Overload Nation: Premier Fatigue.

Read time: 20-22 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, panic attacks, breakdowns, and suicide ideation.

So, I kicked off the start of this year’s “Leo Season” on the 23rd of July with a 10-day Staycation. 🦁 I didn’t mean to make so many rugby puns in the first 3 lines of this post, but let’s get stuck in! 🏉

“Overload Nation” is a term used by one of my sober neurodivergent friends, which I loved as soon as I heard her use it! Premier Fatigue is a pun on how advanced my levels of fatigue were before I booked this time off. The “Leo Season” timing thing was a total coincidence, but definitely a happy accident!

I deleted all social media apps from my iPhone, iPad and laptop. I added “AWAY ON STAYCATION” to the bios of my blog and tattoo accounts and added posts to Facebook and Instagram detailing when I’d be back. I celebrated the first day with a decent osteopathy and acupuncture session, followed by a long CBD bath.

I’m so grateful to be in a stable(ish) place financially that afforded me this time at home, especially after this past year. I’ve been craving a holiday/writing retreat for a while, but knew I couldn’t afford to take time off AND pay for a different location to do it in… Then I realised, I’m a total homebody and I’ve spent years creating a life in sobriety that I don’t need to escape from! I never needed to escape, I just needed to decompress and take some time to fall back in love with my life again!

I had a few grandiose plans in mind (haircut, manicure/pedicure, massage) but realised I was far too exhausted on so many levels to deal with that amount of talking/human interaction. I’ve made peace with the fact that a big part of my “unmasked” Autism is being non-verbal. I also struggle with verbal communication online; I hate trying to keep up with different conversations at once (multiple group chats are a hellish pit of social urgency, confusion and overwhelm!). I’ve always loved my own company and it’s why I’ve enjoyed living on my own for the best part of a decade. I’ve spent years having no idea how to NOT surround myself with people that didn’t overwhelm me. Instead of setting boundaries with people, I’d spend days on end hiding in my own flat not speaking to anyone until I felt fully recharged again. I always saved my verbal and social energy for my clients (and for partying obviously – how else was I going to self-medicate and be socially acceptable at the same time?!) and now I’ve learnt how to set and hold healthy boundaries, I’ve realised that they mostly involve me spending A LOT OF time doing my own thing. Why did I ever prioritise doing “society’s thing” instead of mine? Survival, of course.

A big reason why I love being with my fiancé Chris is that we can enjoy each other’s company whilst doing our own thing (he’s currently playing Last of Us as I write this). “Alone time together” is a big part of neurodivergent relationships and can help us accomplish more (or just relax easier) whilst still retaining both our independence and privacy.

“The term Autism (from the Greek autos, meaning “self”) was coined in 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who used it to describe withdrawal into one’s inner world.”

Autistic brains produce 42% more information at rest, which could account for why they are more easily overloaded and for why people with Autism experience a more pronounced mental inner life. We conclude that the information gain in the brain’s resting state provides quantitative evidence for perhaps the more typical characteristic in Autism: withdrawal into one’s inner world. “

Source: Information Gain in the Brain’s Resting State: A New Perspective on Autism
10 days of domestic bliss awaited me: cleaning, sleeping, self-care, reading, writing, and lots of Sid cuddling.

I finally got to make use of my gym membership again. I attended my first in-person Yoga class post-pandemic and attended my first ever Pilates session (which is a well-known treatment for building strength in chronically ill people). I’ll be honest, the last time I went to my gym was November 2021… I’ve always found that depression and chronic illness in the winter months don’t make for fun gym trips! It felt great to get back into proper training nutrition too, which I missed after losing touch with my deadlifting days through the lockdowns. I spent 5 days cleaning 1 room of the house each time; it made every morning and evening feel like the start and finish of a home makeover show!

After being unexpectedly and unfairly evicted from the building Ebony Squid Studio resided in (with just a few weeks’ notice), Chris and I had to figure out how to move our current studio in Penarth somewhere that would be suitable for us and our clients in the long term.

We raised £2,165 from 72 donors in just 6 weeks from our GoFundMe: Help La & Chris Rebuild. We received hundreds of pounds in tips and gifts from clients (and honestly can’t thank you all enough). We didn’t just manage to find somewhere else to move after just 2 weeks of searching, we found the perfect place for the studio that we’d only dreamt of before. I was so in awe of my partner Chris in his unwavering positivity and ability to keep sight of the most important tasks as they needed to be done, all whilst navigating hospital visits and brain scans for mystery symptoms related to the horrendous and unnecessary stress in the last year. I never thought I could love and feel loved the way I do in this relationship, and it’s obvious to me now that I never truly understood the term “power couple” before! 🏆

28 days later, we managed to rebuild Ebony Squid Studio and create the studio of our dreams. After so much happening so quickly, it was difficult to know which part to process first. There was so much loss, heartbreak, feelings of failure, stress… But also, so much happiness, joy, relief and the ultimate success: peace. Weekly sessions with my therapist of 3.5 years really helped, along with lots of snacks and naps!

We moved house end of February/early March, amidst the eviction notice and working those last few weeks at the old premises. I wrote more about this in a blog post I published yesterday: Release and Rise. Chris and I unpacked and settled into the new house as fast as we could, but had to focus our attention on getting the lease drawn up and signed, making sure the change of premises got approved, sorting insurance, sorting the building/painting/decorating and getting the studio inspected and licensed… All while making sure the clients on our waiting list were rebooked in a way that enabled us to start recovering financially as quickly as possible, without burning the both of us out into oblivion.

