I’ve challenged myself in so many ways over the years, especially since my tormented school years came to an end and I could finally dedicate myself to the things and the people I am truly interested in. I’ve studied hard to get good grades, taken part in a university play, immersed myself in the happy/sad concept of the long-term relationship which taught me how to be less selfish, gone abroad, etc etc. The challenge was getting out of my comfort zone and doing things that would make me terrified and uncomfortable, yet were ultimately rewarding and left me a bit smarter, kinder or more confident.
But getting over an actual fear was also incredibly challenging on its own.
By fear, I mean the physiological terror that overcomes the individual which might or might not be completely rational; a terror that freezes one to their seat, and can induce bouts of crying.
For years, I was always afraid of needles. Even when I had to give blood for a routine exam, the image of a nurse approaching with a needle was enough to make me shake uncontrollably, thus rendering everything much harder for both of us and ultimately prolonging the suffering.
Which is why everyone was reasonably surprised when I announced I am getting a tattoo.
Of course, I was fully aware that tattoos equal needles that crawl under your skin and spit ink. It is a very crude and basic description but fairly accurate. And most of the time, it’s more than one needle, which is why tattoos are usually thick lined and beautiful and sophisticatedly shaped.
Booking a tattoo session in London means that you might have to wait over a month till your turn comes. Studios, no matter where they are, have a fair amount of bookings, and late afternoons/evenings (after 17.30) tend to be incredibly popular as most people do office jobs and work until then. Same goes for evenings. Mornings tend to be quieter, but I had no leave left, so I had to make do with a late afternoon session, and this meant waiting.
Once I paid the deposit, I knew there was no turning back. It was happening. At that time, it felt really far away (1 month) and work was hectic, so my focus was elsewhere. But once work has quieted down and my mind had to find its new focus, I realised my session was a week away.
I wanted to bail. My fear of needles and my complete ignorance of what a tattoo needle would feel like on my skin (would it be painful? would I flinch and subsequently ruin the design? so many thoughts) made me question my choice. My good friend Mor (who has been inked many a time) tried to calm me down and reassure me that tattoo pain is no worse than laser hair removal pain.
Googling didn’t help either. Different people had different experiences of pain, and this made me more confused and desperate. In retrospect, I should have resisted the temptation to google.
And the day came. I was still recovering from a persistent flu (because, when it rains it pours!) but the most annoying symptoms have started subsiding, so I was medically ready to sit under the needle.
Before the session started and while the very friendly tattoo artist was setting up, I asked him if it’d be too painful. He reassured me that no, it’s not as bad as I think it is. Mor nodded her head in agreement and gave me a big smile.
And there it was. The needle came down on my skin.
And oh the surprise! I didn’t flinch. I didn’t cry. I didn’t violently pull away my bleeding wrist.
It was a mix of burn and scratch, but it was by no means unbearable. At times, when the needle came closer to the bone, the pain became slightly more intense, but not enough to make me shed a tear. I was talking to Mor throughout my session, which was hard to do over the hard-to-ignore noise the tattoo machine was making.
And after 30 minutes, voila! the beautiful design was ready. I was so proud of it. Not only because it looked amazing and it was a part of my body, but also because my fear of needles dissipated. It became trivial.
It was a milestone for me. Needles no longer scare me. I subjected my skin to the mercy of the needle for 30 minutes; I can definitely take a needle for a split second!
This experience further confirmed my idea that if you wish to overcome a fear, subject yourself to it. Demystify it. Bring it down to your level and confront it. And think that, if a million people in the world can do it, so can you.