Healing June 2021 Manifestation Mental Health Personal Stories

How my burnout brought me happiness and fulfilment

From Tattoo artist to Intuitive Coach & Talisman expert –

Blaze suffered from years of crippling pain and learned that she would never be able to work with her hands again. But this was just the beginning of her journey to helping others in discovering how burnout can actually lead you to your life’s calling.

Blaze began her journey as an aspiring artist and storyteller, but like many people, struggled to find a job out of college. One day, while driving past a tiny tattoo shop in the middle of nowhere, a little voice spoke out to her. This random calling was the beginning of her 10-year journey into becoming a tattoo artist, and without the obstacles faced within her devastating journey, she wouldn’t be living the life she loves today as an Intuitive Coach and Talisman Expert.

The start of the journey into becoming a tattoo artist

While I was driving past the tattoo shop, I felt a song sing in my soul. It wasn’t the most famous shop and it wasn’t the one where everyone would even recommend to apprentice at, but I kept on hearing, “This is it – you’ve got to go talk to them.” And so I did. I ended up practising there and after three years, I opened up my own business and spent the following seven years running my tattoo studio. It went from just me to having about seven to ten people at any given time that were either working, teaching, or painting. When I began, my art gallery started out very small in a shared hallway but I eventually moved into a bigger warehouse space. I brought in artists from all over the world that I had met at various classes, like Hollywood sculptor Jordu Schell, who came to do a creature-building mask workshop and brought in 40 students. I also did fundraisers with the Wolf Conservation Center of New York and I got to bring an actual wolf into my studio! I had artists come in to take pictures and do sketches, which were then auctioned off as a fundraiser. I felt like everything in my soul finally had this chance to exist.

Carrying the burdens that led to burnout

So we’re going through the years and I’m tattooing like crazy. And at the end, I’m like, man, I’m overworked. I don’t enjoy this anymore, because I’m taking on projects that I don’t want just to keep the business open. And I wanted to have a child. So that was part of my stress of not knowing how to manage this when I was working opposite hours to my husband and we would never be able to see each other. So I just shut it down. I didn’t listen to my heart at all. I worked and worked and worked, and eventually realised that I was so burnt out and that I needed to sell my business. So I sold it, thinking that this would fix my anxiety – but it didn’t. I ended up contracting myself back to the company and worked even more hours so that I could make sure it was a good investment for them. I put that burden on myself and still worried about the business side of things while doing the tattoo work.

More than just tattoos

Most people who want a tattoo will come in with an idea, and a few people will come in and know what image they want. But I found that many would find out that this wasn’t actually what they wanted at all. I would listen and ask questions, and as their story came out, I’d start to see images or I intuitively just kind of saw what was in people’s heads. As I described it back to them, I would get comments like, “Oh my God, I’ve never told anyone but that’s exactly what I saw in my head!” I think I developed this ability while tattooing for sure – and I learned to trust it. For example, I would start to hear a story or a song from someone, or sometimes I’d see a colour or smell a scent. I didn’t necessarily tell everyone that I could do this, but would drop it into the conversation, often having the person confirm it. I was able to tap into this ability and be creative with it. “What if we took that image and wrapped it here?” Or, “It seems like it belongs either over your heart or on your shoulder”, or we would figure out the body part that it belonged on. Super fun.

I realise now that my calling runs deeper than just drawing pictures. I was born creative and that’s in my nature – but what I really get drawn to are the stories. As a tattoo artist, I was always talking to someone, listening to their story and then going on to illustrate it on them – this was both incredible and very intense. But over the years, I realised that running a brick and mortar business with lots of people consisted of so many things that I didn’t really want to be doing.

But I didn’t have a language for that in my head yet. I didn’t feel like I was a good manager and I didn’t feel equipped to understand what to do for my people. So my response to every situation was that I could take on more of the burden myself, to spare the people working for me from ever knowing that there was stress, money issues or anything else, because that wasn’t their problem. I ended up working so hard, being the lead tattoo artist as well as running the business. I was tattooing 20 to 25 hours a week, which is physically demanding on your entire body, especially your hands and back. And I was hurting. I was really hurting.