Owning a PS5 and 4KTV helped too, obviously. Especially when there are so many games right now that allow you to play a small mammal navigating dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscapes void of all humans (Spirit of The North, Stray) or a slingshot-wielding teenager and her brother navigating an unfolding nightmare of diseased rat infestation in 14th Century France (A Plague Tale: Innocence).
I affectionately and imaginatively called all 3 games Fox Game, Cat game and Rat Game because fuck saying their full names every time. (Fox game was a gift from a lovely regular client. Thanks Jake!)
Even though Fox Game was one of the most beautiful, calming and most confusing/frustrating games I’ve ever played, it was a welcome distraction for the stress of navigating the first few weeks of the new studio opening.
Rat Game summed up the bleakness of my mental health during a vintage 2020 version of COVID I manage to catch in June. Also, the impending plaque and desolate villages felt incredibly meta!
Cat Game was hands down one of the best I’ve ever played. Two of my favourite things combined: cats & sci-fi!
I’ve been embracing my autistic special interests more and treating myself to fancy anime DVDs, especially because streaming/downloading makes it so difficult to enjoy properly. Blu-Ray is so much smoother and experiencing anime in 4K is absolutely mind blowing on our TV and speakers!

It wasn’t “cool” to like Anime growing up as a kid/teen in the late 90’s/early 00’s. I rinsed out the tiny Anime section at the video rental store (Vampire Hunter D, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in The Shell, Akira, Appleseed) and watched them over and over. I later spent my student loan money on DVDs of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Evangelion, Ghost in The Shell STC, Love Hina, Oh My Goddess! and early Studio Ghibli movies. I’ve not watched as much anime as I’ve wanted to in the last 12 or so years, mostly because tattooing took over my life! Now I’m an adult in my mid-thirties, I’m honouring the awkward and insecure little me – making sure that I treat my hobbies and interests with greater care and respect. I am absolutely obsessed with this limited collector’s edition of Belle, which is the latest Studio Chizu movie from Mamoru Hosoda (massive fan of both!). Belle reportedly received a 14-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival last year (one of the longest in the festival’s history) and is already one of my all-time favourite movies. I never thought it could top Summer Wars in 2009, but it completely smashed it out the park. I’ve been literally singing this film’s praises for months!

The 7 Types of Fatigue: Physical, Social, Anxiety, Compassion, Emotional, Ambition, Sensory.

I discuss the differences between stress, anxiety and fear in one of my 2020 blogposts, Tattoos vs Therapy but didn’t know there’s was so many different types of fatigue! Recently, I learnt about the 7 types of fatigue and 7 types of rest. I realised I was suffering with severe cases of most of them, along with a couple of extras – “chronic illness fatigue” and that fun one we all share since 2020: “pandemic fatigue”.

“Stress & Burnout Prevention: 7 Types of Fatigue Everyone Needs to Know About” by Nawal Mustafa, a PhD Candidate in Clinical Neuropsychology at Simon Fraser University, Canada.

Physical Fatigue: when your body is under physical stress. Symptoms include headaches, muscle weakness, feeling constantly tired, stomach issues – IBS etc, stress ulcers, muscle tension, weakened immune system. Tips for reducing Physical Fatigue: getting enough sleep, nutrient/protein rich foods, taking additional supplements like Ashwagandha, vitamins/minerals etc.

Social Fatigue: when you spend too much time socialising with others, especially with those who leave you feeling drained and overstimulated. This might result in you having little to no time for yourself and falling behind on other responsibilities, this leaving you in a state of overwhelm. Tips to reduce Social Fatigue: say no to social interactions that pull from your energy. Spend more time with yourself doing things you love. Be around people who leave you feeling energised.

Anxiety Fatigue: when your brain is filled with intrusive thoughts and mental chatter. You may feel like your mind is often racing and is difficult for you to stop overthinking. During this time your nervous system is in a constant “fight, flee or freeze” response and May leave you feeling exhausted and paralysed. Tips to reduce Anxiety Fatigue: write down your thoughts and challenge the unhelpful ones. Catch your inner critic and replace that voice with a kind one. Let go of things that are out of your control. 

Compassion Fatigue: when you spend too much of your time and energy into helping and supporting others while neglecting your own needs. Compassion fatigue can also result from absorbing emotional stress of others or what is happening in the world. Tips to reduce Compassion Fatigue: offer support but try to avoid taking on the pain of others. Be mindful of how often you consume news about world events. Prioritise your emotional needs and prioritise time to rest and recharge. 

Emotional Fatigue: when you feel constantly overwhelmed with emotions to a point of having no energy to do anything else. You might feel “stuck” and as though you have no control over your life. This can lead to having a lack of motivation and an inability to enjoy the things you used to. Tips to reduce Emotional Fatigue: prioritise your emotional needs. What do you need to do to feel better? Practice mindfulness. Identify the stressors in your life and find ways to minimise them.  

Ambition Fatigue: when you push yourself too hard to relentlessly pursue your goals and ambitions, often with unrealistic expectations from yourself and a lack of self-compassion. Tips to reduce Ambition Fatigue: set realistic goals and expectations from yourself. Be patient with yourself. Remind yourself that progress matters, not perfection. Set boundaries around the time you spend working or thinking about work. 

