Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Anchor Tattoo

Posted By: Leah

The time has finally come for me to openly discuss the excruciating pain of my latest tattoo… an anchor on my ribs. Never before in my life have I felt this level of pain. Not during childbirth (they give you drugs!) Not when I broke my foot (it was in the middle of the night, I was ½ asleep anyway), not even when I broke my wrist after falling on black ice (it was a quick slip). My 5th tattoo, an anchor, is by far the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

So why did I get this tattoo anyway?
After seeing the bloody, gross photo on IG the next day my sister called me, saying “What the hell dude!?” Yeah, it was an impulse tattoo.

But not really. I have been into the nautical theme for years. I’ve wanted an anchor tattoo at least that long, maybe longer. I’ve always had a love of the water, boats, and anything ‘beachy.’ I also love everything pin-up and to me, anchors go with that era. One of the first groupons I ever purchased was to the Aveda salon, and the estecician giving my facial had an anchor tattoo on her forearm. I remarked how much I loved it and she said that she and her sister had matching tattoos, that they ‘anchor each other.’ I immediately sent my sister photos, and said we should get an anchor tattoo, something we’d always talked about, but she’s not into nautical as much as I am.

So I brushed off my anchor tattoo dream, and ended up getting my Hello Kitty tattoo on my foot soon after that. But I never forgot about the anchor.
I know this is a long blog post. I broke it up into chapters.

Chapter 1
On pinterest I came across this amazingly perfect nautical pin. It linked to Etsy and I purchased it as soon as I saw it. I knew this was it, the anchor tattoo I wanted. I showed my friends at work, my BF, and they all agreed it was really cool. Courtney suggested getting it on my ribs. She said that was a bad ass place to get inked. I just thought she meant it looked cool, I had no idea the actual pain involved in that area.

I even posted the above photo here on my blog and asked for placement suggestions. I was going to get it at the bottom of my neck. I was ready! The only question was when would I get it done? Well, I didn't have to wait long, because the very next week Gavin was scheduled to embark on his week with our family who live out of town.

I called Jolly Rogers, the tattoo shop where I got my ever so perfect Hello Kitty and Star tattoos a couple of years back. They mentioned that the artist I had used had been fired and they suggested I not try to locate him. This really threw me for a loop. I thought I had it all planned, who would I have do my tattoos now? The receptionist insisted another artist at the shop was just as good and available the day I wanted to come in. I went ahead and scheduled the appointment and that was that.

I told BF I had booked the appointment and he was a little upset with me. Not mad, but I guess more concerned that I hadn’t done more research on who this person was who would be putting a permanent thing on my body that would be there forever.  I hadn’t really thought it through. I never really do when I get tattoos. It’s sort of roulette and I am just used to it that way. But he really got me thinking. He convinced me to wait until I was in Charlotte and to go to the shop all of his friends and just everyone goes to. That all the artists were good and I couldn’t go wrong. I didn’t really want to go, but I figured it was worth checking out.

The next I kept researching anchor tattoo placement, I was just not 100% on where I wanted it. Lauren helped me and guess what she found? THIS PICTURE of MY ANCHOR!

AND... ok clearly I didn't make this design up.

BUT What the crap?! I was unhappy that the ink I wanted done was already on someone else. Bummer L But I’m soo glad Lauren found these for me.

We didn’t have a lot going on that Saturday, so we headed up to NoDa. I just walked into FU’s Tattoo, the shop BF had spoken so highly of (BF by the way doesn’t have any ink), and went to the front desk. I told the girl I wanted to speak to someone about a tattoo, and she ended up calling a guy off of his lunch break. I continued to wait. It had been over 45 minutes, almost an hour since I had spoken to the artist. I started wondering if he forgot about me or what. I went outside, it had been an hour and finally the artist came to get me.

