Read time: 7-8minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, anxiety, trauma, drug/alcohol abuse.
“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!
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?
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 incredibly 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.
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 honour the needs of others, because they honour 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.