Sensory Fatigue: when your brain feels overstimulated with sensory input, such as loud noises, bright lights, sight (social media, watching videos), sound (talking or listening to others). We all experience sensory overload to an extent, but it is common in neurodivergent individuals, PTSD, anxiety, and medical conditions such as Fibromyalgia. Tips to reduce Sensory Fatigue: only focus on the task at hand. Minimise distractions around you. Limit the time you spend in overly stimulated environments. (I ticked all 4 of those sensory sensitivity examples! whoops)

The 7 Types of Rest: Physical, Social, Mental, Emotional, Creative, Spiritual, Sensory.

“Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity” by Saundra Dalton-Smith MD.

10 days to tackle 7 different types of rest: I wanted to make sure I had enough time off to explore different types of rest every day. I was suffering chronic sensory overload and demand/decision fatigue (all of which are very common for neurodivergent folks) but I was also suffering severe emotional, ambition and anxiety fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue is also a big one for me. I happily take care of my clients most of the day, but sometimes if I’m not careful this can mean I’ve got very little energy to look after myself when I get home. Boundaries are super important in this case, especially professional ones. I wrote a Tattoo Preamble back in 2019 which helps my clients know what to expect and how to take care of themselves before, during and after tattoo appointments. This ensures I don’t have to worry about them any more than usual, and I make sure we’re both not overstepping professional or personal boundaries such as oversharing/overloading when I’m trying to concentrate on tattooing in my place of work. It helps with energy drain and keeps the appointment more fun and less painful!

Physical Rest: this one was more obvious than the rest, but surprisingly hard to achieve. I had to balance time to physically rest with time to take up Yoga and Pilates again, with enough time to recover from the sessions. Tattooing is hard work, and it’s difficult to balance with exercise classes. Having hypermobility AND Fibromyalgia means that my muscles and joints always hurt but I need to keep moving and stretching them to ease my symptoms (and be extremely careful not to overdo it!). I manage to stave off chronic pain and balance physical rest during my staycation with being physically active, using gentle exercise and a few hours to clean one room of the house each day. I hit about 8-9 hours of sleep daily – it meant I missed out on sunrise swimming but didn’t want to feel tired all day from waking up at 4am. I made sure to feed my body plenty of protein (Huel is great for plant-based/gluten-free complete nutrition) and kept on-top of supplements. I currently take iron, B vitamins, magnesium, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid which can be converted to serotonin in the body) and have been taking 3 different types of probiotics each day (great for anxiety/IBS/heartburn/bloating/tiredness etc). Like Nawal Mustafa mentions, I can vouch for the effectiveness of a good quality Ashwagandha supplement daily too. I have a long list of supplements I would love to be taking regularly in the future, but it’s not financially accessible yet.

Social Rest: long periods of non-verbal communication at home is the best way to decompress socially for me. Logging out of and deleting all social media apps from my phone for this staycation worked great too. I’ve gone about 3-4 days without them before, and always felt so much better for having done it. I really didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would this time, and those hours spent twiddling my thumbs instead of scrolling meant that I would naturally think of something else more useful to do – even if that just meant enjoying the sound of birds or view of trees from our windows, instead of watching a constant flashing stream of random posts and advertising. I missed lots of lovely posts from my friends, but I know that ones that really care about my well-being didn’t mind.

Mental Rest: minimising sensory input makes a massive difference to my anxiety levels and mental health as an autistic person., Writing/journaling really helps too. I’ve been fortunate to have lots of writing saved up in drafts that are easy to breathe life back into when I’m ready for them – I published one yesterday which I’d started writing back in January this year.

Anti-Anxiety Affirmations (AAA’s) that I repeated to myself regularly during this time of mental rest & reflection:

Here’s some really lovely “wounded inner child” affirmations with a few “Leo Season” appropriate ones thrown in at the end! 🦁

  • I am not a lost cause, nor am I someone to pity.
  • What happened to me as a child was not my fault. 
  • I deserved so much better.
  • I deserved to feel safe and accepted.
  • I don’t owe anyone my time, forgiveness or access to me.
  • I am not hard to love, there is nothing “wrong” with me. 
  • I accept, appreciate and approve of myself. 
  • I am worthy and deserving of the good things in my life.
  • I am celebrating the life I’ve created. 

Emotional Rest: emotional fatigue has almost killed me this year. I’d spend weeks being so exhausted from bouts of crying, panic attacks and angry rants – I’d spend days utterly numb and unable to enjoy or engage with anything. I felt like a robot set to autopilot with no feelings and no way of feeling alive. Video games really helped – completing games gives me a confidence boost and makes me feel accomplished, along with making lists of things I was proud of achieving. I meet up daily with sober friends online, and we list things we’re grateful for every day. Music and singing have always really helped me release emotions – you don’t have to be great at singing to benefit from it, and emotions like grief are stored in the lungs. One of the reasons you feel so great after a big cry!

Creative Rest: the two photos below were taken less than an hour apart in April this year. I craved the energy to be ambitious, I wanted to drink it like wine. The studio was just a painted room, so vulnerable, primordial, and premature. Both mine and Chris’s careers were in the middle of a room, covered in dust sheets. I treated myself to a massage at Lush Spa Cardiff for the first time. I chose Synaesthesia (which turned out to be an autistic/sensory seeking paradise) and was completely blown away. I especially loved the opportunity to smell of Ambition! I also chose Acceptance for the room during the massage and had a few helpful and teary/cathartic moments. I realised that not only had I never lacked ambition in the first place, but I was also chronically overwhelmed and exhausted from it. Now the studio is done, the grateful relief I felt spending those 10 days away from the responsibility of the studio was so important and beautiful. It was like a ceremony.