I didn’t realise I had injured myself, or at least I ignored the signs. I was miserable and I wanted something else for my life, but felt that I was trapped in my own success with my studio, my staff and all of the clients that I had.

The wake-up call

It was the Fourth of July weekend, and the first time I allowed myself to take time off in the last year. I had been working so hard and my hands were in braces and in extreme pain. So I took a two-hour drive to see a friend in Boston and I hadn’t slept in days. All I could talk about was that I just really needed to quit my job, but I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t want to let down my husband. I didn’t want to let down my clients. I didn’t want to let down the guy that bought my studio. I didn’t want to let down the people who worked with me. My friend tried to reassure me and encouraged me to relax on our vacation, reminding me of Zumba class and the hot tub we would be going to. But when we finally got there and started our class, I felt a shooting pain start from the edge of my hands up into my shoulders, and although I knew this wasn’t quite right, I managed to ignore the pain the best I could and finished the class. I tried to enjoy myself but I even found the hot tub to be too hot for me, so I jumped into the showers. As the water hit me, I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe and my hands started to go numb. The sensation started to move up to my elbows and I knew that I was in trouble and attempted to cry for help. As I fell down, I tried to grab a towel to wrap around my body, but my hands and arms went completely numb as I hit the locker room floor. I was taken to the hospital where they tested me for a heart attack and stroke. It was neither, but they found that I had almost completely ripped the tendons in my fingers, and told me that if I didn’t stop what I was doing, I would lose complete function of my hands. So that was my answer, and I knew I needed to stop.

But I also had a realisation when the doctors asked me if I could be pregnant, as fainting was one of the possible signs. At that moment, where there was that slight possibility of having a child, made me completely forget about the pain, the embarrassment and the stress of what to do next. My friend was still beside me, holding my hand and she reminded me that I had just passed out in a foreign city, naked in a locker room, sent in an ambulance going to a hospital where I felt like I might be dying. And the moment I was asked “Are you pregnant?” all of the stress and pain disappeared. And that was my answer – I was ready to be a mom. This was a combination of wake up call and a blessing. I wasn’t actually pregnant, but I wanted to be – thinking that I was made me realise just how important this was to me. I was in pain and just heard that I would probably not be able to use my hands for the mid-to-long term, but I lit up like nothing else mattered.

So then I had to call every client to tell them I wasn’t coming back and wouldn’t be able to finish their projects: back pieces and half-finished sleeves. I spent time in the hospital and then at home, taking tests while strange things were happening to my body. Nobody came to see me and I realised that all of these priorities that I had been working so hard for were not going save me.

The money that I made from selling the studio couldn’t save me. The person that bought my studio and all of my co-workers and people that I thought would come and check on me, didn’t – even though I had prioritised them over my own physical and mental health. I couldn’t believe it and I felt abandoned in my time of need. I couldn’t even pick up a cup of water without shaking. It was really that bad. I was sorry that I hid the pain so well that not a single person knew how bad it had become.

And now I was lying in bed trying to figure out how to feed myself. What was I doing wrong? How did it get this bad? I also had to learn to cope with my self-esteem and confidence issues, wondering how I would show up if I wasn’t going to be an artist or business owner anymore? Not being able to tattoo meant that I had lost my identity as the Blaze that I knew. I spent a month just curled up on the floor, crying a lot of the day, and forcing myself to get off of the floor before my husband came home. He didn’t need to know this. But eventually, I knew that he did need to know – because this was the reality of where I was at.

I finally got past that hump of understanding that it was okay to actually be broken. It was okay to be really sad. It was okay to mourn the loss of my situation. It was okay to be angry and pissed off about losing what I thought mattered in my life.

