I am Korben aged 22 and I have Autism. I struggle with extreme anxiety and can not cope in social situations. I did not leave the house for 4 years and when I was 21 I realised this could not carry on. I had, what I can only describe as, a mental breakdown in 2017, the only place I felt safe was my home. For the past year I have been forcing myself to leave the house with my mum twice a week, we might go shopping, for a walk or to see my nephews.
I am very self-conscious and wear clothes that keep me covered, I have a hoody on at all times, this is partly due to sensory difficulties but also because I hate the look of my arms. I have small scars on parts of my arms from where I used to get stressed and pick my skin or pinch myself.
I need a reason to like myself and to feel confident and comfortable in my own skin, I fully believe getting tattooed will help me achieve this.
I wanted to go straight in with two full sleeves as there is no point pussy footing around. There is no point taking up prime real estate on your arms getting a small tattoo to see if you are comfortable with it, so I thought ‘screw it’ and started planning what I wanted.
When an idea pops into my head it is the only thing I can think about, tattoo ideas and planning is all I fixated on for months. I spend a lot of time on my own and need something to obsess over as it is difficult spending so much time inside your own head when you have negative thoughts.
After weeks of nagging them, I managed to convince my parents that this would be something good for me. This is when the full planning began. I was so excited, even though I knew I would find the process difficult I was determined to fight through the anxiety to reach my end goal.
I sat with my mum one Saturday afternoon many months ago and began my search for a tattooist. We went through many websites and found some great artists who were local to me but something just didn’t feel right, I did not see myself feeling comfortable with them. I knew I would be spending many hours in their company and as they would be the first person I had spoken to outside of my family in many years it had to be the right person for me.
We extended the search on google and were looking for tattoo studios in neighbouring cities. The second I found Vellum Studio and Jai I stopped looking. From the website I could tell it would be the environment I would feel most comfortable in and Jai’s artwork is insanely good. We immediately messaged her, I was not able to write the message due to my anxieties so my mum sat with me and wrote the initial message from her. I told her what I wanted to convey in the message but just wasn’t ready to have contact with anyone myself. I was open about my Autism as I knew for this to work, I had to explain a bit about me to the tattooist.
Jai quickly replied and I booked in for an initial consultation just over a week later. From then the plans were in full swing.
I was terrified of going for this initial consultation. I only had a week to come to terms with going out and meeting a stranger, this was good for me personally, as I didn’t have much time to overthink.
I went with my mum and told her that I would try and talk but if she could tell I needed help could she step in. When I arrived at the studio Jai made the environment feel safe, I was not comfortable but I was never going to be. I did manage to talk as I was passionate about my ideas and Jai seemed to understand me and my thoughts. It was important I was able to get my ideas across as the artist needed to work with me and help develop my thoughts.
I left this consultation feeling excited and a little calmed with how easy going the environment felt.
For my first sleeve I went with an Egyptian theme. It is a civilisation that creates a focal point in history and one that I am really interested in and have been since I was a child. I had a chance to turn my arms into something I was no longer self-conscious about, with an incredible piece of artwork. My nephews have helped me to get out of the house and they give me a reason to get up in the morning so I decided I wanted something to represent them within the tattoo.
The process is long and for me it is quite tough mentally.
Although I find the process difficult Jai has explained it to me and put me at ease. There is so much conflicting information online and Jai almost cuts through the crap and tells you what you need to know and I find this calming.
I find the time between sessions difficult as I find waiting hard, when I wait I then start thinking and obsessing, however I totally understand it is all part of the healing process and will give me the best results.
I find the emotional build up to the sessions exhausting, I need to get mentally prepared but by doing this I obsess and get over prepared, I realise the appointment is still a week away, I try to stop thinking about it but can’t. When the appointment comes I don’t feel ready but in reality I am.
I do struggle with touch and Jai has been really good at explaining that she will always ask for permission before she touches me. She makes sure that I am comfortable and fully explains what she is going to do and how it might feel.
At the first session I thought I was fully prepared but due to my insecurities and mental quirks I set limitations for myself that weren’t helpful for the process and led to me having to cut the session short. I had my earphones out and ready to use but didn’t put them in my ear because I felt it was rude to. I don’t eat in front of anyone so even though I had food with me I wasn’t comfortable to eat it, I know now that this was silly and I needed to push myself through my thoughts.
In my second session I did things totally different, I ate, drank and watched Netflix. The day went so much better and I didn’t feel like I was going to faint.
The worst part, for me, about getting a tattoo is having to concentrate so much on keeping still. As the situation makes me feel tense, I tense all the muscles in my body which makes me exhausted. I don’t sleep well usually but after each session I have a great sleep for a couple of days due to the sheer mental exhaustion I feel.
I have my mum with me in the sessions to start with but have been comfortable enough to be left on my own, this is huge for me and I never imagined I would be able to be sat alone in a tattoo studio. The feeling of transforming my skin into something I love is amazing and I do believe that this is the first step for me becoming more comfortable in a world that I don’t always feel I fit in to.
Written by Korben.