I was telling my mind, my body and my heart loud and clear: “it’s all over now, you FUCKING DID IT.

“Quite simply, my life and my recovery is evidence that miracles exist.”

Spiritual Rest: I don’t consider myself as a religious person, but I do have a lot of faith. I called myself Atheist for years, flirting with the idea of Agnosticism. I’ve experienced and studied the Hare Krishna movement, Christianity, Buddhism… I don’t believe in sects, organisations or institutions etc. A while ago, Chris introduced to Baháʼí Faith, which believe in a oneness of humanity and devote themselves to the abolition of racial, class, and religious prejudices. I quite like their idea that taking alcohol and other drugs recreationally/non-medically is forbidden, for God has given human beings reason which is taken away by intoxicants that lead the mind astray. I’m grateful for the times I lost my mind though, I have much a better respect for it now and want to take care of it more than ever. For me, there’s been too many coincidences and serendipities in my life to deny any kind of higher dimension of a spiritual force, and believe I have a Higher Power that belongs to me which I can work to understand and connect with more deeply. Quite simply, my life and my recovery is evidence that miracles and a Higher Power exist. Practicing regular mindfulness and meditation puts me in touch with mine.

Sensory Rest: I ticked all 4 of those sensory sensitivities Nawal Mustafa mentioned (neurodivergence, PTSD, anxiety, Fibromyalgia) and feel that sensory overstimulation is an almost “normal” feeling for me now. I have to remember it doesn’t have to be my “normal” anymore, I can make better choices for myself and advocate for a better life for myself. Sensory individuals deserve to live full, comfortable lives without societal pressure to try and “get used to” or “adjust” to things that significantly impact their quality of life. Sensory resting during my staycation looked like low lighting, candles, sitting in silence listening to birdsong, talking to my cat, headphones playing low-fi beats/ambient relaxation stuff (white noise and brown noise on loop really helps too).

Taking time to truly rest and decompress recently has made me realise how successful I really am. I am not successful despite my neurodiversity and chronic illnesses, I am successful in spite of the world telling me how wrong I am all of the time, when I’m actually doing exactly what is right for me most of the time. 

Of course, I didn’t keep away from my big brick baby for the entire 10 days! I came in for a very special day – after tattooing fruit for 2 months in the new studio with us, our apprentice Athena tattooed skin for the first time!

6 years ago, Chris started tattooing Athena, and over time she and her husband Gwyn became good friends. Turns out that I actually went to art school with Athena back in 2007 and knew exactly who Chris was talking about when he first mentioned her! She’s always been transparent about wanting to learn how to tattoo one day, and we’re so happy to be able to offer the opportunity to her now. We feel totally comfortable having one of our dearest friends working with us in the studio, and we look forward to seeing what she creates in the future! 💜

Speaking of tattoos and keeping with the nods to rugby, I’ll start wrapping up the blog post with this photo: The first message I read after I reinstalled my social apps yesterday was from my PT I trained with last year, Gwen Crabb ♥️ I created 4 tattoos for her last month, and the team photographer took this photo of the one celebrating her first cap! 🏉🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

I decided to end my staycation with a “Closing Ceremony” – I bought myself a huge fuck-off card that I had delivered to the house, followed by a ridiculously long bath afterwards. I wrote to myself:

YOU FUCKING DID IT. CELEBRATE THIS LIFE YOU’VE CREATED.

I’m so fucking proud of you. You’ve made it through the hardest year of your life, and you’ve stayed sober through all of it. You’ve met every challenge with ready hands, a grateful heart and an open mind. You’ve cried so many tears that have watered the flowers of joy that have grown around you. You’ve saved yourself and have allowed yourself to be held and cared for by others that love you. You’ve been so patient and self-compassionate and have weathered every storm knowing that this one wasn’t going to be the one that broke you. You’ve refused to let it all win (even though you wanted that too) and you chose yourself every single fucking time.

I exist now because of you.

I’m so happy you stuck through it.

THANK YOU.

Release and Rise.

Read time: 17-19 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, trauma and ablism.

2022 has been a big year of big changes while feeling my smallest, saddest and most vulnerable. Back in summer 2021, I never would have thought I’d be living in the home we are now with the new studio we’ve built. I’ve somehow pulled through it and made it out the other side, with the help of my friends, clients and my partner Chris.

“If you don’t think to yourself “fuck yes!” to the person you wake up to in the morning, you should do them a favour and set them free to find someone who will.”

January 2022 was the hardest, happiest and most horrible month of my life.

During the first moments of 2022: while Chris and I were looking out at the hundreds of fireworks going off at midnight all over Cardiff, standing at the top of Penarth together: Chris proposed to me and I said “yeah!” – not the graceful “YES!” that is expected, but it was more “me”.

When I saw the ring I felt like time had stopped, my anxious inner monologue kicked in almost immediately: “do I deserve this? Can I have this? Is this okay? Am I allowed this?” and after another moment of almost forever, a deep speechless voice in my gut echoed back with a resounding “OF COURSE, YES.”

Like a firework in the night, that feeling of “yes” sparked into life. It’s stayed with me ever since.