Before my crisis, working out helped me to cope with my stress and lifted my mood. I made healthy protein smoothies with strawberries and bananas in the morning rather than reaching out for a candy bar. I kept it up even after ending tattooing, but something didn’t feel right to me and I ended up seeing a naturopath to test me for food allergies. This resulted in my discovering that I had an extreme allergy or intolerance to bananas, whey and milk-related foods – exactly what I had been consuming for months prior to my physical deterioration. So I went on an elimination diet that reduced my low-grade inflammation and asthmatic symptoms. I immediately lost 15 pounds as much of this was due to allergy-related inflammation, and my joints healed very quickly as well as the irritation associated with it. I was soon able to pick things up again and the pain subsided.

But most people wouldn’t have figured out it was an allergy because a lot of people don’t connect the dots that way. But I knew I needed to find out despite the doctors advising me against doing the tests.

On the road to recovery

My three-week protocol started by cutting everything out, starting with vegan protein powders, something that I never had before. I eventually added specific foods like white rice and bone broth – slowly introducing foods back into my diet. By the beginning of week two, I could already notice that my brain fog was gone and I wasn’t nearly as frantic as I normally felt all the time.

I also learned from the entire experience that you have to advocate for yourself. I had the opportunity for so much agency in my life, and I wasn’t taking it. I owned my own business and could have fired people that were causing my stress or rearranged the whole organization to suit my desires and needs, but I didn’t choose to. Instead, I just let myself get sucked in the undertow and do everything that I thought that everyone else wanted. In the end, I suffered and they didn’t even care, which was both completely shocking and totally eye-opening to me. Afterwards, I was trying to figure out what I wanted in life, and so I did a lot of writing. I enrolled in business school because I enjoyed having a business and the feeling of contributing to the world. But I also wanted to be a mom and I didn’t want to work in the same kind of business model of employing others, which was too much for me and not something that brought me happiness.

I’m extremely grateful to have an amazing and supportive husband. He just wanted me to get better, and he was so excited about my recovery because having kids was what he had wanted the whole time as well. It was me who was blocking out this possibility because of my crazy working hours and beliefs about motherhood. Now that this was resolved, I wanted to move forward. Previously, I just never saw my husband and I even felt that we didn’t really know one another. The only time we talked was when I got home from work and made my dinner as he was going to bed. So this was a blessing in disguise. and actually, I got to fall in love with my husband again.

The decision to not be the victim

So I have this really optimistic part of myself where I think that there must be a reason for everything, which I needed to cling to or else I wouldn’t get through things. But there was equally the part of me that wondered how the hell did this happen? My nature is to self-blame, so it wasn’t about how this could happen to me, but how could I have done this to myself. I felt like such a stupid person and I needed to get past this, not knowing if I could even like myself. And this was because I felt that I needed to give to everybody all of the time – so if I wasn’t giving them tattoos, producing objects for them, giving them my time, or showing them how to do stuff, then I was invalidated – like I didn’t even exist. But I needed to get past this and figure out what my life was for – something that I feel humanity struggles with – whether we can have worth if we’re not doing something for someone else, or providing something for someone else. And what I learned through this process is what I do now with my coaching business. It isn’t something that I consciously decided to go into, as I didn’t even know work like this existed then. But as I grew into it, I realised that I had been doing this for my tattoo clients for the past ten years, too.

But my glitch about how to have worth as a business or service provider was believing that I had to do it in artistic form. I didn’t think that I could be valuable to a client by being with someone and just talking to them. I felt like I could only have value if I could produce an image or give someone a physical thing. I knew that I could hold a paintbrush, and I could put that down when I felt pain, which still occurs after a while, but it was possible. And so I started a company to do portraits to show people how beautiful they are and how they are gorgeous souls. And within six or seven months, it was working and people were buying portraits from me. But I hated it. What was happening to me and why was I once again hating what I was doing? So I decided I wasn’t going to make the same mistake by going down the road of hating something that I should have enjoyed doing. I wasn’t going to feel trapped again.

Then one day, I found out that I was pregnant. This made it easier for me to stop my work, as I was working with oil paints and so I didn’t have to feel the guilt that I was so used to feeling when I left the tattoo business. I wasn’t disappointing anyone with half-finished projects and this was my second chance to end things the right way because it was a choice that I was making for myself and not one that I was forced into.