The drawing he showed me was fantastic! It was a super girly anchor with flowers, stars, hearts and a bow! He asked if I had any changes or suggestions. I just adored it as-is, but took the sketch outside and showed BF.  BF suggested that instead of the regular bow, to make it a HK bow… what a perfect idea! So I told the artist that’s what I wanted to have done and asked if I could make an appointment. He thought I had come in for a tattoo right then and said he was available so I said ok lets’s do this! Then I remembered to ask about pricing. He said his rate was $100 an hour, and he expected it to take about an hour, and I said OK! And at that moment I knew I wanted it on my side. Not my back. It just seemed to be perfect for my side.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I have 4 other tattoos, I’ve had each re-done so that equals eight total sittings. And no matter what anybody says, they didn’t hurt. Yes a slight discomfort for a second, but nothing unbearable. That’s what makes them so addictive, right? I've had them done on my lunch hour and gone straight back to work. Seriously. No pain.

Chapter 2
After a couple placement trials, and having the artist flip the entire drawing the other direction, I finally was ready for the process of the inking to begin. When I got my 2nd tattoo, the five stars on my back, I remember that artist saying that it only hurts for a little bit, then the pain is dulled because your body gets used to it. I kept this in mind as this artist started with the black outline. It hurt. But nothing too awful. I found that if I started counting from 10 to 1, he was only drawing short lines and would usually lift the needle by the time I was down to 4 (I was counting in my head btw). The artist would stop tattooing and pick up the needle whenever anyone in the shop would speak to him. I did not want to make the tattoo last longer than necessary, nor did I want to risk him messing up because I was the one talking and moving. After I got tired of counting from 10 to 1 I started counting things on the ceiling.

The way I was positioned to have this tattoo was not comfortable. I was laying on the table (like a massage table) on my left side with my left arm up to my head as a make-shift pillow of sorts. My right arm was also up, extended over the other side of my head. I could see the tattoo station to my left, the one directly in front of me, and the ceiling and that was all. I started counting ceiling tiles. I started counting the numbers on the clock. Not the hours, the seconds. The pain was bad. If you’ve ever been in early stages labor, I’d say it’s a lot like a contraction. A lot of pain for a short amount of time.

I knew I’d get a break when he was done with the black, because we hadn’t really discussed colors of the anchors, stars, flowers, etc. It seemed like I had been laying there for at least an hour already. My mind, for once, was blank from thoughts. I thought about my blog, this blog post, that I’d tell you guys that this tattoo on my ribs hurt worse than any tattoo I’d had before. But little did I know, this wasn’t the worst of it.

Chapter 3
I did get a little break, once the black outline was done. I wasn’t allowed to stand up. But I could straighten out and stretch a little. I realized that I had been clenching my hair to create a hair-pillow but my hands were sweaty and I had created legitimate finger waves. For real. The artist pretty much knew what he wanted to do color-wise. He just asked about the flowers and I said purple, it’s my favorite. And that was that, back to the pain.

I don’t know where or who told me this, that the black outline is the most painful part of getting a tattoo. It truly is not. Remember how I said I’d count from 10 to one and usually around 4 he’d be done. Well I tried that when he was doing the colors. Didn’t happen, I always got to 1. Then would start over, this time at a higher number, like 20 and count down to one. And that wasn’t high enough either. He’d just press the tattoo needle into my skin and not let up. In my mind I’d imagine if it was the star he was coloring in, a flower… I couldn’t imagine what was happening. And yes, he’d switch colors. I was grateful I had such a colorful tattoo, just to get those mini 5 second breaks. But the pain became more and more intense.

The artist would ask me if it I was okay, and in the beginning I said I was. By the color part he knew not to ask. I really wasn’t okay. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten that day. I hadn’t really had any water either. I knew that it was nearing 3 or 4pm and I was feeling light-headed.

And my eyes. I don’t usually cry from pain. I’ve seen people cry getting tattoos and totally thought they were wimps. I wasn’t crying, but my eyes were tearing up. I wanted to clench my teeth, but I was so worried I’d crush them and chip them completely. The only thing this experience reminded me of was labor. Except in labor you’re allowed to move, to make sounds, to get medicine. I had to stay completely silent for the tattoo. I thought about Katie Holme’s weird scientology silent birth of Suri. I Thought about my happy place. I thought about everything and nothing. I started to get a headache. I knew I needed water. I didn’t want to tell the artist to stop for fear that I would go running out of there and never come back. I swore off ever getting another tattoo ever again. And that I didn’t care how this one looked, that I’d NEVER EVER get it touched up.