It was a complete and utter “world flipped upside down” moment. “Of course I was going to say yes”, I said as we walked back home (stopping underneath every streetlight to admire the ring!). If you don’t think to yourself “fuck yes!” to the person you wake up to in the morning, you should do them a favour and set them free to find someone who will.

Back in November, a client asked if I think we’d ever get married: I replied straight away with “Oh, I’d marry him tomorrow!”… Little did I know back then that he had it tucked away in a drawer inside his study. ♥

I can’t stop smiling when I look at how sparkly it is! It gives me a beautiful thing to focus on in times of stress and overwhelm and keeps me grounded in the present moment.

It’s a custom-made faceted Opal, diamond and white gold engagement ring by Nobel Yates Jewellery in New York – Chris created it based on my love of Opals and my 2 year silver/crystal sobriety ring that I wear on my other ring finger (mentioned in my 2019 blog post, Strong Women Don’t Need Strong Drinks).

“I never thought I’d meet another Auteetotal Tattooer, and I could never have imagined I’d be this happy in a relationship outside of the one I have with myself.”

We started with a sunrise in winter lockdown. He helped me apply for a business loan, helped me build my new studio. We did a guestspot in Edinburgh together then we started working together. The studio is now ours, and my home is now his. The road trips, the hikes, the endless conversations. The game days, long mornings, sunsets, his wonderful cooking. I cherish the wrinkles he’s given me from always smiling, and from allowing me to feel my feelings. He validates everything I’ve survived and overcome, everything I go through and accepts all of me. He suggests better routes for me to take and keeps me grounded. He’s an amazing cat-dad and Sid adores him!

I never thought I’d meet another Auteetotal Tattooer, and I could never have imagined I’d be this happy in a relationship outside of the one I have with myself. My co-pilot, my adventure buddy, my friend, my lover.

Therapy and Recovery were a lifeline for me at the beginning of 2022. I’d been dealing with an unexpected, unspeakable hell for most of 2021, which has been about 10 years in the making. I spent 3 months working about 1-2 days a week. So grateful for sobriety, self-care, friends, family, and my fiancé Chris for getting me through those dark days. I’d been praying for better and brighter days for so long, and I’m so relieved to say that this week they’ve been answered.

January 23rd 2022 marked my 3 year Therapy-versary(!)

I walked into my first session 3 years ago on double crutches and heavy pain meds, 4 weeks after a knee reconstruction: I was just over a year sober but I was depressed, stressed, heartbroken, and suffering from multiple mystery illnesses and symptoms.

It led me to being formally identified as Autistic and diagnosed lifelong chronically ill. I started reading again and have since read lots of self-improvement and psychology books. It gave me the strength to outgrow and understand the toxic relationships, friendships and work environments I’d put myself in. It’s made me a better businesswoman and stronger, more resilient human. Through writing about my life and experiences, I met my fiancé Chris, who also has regular therapy and is now studying a Psychology degree alongside tattooing part-time.

Sometimes you need to stop seeing the good in people and start seeing what they show you (and believe them the first time).

I had an emotional and cathartic session with my therapist this January, who confirmed I’ve overcome and healed the trauma and abuse I’ve endured survived in childhood and adulthood.

It was a surreal and beautiful thing to hear, and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. Obviously, this doesn’t mean I’ve “completed” therapy, and have carried on with regular sessions as normal to deal with regular life shit, as and when it happens. I’ve had many unsuccessful attempts with different therapists over many years too, which I’ve written about previously.

If you’re on the fence about therapy or whether things are “bad enough”, simply ask yourself – have you been alive during 2020 and 2021?!

Earlier this year, my therapist confirmed and elaborated that I’ve been harbouring an inferiority complex most of my life: this was due to the heaps of unpacked and unresolved trauma I’d survived in my childhood and adulthood. This complex has fed other’s superiority complexes, over the years these have sometimes been people who I’ve called my closest friends or were people I chose to date. Although they weren’t inherently evil, they were all entirely the wrong people for me, for so many reasons.

The quality of your relationships matter. Whether it be a friend, parent, family member or partner, who you surround yourself with can impact your mental health. Stop feeling obligated to be around people who are familiar but also detrimental to your well-being.

Minaa B, LMSV @minaa_b

We can deepen our healing when we stop pontificating about and dissecting our partner, friend or family member’s avoidance, narcissism or emotional unavailability and begin asking ourselves “why I keep pursuing and choosing people who cannot love or care for me in the ways that I truly need?”

We treated ourselves to a PS5 at the beginning of January this year, along with a 55″ 4K TV and decent speakers… I spent most of those cold, dark days galloping around Kamakura era Japan. It didn’t cure my depression, but it rerouted it beautifully. Viva la Escapism!

March 2020: my cat and I moved to Penarth from Newport.

It was a tiny 1-bed flat that had a lot less space and cost more each month than my previous 1-bed flat of 2.5 years. I had turned the offer down the first time, 6 months before; I was unsure about the move and hoped the person I was with at the time would want to make living plans together. I wrote more about this in my 2020 blogpost, Grief and Growth.

I was hardly tattooing at the time due to stress and poor health, and the financial gamble was a huge strain. I was waiting for the results from an investigative CT scan, I was nursing a fresh breakup and had successfully raised the money for a private rheumatologist consultation, specifically for diagnosing mystery chronic illnesses (thank you to everyone who kindly donated, you changed the course of my life forever).

