A couple weeks ago, I may have had a mid-life crisis and had this done:
It is my first tattoo, and I am entirely too old to be getting a first tattoo. And way too uncool. I’d like to tell you a little about the experience, but I will save that for the next post, as I must first tell you about the tattoo. It says “spemque metumque inter dubiis”, which is Latin for “hover between hope and fear”. It may sound nonsensical or inconsequential, but for me, that phrase holds a deeper meaning.
I spent much of 2005 on my mom’s couch. The summer after my first year of law school I developed constant abdominal pain and nausea, which may have been the catalyst for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). There’s really no way to know.
I took a leave of absence from law school and moved back home to live my mom and (former) stepdad while I attended doctor’s appointments. It was a difficult year of my life. It was a very lonely time. My stepdad made it known he was tired of having me as a housemate. My law school friends forgot about me. I didn’t have the energy to see my long-time friends much, and it was hard to watch people my age having fun and being excited about new relationships. I wasn’t excited about much that year.
Most of my time was spent either napping on my mom’s couch or looking at books in the local public library. I read a lot that year. At some point in my reading, I came across a quote from Virgil’s The Aeneid: “spemque metumque inter dubiis.” I know it sounds overdramatic, but that was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. My life was consumed by fear: that I would never get better, that I would never get back to my old life, and that I would spend the rest of my life on my mom’s couch, reading classic literature and medical journals and dreaming of meaning and social contact with the world.
When you’re nauseous and vomiting daily for months on end with no diagnosis in site, hope starts to feel unattainable. But Virgil’s words reminded me that I didn’t have to completely abandon fear and make the giant leap to hope, I just had to hover somewhere between them. Those four words may have saved my life, but at the very least, they helped me get off that couch.
And, it has continued to be my motto over the past 12 years. Since I developed POTS, I am afraid more often than I would like. Anytime I go anywhere with a line, I’m afraid I’m going to faint. I’m afraid of what people will do to me or my belongings while I’m unconscious. And I’m afraid the stress on my heart from POTS will impact my life expectancy. I was even afraid of how POTS would affect getting a tattoo.
Although I had planned on getting this tattoo for a while, it actually serves a purpose. My right arm is my blood draw/infusion arm. Most of the time phlebotomists can get a clean puncture, but not every time. I once had a nurse take blood from a vein in my foot because she blew veins in both arms. Because my veins roll, and because every vein puncture is a reminder that I’m not well, I get about a half second of anxiety right before my vein is punctured. The tattoo gives me something to focus on and serves as a pep talk, reminding me that I can do this, that I have been through worse, that it is okay to be afraid, and that I don’t have to hold on to grandeur expectations of hope. I just have to balance it with the fear.
I’d love to tell you that I live a fearless life, but I don’t. But I subscribe to Mark Twain’s viewpoint that “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is acting in spite of it”. So until I am able to eliminate all fear, I will continue to be grateful that my fear provides opportunities to be courageous.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield
Friends, if you have a tattoo, I’d love to hear about your experience.
Smell ya later.