And the pain did not go away. It felt like hours and hours of the worst torture. I asked myself why I was doing this. Why would I subject myself to the worst pain I’d ever felt. And it was. Pain. Not. Stopping. It continued to get worse. The artist would stop to clean the area and I felt like he was wiping pools of blood off of my side. It was like the worst burn, like someone was branding me. It was awful.

Finally I just closed my eyes. I couldn’t handle being awake any longer. I just wanted it to end, and it wasn’t. I looked at the clock and it had been over two hours. I knew BF would be coming to find me soon. I didn’t want him to see me like this. And the next thing I knew, BF was there.

Chapter 4
BF stood over me and said “It looks good!” of course he said that, I thought it probably looked terrible and he was just being nice. Bf asked the artist how much longer I had. I didn’t want to hear the answer. I knew he probably had another hour to go. But the artist said “I’m done!”

And like that, it was over. But really it was also just beginning. I hopped up and the first thing I did was get some water. I felt dizzy, light headed and in awful pain. I looked in the mirror and honestly, I was shocked at my tattoo. It was so bright, with so many colors and details. It was awesome, exactly what I wanted. More than what I wanted, actually. And I then understood why there was so much coloring and shading. Oh and there was blood too. Lots of blood.
I had been there the better part of the afternoon, and was nervous about what the price would be. But fortunately it was what we had discussed, even though it took hours longer than expected. BF said that his neighbors (who are girls 8 and 13) couldn’t wait to see my tattoo. But I told bf I needed sugar and caffeine stat. We went to Common Market and I got a diet coke and cupcake. Oh and a sugar skull pin for Lauren, because she likes mine on my purse so much and I'm an amazing friend who thinks of others even if I'm in pain lol.

Riding in the car I thought I was going to pass out and die. Every bump, turn, stop hurt me worse and worse. Who knew there were so many road humps in Charlotte? I had BF stop at the drug store so I could get some antibacterial soap and a&d ointment. But I held it together. I was just quiet. 

EVERY tattoo artist will tell you different after-care instructions. Some say let it breathe, some say keep it moist. Some say keep it covered, some say cover it with lotion. So you really need to do what you know is right for your skin and your body. For me, that is washing many times a day with non-scented antibacterial hand soap and slathering a&d on. I cover it with a paper towel and saran wrap when out, just so my clothes won’t stick. That’s worked for me. I tried once to just do the ‘let it brethe’ with plain lotion only and my skin rejected the ink. So I had to PAY to have it retouched by another artist. Lesson learned, do what I know is right.

Anyway, we got to BF’s house and his neighbors came over to see my tattoo. I told them I was so sorry that I couldn’t show them, it hurt really bad and I needed to lay down.  He let me relax on my side on the couch. It was a good two hours before I even wanted to move. I’d get up, and then after a while the burning in my side just made me feel awful and I’d have to sit down. It is a pain unlike any tattoo I’ve ever had or known anyone to have.

By that night I really was a lot better. I covered the ink and went to sleep. In the morning, this is the nice ink stain on the sheets.

I continued to treat the tattoo with the soap and a&d ointment. It took about a week to start peeling and once it did, it was gross.

Chapter 5
Finally about 2 weeks later the peeling stopped. You never really know how the ink will take until that initial layer of skin is gone. The skin underneath looked really good. There are already a few areas I think could be touched up, but for now, I can’t even fathom the thought of another tattoo.

So that’s the story. The long… long… excruciatingly painful story. It has been a little over a month and I’m just now in the place where I can talk about it. This experience somehow was more traumatic to me than childbirth. I’m happy with the result. And omg, the other day I was looking in the mirror at a certain angle and swore I was a Suicide Girl for a minute. Ok. More like a second. But my tattoo looked good. My anchor is much bigger than everything else I have put together. I really like the size and color of it. And of course the hello kitty bow!

Final thoughts – Yes, I am glad I got it. Yes it was legitimately the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. No, this is not a normal tattoo experience. Yes, I’m sure I’ll get it touched up eventually, but not anytime soon. Yes, I want more tattoos, but not for at least a couple of years.