Living in Newport wasn’t the best, for many reasons. I had ended a long-term relationship in the summer of 2017 that was extremely “un-sober” which left me with a better chance of eventually getting sober but nowhere to live. I was homeless, unknowingly autistic and chronically ill, manically depressed and hovering at rock bottom – trying to do my best to work hard, create good tattoos and becoming well again.

After spending 8 weeks without a fixed address and sleeping on a blow-up bed in an empty house that wasn’t mine, I got the keys to that beautiful little flat on the 3rd of October 2017. Patience and perseverance paid off! That Newport flat was where I got sober and started to heal and recover.
As you can see, the flat in Penarth was a slight “downgrade”, but with a bit of decent decorating and creativity, I made it a beautiful place I could call home, the same way I did with the others. ♥

This is the bedroom, 2 years apart. if 2020 and 2021 has taught us anything, it’s how to polish turds(!)

Despite the move being totally out of my threshold, I’m so glad I found the strength to do it. I turned that tiny space into a tiny paradise!

To help you visualise: it was roughly the same shape and size as a 40ft shipping container. Unfortunately, it’d hadn’t been designed like one of those fancy converted shipping containers you see on Pinterest! Thank fuck for candles, houseplants and orchids.

Through hard work, creativity and daily practice, I managed to live comfortably and peacefully in this little nest while the whole world fell apart. I got the lifelong chronic illness diagnosis I’d been searching for; I stayed sober, I healed my heart, I kept up with self-care and self-development (and sometimes, I kept it clean!)

Despite not being able to tattoo whilst having zero savings in the 2020 lockdowns, there was pressure to keep paying my rent each month. Staying sober during a global pandemic was tough. I’m forever grateful to the owner of the building my 2nd independent tattoo studio was in (the very first incarnation of Ebony Squid Studio!) who didn’t charge me a penny for the months I couldn’t work due to lockdowns. I kept up with normal rent payments as much as I could; and when I couldn’t pay monthly any longer, I made sure I repaid every single penny I owed as soon as I was tattooing again a few months later. During those years I rented properties and rooms with that same company, I’d always paid what any other tenant would have at the time. That company put a roof over my head, and in return I put food on their table. Those homes were never a handout – I’m not a charity case, after all! One of the greatest gifts recovery gave me is that I have so much compassion for the unhealed versions of me that did everything they could with everything they had at the time so they could keep on persevering and surviving. I wouldn’t be here today without them. ♥

I don’t care about other people’s drinking like I used to (unless it’s harming me or others). I’m over convincing people to try Dry January or Sober October. I’ll be (hopefully) celebrating 5 years sober in October this year, fingers crossed. If that doesn’t prove that anyone can do any month of the year happily sober and not die of boredom, I’ll happily fuck off and spend my time doing something else (like rambling on here instead!)

My partner Chris started to move in September 2021, and the two of us lived there with our cat Sid in that tiny flat together. With a lot of hard work, lots of patience and loads of love, we made it work. ♥️

I like to think I was a pretty good tenant, all things considered. However, there was that one time I flooded my bathroom and the room downstairs last year due to a migraine (long story, of which I’m still utterly mortified about!) and although everyone involved laughed it off, I genuinely wanted to head-butt a nail from sheer embarrassment! I bought the landlord a vintage bottle of red wine to apologise though, which thankfully went down extremely well!

Since I got sober and into recovery in 2017, I’ve been really reluctant to buy alcohol (for obvious reasons), but the 4 vintage “posh” bottles of wine I’ve bought in over 4.5 years sobriety have all been for that landlord as Christmas presents (and one for a pretty embarrassed apology!) 

Funny thing about any drink you can buy that contains Ethanol: No matter how much you pay, it all feels the same the next day. Same goes for organic, “clean” or vintage wines, or that Agave one that claims to give you no hangover. I tried that once, and it definitely still does! I’ve been sober for almost 1,800 days – and I’ve never thought the myself “damn, I wish I’d got drunk last night”.

Some people will judge and punish you for changing. Some people will celebrate and support you for growing. Choose your circle carefully. 

One thing I do regret about not drinking and taking other drugs for this long: I’ve lost so many friends and co-workers through getting sober, and I wish it wasn’t so much of a big deal. I didn’t anticipate I’d be ostracised for getting sober and kicked out of studios for staying sober, or kicked out of friendship circles to trying to hold myself to a more mindful set of ethical values and speaking up about harmful and problematic behaviour. It’s hard to stay neutral once you make the decision to make better choices, and it becomes a snowball effect of realising that some friends and co-workers values don’t align with yours anymore, and that awareness creates a void of ambiguity and doubt. I wrote more about this in a 2019 blog post, Rejection and Redirection.

“I’m no longer apologising for: Wanting consistency in my relationships. Having a negative reaction to being mistreated. Leaving relationships that are harmful to my mental health. Having opinions that are different from yours. Taking up space with my words, opinions, and needs.”

“Sometimes what you need might not be what’s best for someone else. Even then, it’s okay to choose what you need.”

Hailey Page Magee. 

Since getting sober, I’ve realised how exhausted I was from trying to fit into a society that was never designed for neurodiverse, chronically ill people. I realised that most of the people I’d surrounded myself with were not my real friends, nor were they meaningful connections that cared very much about integrity, authenticity and self-development. Bids of self-improvement are pretty irritating to people who have no desire to change.

I didn’t realise that by living sober and trying to remain in the same friendship groups, I was enabling the very same problematic behaviour in others that I was so desperately trying to grow away from myself. There was no need to change, because I was telling them I didn’t care through my complacency.

