Home/Contemporary songs, Latest Stories, Mental health/WITHOUT THE BITTER THE SWEET ISN’T AS SWEET by MAYDAY PARADE. Story by Samantha Lee Curran
Gold Coast, Queensland. 2012
I was newly 18, fresh out of high school, and immersed in the chaos that is Schoolies. I was with a group of people that I didn’t feel comfortable around, as they had stopped treating me nicely long before. Anxious and shy, I felt utterly alone in a sea of drunken partygoers.
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Throughout high school, I had severely struggled with mental health issues – particularly with self-harm. I endured bullying from primary school into high school, and it would only get worse as time went on. To escape these struggles, I listened to music that would help transport me to another headspace and to feel less alone. The music and lyrics allowed me to explore everything that I was feeling without shame and judgement.
My favourite band to listen to was Mayday Parade – it was the band that I related to the most. The Florida band had an abundance of songs covering different experiences, emotions, and struggles. Their voices were raw and full of emotions, and their lyrics were poetic. I could listen to these songs on repeat for days at a time and never tire of them.
I was one of the weird unpopular kids in school. It was right in the middle of the “scene” phase, and I dressed accordingly – skinny jeans, band tees, and Doc Martens boots. My hair was dyed black, with a sweeping side fringe and jagged layers. Once my friend said that my hair looked like Ollie Sykes’ from Bring Me The Horizon. It may not seem like it now, but it was a compliment at the time.
I had always imagined myself with tattoos. I saw myself covered in blackwork ink, beautiful artwork, and lyrics that meant something – but I was scared about getting one. With your first tattoo, you don’t know what to expect. Is it painful? What if it gets infected? What if it turns out terribly? Seeing as I was at Schoolies – where people tend to make spur of the moment decisions, I decided that there was no better time to get my first one.
Getting your first tattoo is a big deal, and I wanted to get something meaningful that I wouldn’t regret. I wanted a tattoo to explain the struggles that I had been through – something that would serve as a reminder that it can and will get better. Incorporating music into the tattoo was extremely important to me – it was what kept me going through my darkest moments, and lifted me up when I was feeling light enough.
Ready to mark my skin forever, I took a stroll down the main street of the city to find a tattoo studio. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted exactly, but as I wandered up the steep stairs of the closest studio, it became clear. Nervously, I walked up to the counter, asked them if they had some time, and told them what I was after. I found myself in an excited panic attack when they said they had time straight away.
Because I’m left-handed, my self-harm was primarily on my right forearm, so I decided on placing the tattoo there. A Mayday Parade song called Without The Bitter The Sweet Isn’t As Sweet was a perfect sentiment. To me, that line meant that if you don’t experience bad times, then you won’t appreciate the good times. It is a song that you could sing at the top of your lungs while feeling the pang at the bottom of your heart. This song was also something that I listened to on long drives late at night, with someone who used to mean the world to me. It is a song with bittersweet memories attached.
The tattoo gun stung as it vibrated through my bones, and my body was feeling warm in a cold room. Fascinated, I looked down at what was happening the entire time. Suddenly the feeling of dizziness and nausea came over me. I asked the tattoo artist to give me a minute because I was worried that I was about to pass out. I stepped into the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and splashed cold water on my face. Once I was ready, I returned to my seat embarrassed, but eager to finish what I started.
Red and raw, the fresh ink was staring me right in the face – a permanent message that I had left for myself. The tattoo found its home nestled between the self-harm scars and healing wounds – demanding to be taken seriously.
Now, it serves as a daily reminder of the struggles I have lived, and that things will and do get better – even if they don’t disappear completely.