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Life Through Art

Across history tattoos have been ceremonial and sentimental. On the flip side, getting a tattoo is vulnerable and painful for some. Leeza Lakhter (LETMEPOKEU) is creating space in the tattoo world for tender tattoo artists. Originally published August 2020.

Mental illness can make everyday activities difficult such as working, eating, socializing, and having a clear mind. When working towards your goals puts you in uncomfortable environments, giving up seems more manageable than pushing through. Many people believe that mental health is understood and a healthy mental state is encouraged by almost everyone. But even today, some spaces do not invite feelings of safety and comfort.

LETMEPOKEU is a self-taught tattoo artist and advocates for mental health. In New York City, LETMEPOKEU has been working as a tattoo artist for a little over a year. With their practice, they expand what it means to be a tattoo artist.

"When I first started learning about tattoos and getting tattoos myself, I started to learn how fucked up the tattoo industry is. It can be a euphoric, painful, or uncomfortable situation," they mentioned.

"I had a lot of different kinds of experiences, but I realized I could potentially create a space that was more trauma-informed."

The tattoo industry is male-dominated. The tattoo industry that they experienced was not trauma-informed and had little knowledge of how to handle mental health situations during an appointment.

For a genderqueer person, it can be a challenging environment to navigate. To get a tattoo, you give up control while intentionally putting yourself in a possible painful situation. Yet, through their art, LETMEPOKEU reduces exclusivity and amplifies queerness. They are accepting the perspective of all body types and sexual expression.

"I have always been a person where being myself is so important," they said.

"I feel like I have been hiding in a fake persona in private school, the expectation of parents and society. It was hard for me to find my true identity."

LETMEPOKEU grew up as a curious and competitive child. Their first passion is dancing.

"Through dance, I discovered other forms of art like mixed media and photography," they said. "Learning how to tattoo, I had to focus all my time in really becoming an artist. I had to drop everything to learn this new skill."

Just like learning new and challenging art forms, learning to accept and deal with mental health can be an all-encompassing task. It can positively impact a life by having others around that can make you feel valid. Now sober from alcohol for two years and regularly attending therapy, LETMEPOKEU finds themself gifted with a community, a partnership, and family that helps lift them and give a push when needed.

"When I started to find myself in a queer community with a shared interest, I got excited to share my art and be open about body positivity," they shared.

They continued, "Loving my body helps me feel happy and positive. Sometimes when I look at myself, and I feel sad or uncomfortable, I'll take pictures."

"My partner Mia has helped me in so many ways. This partnership has brought me happiness and positivity in my life but also helped me accept myself."

Navigating relationships and working in a potentially trigger field is hard work. These aspects of life are full of compromises and can make it daunting to accept or give care and support. For Leeza, through therapy and studying the DBT book, they have gained skills and knowledge on how to de-escalate different high-stakes situations or a "crisis." Below are some of the tips that LETMEPOKEU shares.

What is a crisis when talking about mental health? They explained, "A crisis when a situation is highly stressful. In a crisis, you might feel heightened emotions, impulsive behavior, or a panic attack.

"First step [is to find a] community of people to reach out to in times of crisis - like a therapist, family, friends - and prepare yourself for a crisis... It's helpful to reach out to others," they continued.

LETMEPOKEU has used dialectical behavioral therapy, often referred to by its initials DBT by therapists, to better her mental health. Squeezing ice, dipping your head in cold water, or intense exercise are some examples of what DBT entails. These methods help shift your senses and mindset in a crisis.

Another tip is to set boundaries. Being open and honest with your loved ones and having time to reflect are skills you can utilize to better your mental health. Boundaries are there so that both people feel comfortable and heard.

LETMEPOKEU says, "I've put so much work into my mental health."

Whether it is through sharing gained knowledge on their social media, getting involved with organizations for mental health, or creating a welcoming, non-judgmental space to get a tattoo, LETMEPOKEU is doing the work for themselves and others.

Leeza said words I didn't realize I needed to hear. "Overall, I want everyone to know that you are valid, strong, and worthy. Your experience doesn't have to be linear. With time you can heal." Just like a fresh tattoo.

Follow Leeza Lakhter on Instagram @letmepokeu.

Use their website to book a tattoo session.

Photos credited to Leeza Lakhter, @vikotje and @thinkmiamedia


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