Enabling is a pattern of “helping” someone that actually allows the issue to continue, rather than solving it. This disempowers the other person, because they know that regardless of the behaviours they choose, someone will be there to rescue them and allow them to continue their harmful pattern. Enabling allows a person to not actually face the natural consequences to their actions. Enabling usually comes from a good place. We don’t want to see people hurting, which shows we are compassionate. In the discomfort of seeing other’s pain we try to fix, rescue or save people. Allowing patterns of problem behaviour: Betrayal, lying, emotional abuse. Lying or “bailing out” someone from the consequences of their own actions, repeatedly. Making excuses for someone because you feel sorry for them. Ending patterns of enabling is actually an act of self love and an act of love for the other person. 


Dr Nicole LaPera.

Signs you are emotionally drained by someone:

  • You are ruminating about your interactions 
  • You feel anxious and uneasy around them
  • You are resentful of them
  • You doubt yourself after you interact with them
  • You dread spending time with them
  • You ignore their texts/calls
  • You are always worried about them/their issues and put them over yours 
  • You need to unwind after talking to them
  • You need to vent to others after talking to them
  • You experience physical symptoms & anxiety after being around them
  • You minimise your issues around them because you don’t feel they can support you
  • You make up excuses not to be around them

Divya Robin, MHC @mindmatterswithdiv

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly found myself in friendships with “CHAOTIC BUT MAKE IT CUTE!” as the central theme. We’d drink, cause problems, get into trouble, feel bad, drink to feel better, cause more problems, get into more trouble, feel worse, drink to feel better… See where I’m going with this? It wasn’t constant, but it was consistent. I’d either contribute with an equal dose of my own hopeless messiness or I kept my mouth shut and let them get on with it. When I started to become emotionally sober after a couple years clean, I couldn’t bear the pressure of solving issues that should have been my friend’s responsibility anymore. I could feel that my friends didn’t accept me changing, because they weren’t ready to “let me off the hook” for the times I was a fucking nightmare too. They didn’t owe me forgiveness or acceptance, and I didn’t owe it to them either.

Common reasons friendships end or fade away: 

  • You feel consistently judged or not supported (the more you ignore this, the more exhausted and resentful you become)
  • The relationship is built around gossiping/complaining (you are looking for deeper, more authentic connections)
  • Your priorities have changed (over time you’ve noticed you feel less and less connected because of this)
  • The friendship feels forced or awkward to maintain
  • You don’t feel drawn to talking or opening up to them and notice yourself only doing it out of obligation 
  • You built your relationship at a time when you were a completely different person
  • You’re able to acknowledge that you’ve evolved/grown and likely wouldn’t have bonded with them at all today 

I couldn’t clean up their messes anymore or pretend to be a therapist. They deserved better, and I’m not qualified. I had my own grief to deal with, which didn’t have space on the table. I was using my own sessions with my own therapist to navigate their lives and their problems instead of my own. I could feel myself sinking down, the life draining out of me. I wish there could have been more love in the letting go, but their behaviour at the end was the closure I needed to release and rise back up again. I have to put my well-being and my recovery first, otherwise I will lose everything and be no use to anyone ever again.

I’ve lost so many people I’ve considered family, and it never gets easier. I wrote more about this in a recent blog post, When You Know, You Know.

Sometimes you just gotta give people the space to be who they are and how they want to behave and adjust your closeness to them accordingly. 

We’ve gone from a 40ft shipping container in the middle of a town to a 3-bedroom maisonette flat in a quiet/woody area by a park (for almost the same rent we were paying before!). There’s lots of communal gardens kept by lovely neighbours with far more time for gardening than I do, and the only sound I can hear in the morning is sparrows and blackbirds. It’s lovely having a place to write, and now we’re one of those annoying couples with a gym room!
Okay so the “study room” is one half study, one half laundrette (the dryer is in the other corner) and the “gym room” is one half storage (treadmill, exercise bike and weights/exercise ball… Along with a fucktonne of cardboard boxes!)

You are not responsible for the expectations others place on you. You are not responsible for the happiness of others. You are only responsible for making sure you are living authentically and doing the things necessary to be okay. 

Along with lots of friendships, I’ve had to let go of the expectations I placed on myself when I didn’t know myself better. Now I know better I must try to do better, and I need to be able to live life on life’s terms. I’m working hard every day to try to clear the wreckage of my past and build a healthier future full of better choices for what is best for me.

As always: progress not perfection.

Me, myself and Autism.

Read time: 6-7 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD.

I was recently interviewed by the extraordinary Kat Kennedy about my autism journey! She’s writing about sex and gender differences in various health conditions and how, so often, women go undiagnosed when symptoms present differently than how doctors are taught they should appear. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD are two such conditions. Many of the classic studies on these used only male participants and so many of the diagnostic criteria are based on the male experience. 

My friendship with Kat Kennedy began as tattoo artist and client. Back in 2016, I created her first tattoo back when I was working in Cheltenham which grew into a full sleeve. Kat followed me when I relocated back home to Wales, and we finished the sleeve in 2018 just before she moved out to the scorching hot deserts of the US. Kat’s support of my tattoos, illustration and writing has been so motivating and comforting. Her posts have been a huge source of inspiration and courage and have kept me going in bleak times. I’ll never forget a quote she told me from one of her friends when we were discussing how overwhelming social media can be:

“We’re just not meant to process human suffering on this scale.”

