more than what you say YES to.”

— The Costa Sisters.

I have my own business, but I am NOT a business.

I’m an ARTIST and a human being, not Starbucks. I’m 1 human doing the work of 3. I feel everything more than most, and work harder than anyone will ever really know.

I am posting this, currently off work for a few days and suffering an immune system crash due to stress… I think? (I’m having more bloods done and a CT scan, very morbidly exciting). Spending my 2 year sobriety birthday hardcore napping and visiting my GP twice yesterday was an interesting surprise!

Although it didn’t go to plan, I still made time to meditate, enjoy the outdoors and do a bit of work admin/home cleaning.

Maybe it was working a 55 hour week of awesome tattoos whilst hiding/managing a shingles flare-up – just after getting back from an amazing, 5-day business trip to Sweden. Maybe it was the excitement/stress of travelling and exploring Stockholm for the first time. Maybe it’s been from enduring online harassment for weeks and weeks. Maybe it’s the general misery of the UK. Maybe it’s because I had another flare-up after getting home from a 12 hour round-trip to Manchester, just after the first one healed. Maybe it’s a hEDS thing. Maybe it’s something else.

I’m still learning a lot of things: most importantly, how to say no. 

It’s coming up to a whole year since I’ve been running my own little business, and it’s definitely been one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I’d say most of all the hardest things I’ve ever done have been in the past 2-3 years. Trial by fire, over and over.

Biggest and best thing I’ve been learning this year?

 BOUNDARIES.

This year, I’ve been speaking up and taking up more space. Communicating with clients that I don’t think are the best fit, or I feel do not trust me and how I work. I’ve been more vocal about clients that have scared me. Clients that are clearly more interested in what I look like, than how my tattoos look! I’ve been more vocal about clients that have made me uncomfortable, and have had to suggest they go elsewhere. I communicate to every client about how I work in detail, and explain my process more.
I work WITH clients, not FOR them.

Many people with Autism (me included) have a very keen, overwhelming sense of the emotional states of others. Being hyper-aware like this is usually a choice between: ignore it and shut off, or tune into it and become overwhelmed. Being sensory overloaded can affect this choice too.

When I first started saying no, I did it politely but very bluntly.
This shook a few clients up, made them uncomfortable and they lashed out. Setting and holding boundaries is a terrible, clumsy process at first, and there’s never a guarantee you can place them safely and avoid conflict. Maybe their cognitive discomfort is from their interpretation of me, not playing out in real life in the way they had predicted in their mind. They say that expectations are just planned disappointments – I had to keep telling myself that the version of me they’ve created in their mind is not my responsibility. If someone responds in a hurtful way and continues to harass me, I am simply getting feedback on their emotional wellness. I remain calm. I breathe, learn and wish them well.

“Those with trauma and unhealthy attachment will view boundaries as a rejection. Or abandonment. They have not healed, and believe a person with limits is harming them.”

— Dr. Nicole LePera.

Here’s a little bit about what I’m talking about: 

I have 2 years sobriety and a substantial amount of therapy under my belt. I meditate, I work out, I fight personal chronic illness and promote mental wellness.

I raise awareness about Autism, and offer support for women going through a diagnosis later in life.
I also offer support to anyone going through any topics that are discussed, as best I can.

If that makes you unhappy in any way, please don’t request to book in to get tattooed by me. We both deserve to be happy in life, so let’s agree to leave each other alone! I want to recover out loud to help those struggling in silence; and serve as a testament to the theory that if I can do this stuff, anyone can.

(A lot of what I’ve been through I have managed totally on my own. I live alone and I don’t have any family to rely on or a large support network. Usually, it’s just me. I do however, have an incredible partner, a loving cat, 2 magical best friends, a fantastic PT and a wonderful therapist!)

If my lifestyle makes you uncomfortable, I understand. There’s plenty of other amazing artists out there that make great tattoos and share your values and attitudes – tattooing is a close proximity, 2 player game. Tattoos are a luxury, and I want to keep and treat them that way. I’m more than happy to talk to you about drinking/drugs and share anecdotes from my past, but won’t be able to connect with you about it as a current lifestyle. I’d much rather talk about movies, games, sci-fi, conspiracy theories, science, ghosts, aliens, travelling, where you see yourself in 5 years, favourite animals, funny stories and weird facts. I love hearing all your beautiful, wonderful and interesting answers! We don’t even have to talk: we can just listen to music and enjoy the process. Sometimes tattooing needs to be a quiet, focused experience.

Unfortunately, confessing embarrassing/dark/criminal/secret things to me whilst you’re getting tattooed does not absolve you from them. I’d recommend talking to a licensed therapist, joining a 12-step programme in your area and practicing self love and compassion. I can only listen and offer reassurance during our appointment, whilst you’re in my care. 

I’m proud to be able to provide a private and intimate tattooing experience, free from most of the usual distractions and social bullshit. I want to focus on the two most important things: the client and the tattoo! My studio is also inside an amazing gym – my whole life and work ethos is now focused on positive change, self care and self improvement. I truly want everyone to achieve their “best self”, in whatever way that feels best for them, and however that looks for them. 

I don’t have to tattoo everyone, or take on every ‘job’.
I can’t. 

I only have a finite amount of time and energy remaining on this planet. I cannot physically, mentally and emotionally afford to take on clients and work which isn’t the right fit for the both of us. I have big trauma behind me and chronic illness/autism beside me. Recharging in solitude and pacing myself is essential to my survival, and I’ve got really good at it.

Something useful I found on the internet, which I hope is of use to you too.

This isn’t about NOT being able to tolerate stressful, difficult situations with clients – this is about how much BETTER I am when I’m not dealing with it on a regular basis.

I create better work, I’m able to show up better for my clients and the people in my life, I can manage my autism, health conditions and sobriety more effectively. I can be a better human, more regularly.

“Boundaries are an act of self care. They are for us. If someone responds in a hurtful way we are simply getting feedback on their emotional wellness. Emotionally well people respect boundaries. They honor the needs of others, because they honor the needs of themselves.”

— Dr. Nicole LePera.

I’ve been through a lot. I really have. I’m becoming more aware of how this has changed and shaped me.

I’m capable of a lot of good things, and when I’m happy and comfortable I can achieve great work and great things. I don’t have to constantly grind and make money; I’m very fortunate and lucky to have a modest life, occasionally treating myself and others. I’ve spent 7 years learning and working in studios where heavy alcohol/drug use and lack of boundaries/toxic relationships were not just standard, they were funny and cool as fuck. 

I’m now unlearning lots of old, outdated and toxic things about tattooing and the industry, so that I can take in and learn more new, better and healthy things.

Thanks for reading!