What next? I saw someone I knew the other week and she had the most awesome tattoos on the backs of her legs. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed until that moment. I really don’t think this would ever be appropriate for me. But currently I think it’s adorable!

how cute are these? Not really something I'd want to have forever, but very cute on other people.

Do you have tattoos? Did you know how much they hurt to have done on your side?
Did you like my gross peeling and bloody photos?


  1. OMG! Sounds rough dude! And holy ink stain batman! That's craziness! The only one of mine that did that was my first one and that's the only one of mine that faded! Yikes. Glad it healed up nice. Next time you should try tattoo goo. It is made for tattoo healing (they have a lotion too) and you don't smell like you do from the A&D ointment. ICK.

  2. Craziness lady! I have one tattoo with hopes of others in the future and like your others, it didn't really hurt at all. I had always heard that foot tattoos were probably the most painful - but I suppose ribs could be too. It is absolutely gorgeous though and it's a good thing you love it!

  3. I have three tattoos. A star and flame on my lower back (way before I knew it would be called a tramp stamp. Sad face.). A treble clef and eighth notes on the inside of my left ankle. A heart with baseball stitching on the inside of my right ankle. I didn't think any of them hurt too badly. Then again, I'm a redhead, and apparently we have a higher tolerance for pain (might be the lack of a soul thing ... ha ha ha). I would love to get another, but I don't know what or where for sure.

  4. I love it!
    I think that it looks great! :) The colors really make it unique and something that is eye catching.

    After I lose the weight i wanted, I'm getting a side piece done. :) So I'm glad you shared your story! Makes me "mentally prepare" for my adventure.. I got one bigger piece on my inner bicep, it hurt, but the aftermath was the worst!

  5. I LOVE ANCHORS TOO!!! I have always wanted one on my side with my last name for my dad (he is a fishing boat captain & loves scuba dive - i grew up going with him on trips for him to teach people to scuba) but everyone has always said the side hurts the most... your tat is beautiful!!!

    && I agree those leg tats are beautiful but just not for me!! I am not sure I want them there when I am 60+..

  6. It looks cute! Sounds like a rough heal though. I used to heal really bad too until we figured out the perfect combination of aftercare products and a routine. Try aquaphor next time rather than A&D. My husband is a tattooer & I've been healing my tattoos with it for about 10 years. It'll moisturize it but still let it breathe. Also, if it's leaching fluid like that at night you wanna cover it up. Wash it in the AM & PM more than that. Rub a TINY amt of aquaphor on it & RUB IT IN completely (it'll me). Then cover it with saran wrap while you sleep, & lay on a towel to protect your sheet. Then in the AM wash the tattoo thoroughly until all of the shiny ointment & dried fluid is off....keep washing it & rinsing it until it doesn't feel slippery anymore. This will prevent it from getting thick scabs on it. Let it dry, then if you want you can put a tiny amt of Aquaphor on it again. Then leave it until night time again & repeat until healed. I know everyone says different things, but that's because most tattooers suck & don't give a crap about aftercare. I know what I'm talking about! I just healed this bad boy with virtually NO scabbing after like 4 hours of tattooing:

  7. Thank you for posting this. I have one tattoo on my foot (butterly) and contemplated on getting my daughter's name (Charlotte) on my side. Everyone always asks me if my foot hurt and to be honest, I say yes, it wasn't pleasant but I have nothing to compare it to. The worst part for me was the color as well. Hearing your story makes me want to reconsider and I appreciate your honesty. I have always thought rib (side) tattoos were very sexy though.

  8. I've always heard the outline is the worst part too, but I'm not sure how since the color uses several needles. None of mine have hurt, annoyed yes, but hurt not so much. I'm not saying it was a good time, but nothing really painful. I've heard the ribs are beyond painful, and clearly that's true. I'm glad you survived and have such a bad ass tattoo!!

  9. Girl I love this! I love the style, the pretty colors & (even though it hurt like a bitch) the placement!

  10. It looks nice. I have one on the back of my calf like that, my 4th & hurt way more than any of the others. I literally fell asleep during my first (&biggest) tat. The guy was like wtf is wrong with


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