Thanks for letting me be a part of this piece Kat – I’ve managed to keep a couple of succulents alive that you gifted me years ago, and the wonderful and kind letter you wrote when the sleeve was finished still hangs on my wall today!

1. Full name, age, occupation and city where you live:

My name is Lala Taylor, I’m a 34-year-old tattoo artist & illustrator based in Penarth, South Wales UK.

2. When did you receive your ASD diagnosis?

I received my autism clarification at 31 years old! I was diagnosed by a private therapist, who I’ve been seeing regularly for 3 years now. I had just opened my first business, 1 year into my 4 years sobriety and 4 weeks after a knee reconstruction.

3. When did you first suspect that you might have ASD? What were you experiencing?

I spent my twenties and thirties almost constantly confused and overwhelmed. I would often put this down to PTSD; I would blame the difficulty of my existence on the emotional/physical/sexual abuse and trauma I’d survived as a child and teenager, and this reinforced the justification of my struggles. Since being diagnosed with anxiety and depression at 19 with no follow up with a mental health team or offer of counselling, I’ve distrusted the mental health system in the UK and distanced myself completely. I tried a few private therapists in my early twenties which yielded no positive results – one of them took a phone call in the middle of the session, whilst I was reliving a fresh and particularly distressing traumatic event. Safe to say I never went back.

From my mid-twenties, I was chronically overworking and self-medicating with alcohol as much as I could get away with to ease the constant masking and shape shifting in social groups and work settings. During the last few years of my twenties, I continued to chronically overwork myself and began mixing alcohol with other drugs. 

I always struggled to maintain relationships, especially romantic ones. I was regularly manipulated, used and lied to – I even tried to leave one partner multiple times before they would pull me back in. I eventually cheated on him just so he would leave me alone! I had a very small emotional vocabulary and couldn’t tell what I was feeling or what was really happening.

I would regularly find myself in friendships and work connections that were disrespectful, toxic and abusive. I always thought that I struggled to inherently know what was best for me because of my abusive childhood and teenage years, but deep down I knew it was something else.

I dated a woman in my late twenties with borderline personality disorder, which had a profoundly painful effect on me. I started to wonder if I may have a more complex disorder/condition myself that was playing a big part in my life without me knowing. ASD is often misdiagnosed as something else (like bipolar and borderline personality disorder) in women. This is because the criterion for autism is still based on male studies only. For decades, many autistic girls have flown under the radar along with the female indoctrination in schools and at home to be poised, pretty, polite, and passive.

Social media gave me small clues and hints which I identified with, which included routines, special interests, scripted responses, repetitive behaviours, self-medicating, difficulties with food/cooking, depression, missing social cues, fussiness, bluntness, perfectionism, and excessive planning. I spent a few months saving these autism posts in private, and after being unlawfully dismissed from a tattoo studio in 2018 just before a knee reconstruction, I made a promise to myself that I would find a therapist that specialised in CBT and diagnosing neurodivergent conditions.

I remember struggling at school and being mercilessly bullied. In the classroom, if I didn’t underline the date or title of the lesson perfectly, I would panic, suffer an internal meltdown and be unable to write anything else for the rest of the hour. My books became full of emptiness, save for a few scratched out words at the top of each page and watermarks from dried tears. I excelled in art and my talent was considered far beyond my years. I loved the praise (finally I could do something right!) but hated the spotlight this put on me. I often had my artwork and art supplies stolen and sabotaged by jealous kids. I spent my school years learning to hide, mask and please people that terrified and confused me. 

4. Have you ever had any instances where you felt you were dismissed by a doctor when hoping to discuss suspected ASD (or another health condition)? Did you have to make multiple appointments before finally getting diagnosed?

My Autism was never dismissed professionally because I never presented the question to anyone outside of private therapy, I’m really glad for this. However, I have a lifelong chronic illness called Fibromyalgia which was dismissed by doctors and nurses for years before I got a private diagnosis last year (at 33 years old). I once had a nurse say to me “I have no idea why you’re here to be honest” after I wanted to know why I was getting outbreaks of shingles and cold sores every 2 weeks and wasn’t able to stay awake more than a few hours in each day. I was 30 – I went to the gym twice a week, had a good diet, never smoked a cigarette in my life and was 1 year sober at the time. I wanted answers to why I was so ill all the time. She thought I was wasting her time. I insisted that she refer me to a GP, and after listing years of symptoms to a doctor she booked me for a CT scan to check for cancer (which thankfully came back all clear). I paid for a private rheumatologist after a recommendation from my therapist and another GP (both female) who finally diagnosed Fibromyalgia in 2020.

5. Have you ever felt that this was because you were a woman?

Women are conditioned by society from birth to be naturally passive, polite, sweet and agreeable. Anger, frustration and sadness are all very unladylike. Women are called “crazy” and “psycho” for struggling mentally, and not being able to articulate themselves fully in the moment. They are also expected to take on the emotional labour of (cishet) men on top of their own. In my experience, women have two options: you are either a beacon of unconditional love, grace and emotional support (keeping quiet at the cost of your mental health) or you are a cold-hearted, crazy stuck-up bitch (for speaking up and putting yourself first).

I’ll be reposting Kat’s finished article on my blog instagram: @auteetotaltattooer.

🌵🌵🌵

Rejection and Redirection.

Read time: 27-29 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, anxiety, trauma, ablism, unfair dismissal at work.

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.