Coaching from personal experience

I was able to fully enjoy becoming a mom and going for walks to figure things out. And years later, I found out that someone I had met in the school had started a Coaching Academy for the intuitive. And then just like when I had gone to the tattoo shop, I heard this voice behind me say, “You’re gonna do that”. And so I contacted my friend and told her that I didn’t know how or when, but that we would be working together. I ended up being one of her first round of clients before she really launched the program which is how my coaching career began.

Starting my coaching journey, I asked myself how I could particularly and uniquely coach people. And I knew that it had to relate to my own experiences and so I decided to centre it around burnout. It’s about helping people get past their own crisis, and so many people are suffering like I did, by blaming themselves. They don’t know how to advocate for themselves, or they don’t believe that they’re worth advocating for or they lack that confidence. And I know exactly what it is to stand there. It’s easy now to look back and think that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. Now I can help all these people because I know exactly what they’re going through.

Where does the talisman fit in and how can someone benefit from this?

I feel that people really crave ritual; we crave something physical to commemorate a change. I think in the coaching that I do, I teach people that this is important and that you really need to do it in order to make it stick. For me, when I have a big change, I tend to want to have a whole wardrobe change, because I’m stepping into this new personality as this new version of me. And I know I’m not alone in that. You can choose a power outfit or a necklace or something that’s coming with you on this journey. And what I teach you to do is how to have a conversation with it. So it becomes a really important talisman in your life. Because the more often you have this back and forth between whatever’s around you in your environment, the more it’s happening unconsciously just when it’s around. When you do this, it takes all of the pressure off of you to have to remember to feel like you have to provide it all yourself. You now have this ally, and it doesn’t have to be a person or a group of people. Now, it’s a rock or a sculpture or something that you’re wearing. And that is like having this secret friend that you get to take everywhere that nobody has to know about. And we love having secrets. We also like to talk about it. These things can come into your life and they can be with you for the rest of your life and become part of who you are. Or they can pass out of your life in the same way that you meet someone, and they’re really important for a while, but then you part ways as changed people. Just like with a tattoo, when you first get it, it’s the most important, most fabulous, most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen. You want to show it off. You notice it all of the time and feel like you’re a new person. But eventually, it becomes a part of your skin – a part of your being. And I use the tattoo story to tell people that when you make a talisman, it’s that subtle. It’s so powerful and important at the beginning, but then it becomes who you are and now it’s the energy that you’re in all the time. So you don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to worry about it. It’s just happening. It’s happened. It’s done.

With the talisman, it’s always going to be there as a reminder of what is important for you to know, and to steer away from the things that cause you the pain or cause you discomfort. It’s a physical reminder of where things can go if you don’t listen to the signs – these don’t just go away. It’s actually there to show you something.

From my experience, I could have acknowledged my injury and recognised that I needed to get it looked at, or taken a few months break and come back to tattooing refreshed and with a clearer head. But at the time, I thought if I did this, the whole business would shut down and I’d lose all my clients. I know that’s not true now. I absolutely could have taken the break and come back and life would have gone on, just as it did without me when it was permanent. With my clients today, I can see their brain drama and I can call them out on it. Because I know now, for a fact, that it’s not true. So I’m not going to coddle anyone and pretend to play along like that’s true. I give the honest truth and tell them to take the month off if that’s what they need, as the month could heal and change their life. And if they don’t, what could happen in six or nine months is that it might actually have a more serious impact. Often we have no concept of what the impact could be when we’re in a situation, and we need someone outside of ourselves to tell us that it’s okay to follow our inner instincts, even if it’s scary. In the end, our hearts really do want the best for us, and learning to trust our inner nudges leads to peace and even joy. I’m living proof!

If you struggle from burnout or would like to find out more about Blaze and her coaching program, you can contact her using the details below. Or join her free Facebook Group for people looking to beat burnout “Permission Granted”.

Click here to read Blaze’s article on The 5 Major Causes of Burnout….and how to fix it fast!

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