Mustafa's Musings: I Got A Buddhist-Inspired Tattoo To Prevent Myself From Going Crazy Again
Alright, I know I was initially supposed to publish this piece last Wednesday, but I got lazy. Today will have to do instead.
Before we get into it, this is the final time I will ask you to take the survey on season one of "712 Hayes." This is your chance to tell me how excellent, and yes, not so excellent of a writer I am.
Without further adieu ...
In 2015 I was out in Phuket, Thailand with my buddy Alex. This was the first stop on a two-week trip around both Thailand and Myanmar that was inspired by a meal I had at Mandalay, a Burmese restaurant in San Francisco. (For SF locals, I will argue ad nauseam that Mandalay is better than Burma Superstar. Don't try me, especially you, Shoshana.)
My co-worker Chris, who at that time was stationed in Shenzhen, China, joined us in Phuket. On our second day there we decided to rent scooters and maraud around the island.
Chris and I, unfortunately, lost track of Alex early about 15 minutes into the ride. Alex did warn us this was his first time on a scooter and for us to take it slow, but Chris and I got carried away. The next thing we know we’re halfway up a hill, look back, and can’t find Alex.
After spending an hour fruitlessly backtracking trying to locate him we continued with our exploration. We set our sights on Phuket’s most well-known destination: Big Buddha. Having done very little research before coming to Thailand, I had assumed Big Buddha was simply a cornball statue built at the top of the hill to attract tourists to a vista point.
When we got up there, while yes tourists were milling about, there were also a bunch of monks there. At the feet of Big Buddha sits the Wat Kitthi Sankaram temple.
Chris and I walked around the temple a little bit and took in the views of Phuket below us. We eventually meandered to the base of Big Buddha.
What we found was a chamber that was hidden unless you made your way up to Big Buddha's feet, which most of the tourists didn’t do. We peeked inside and there were three monks towards the front of the chamber who were meditating.
Chris suggested we crawl into the chamber and join them in meditation, which we did. It wasn’t any sort of crazy spiritual experience, just a simple moment of tranquility.
Upon exiting the chamber after a peaceful five minutes, we saw a seated monk tying a piece of string around a tourist’s wrist. With her bracelet on and the spirit of Buddha within her, she got up and continued on.
Chris wanted one as well so he kneeled down in front of the monk and stuck his arm out. The monk smiled at him and tapped a small pile of bills next to him. Chris got the message, and the transaction was completed.
I figured I might as well join the party and got myself a bracelet as well.
The bracelet is called Sai Sin. They originally come from much longer pieces of string that were utilized in a Buddhist ritual. Sometimes it’s in one color. Sometimes, as was our case, it’s a bunch of different threads woven together. (You can buy the made-in-China version on Etsy now.)
In the years that followed, I found myself focusing on that simple rainbow bracelet. Oftentimes when I’d get stressed out by something—usually work-related stress from the pressures of capitalism—I’d calm myself down by focusing on the bracelet.
I’d bring myself back to those five minutes underneath Big Buddha’s feet. I’d find a moment of peace and tell myself, “Hey, worse comes to worst, you can give up capitalism and become a monk in Phuket. Life is not that bad.”
Once I found my calm, I’d continue on with my day.
At some point in late 2019, I lost the bracelet. After years of wearing it, it became looser and looser on my wrist. It was only a matter of time before it fell off naturally onto some sidewalk in the Lower East Side.
Unfortunately in September of 2020, I had a bit of a mental health episode triggered by work. There was a week-long period where I was in a manic state and was sleeping one to two hours a night.
At the end of that week for about a day and a half, I had more or less gone crazy; I thought people were coming to kill me, had trouble completing sentences, was cutting myself, pacing for hours on end, and generally on the suicidal spectrum. Thankfully with the help of my girlfriend at the time, and my family, I didn’t do any lasting physical damage to myself.
I wasn’t out of the woods yet—right after that I fell into a depression as the L’s kept piling up. I left the business I co-founded, couldn’t get a job, got dumped by my girlfriend, and moved back into my mom’s house.
It took months to get my head right. I wasn't simply trying to work through all the L's I had recently taken, but also all of this other stuff that had backlogged throughout my life that was never sorted through properly. Through a combination of DBT therapy, contemplating past relationships, and reflecting on various readings, I finally made it to the other side in November of the following year.
By far, the most impactful piece of the puzzle for me was DBT therapy. My basic definition of DBT therapy is it’s like taking a remedial math class, only for your emotional skill set. DBT works off of a workbook and takes you through various situations. Through that process you develop tools to better handle different situations you come across in day-to-day life.
One of those tools was to insert a positive experience to interrupt a negative thought pattern. Something as simple as going for a walk, or stepping outside can serve that purpose.
I didn’t realize that for years I had been using my Sai Sin bracelet as a way to halt negative thoughts. Now while I can’t say I wouldn’t have had my mental health episode if I simply had my bracelet on, I would like to think it would have been less severe if I was able to find something to break my thinking.
So I decided, I want to always make sure I have this bracelet with me. I hit up a friend of mine who’s a tattoo artist and got a Sai Sin-inspired tattoo done (shout-out to the good folks at Bayonne Tattoo Company). I never had a strong desire for a tattoo for aesthetic reasons because of how low my pain tolerance is, but this was different. This was for my mental health.
The tattoo has become a cheat code for my emotional wellbeing. Over the past couple of months, when I’ve found myself in a negative thought pattern, I glance at my tattoo and am immediately reminded of the DBT skills that I have learned. Simply taking stock of the progress I've made on a personal level is enough to help me find my inner balance.
The reason why I share all this is three-fold.
The first: I had done what you might consider to be normal therapy a few years back, and it didn’t work for me. DBT therapy, however, did.
I’ve now come to find out that there are many different types of therapy. If you’ve tried therapy before and thought it was bullshit, I’d encourage you to give it another go and try to find the type of therapy that works for you.
The second is that if you feel yourself becoming crazy, are in the middle of being crazy, or coming down from going crazy, I can actually say, "I know what you're going through." So as a quick PSA, if you find yourself in one of those tough spots, feel free to reach out to me (open invitation as well for those of you who I've never met).
The third and final reason is that I’m currently at peace with the not-so-good moments of my life. When I decided to write again after I crossed to the other side in November, I decided I didn’t want to just write short stories that would make people laugh—I wanted to cover a broader spectrum of emotions.
While “712 Hayes” was all fun and games, the next series is less so. The stories will still be entertaining, but they won’t involve me gyrating in a onesie. To that end, for the stories that may cause a reaction in you that’s not so positive, I’ll make sure to give a warning at the top; you may be better reading them on Monday night instead of Monday morning.
I look forward to sharing “Brown Boy Problems” with you next week.
Season 1 of Brown Boy Problems has started!
Was this essay sent to you? Enter your email below to receive a new short story every week! Free content from my fingers to your eyes. (That sounded better in my head but now all I can think about is poking you in the eye.)
Have a friend who got a Japanese tattoo because it looks cool? Can you do me a favor and forward this article to them? Sharing is caring.
Missed last week's musing? Catch up on it here.
This essay was edited by Mustafa. Please blame all grammatical errors on him.