This past weekend, I got my first tattoo. On my right inner forearm, I now have the words ‘be more kind’ inked into my skin.
The tattoo wasn’t a spontaneous decision, but rather the culmination of five years of change. So why did I get the title of Frank Turner’s album permanently etched on my skin?
The Root of Empathy
It’s strange how some memories can last for decades, while others fade into obscurity. I still vividly remember when I was around six or seven, have difficulties at school. Two of the other boys in my class, Alistair and Joseph, would chase me around the playground at break times.
This wasn’t part of a fun, mutual game, but something I felt they did to harass me. My clearest memory is of standing in my parents’ bedroom one evening and telling them how upset this made me. My dad’s advice was to talk to them and ask why.
It sounds so easy, so simple. But when you’re wrapped up in your own head, it can be hard to think about what someone else is feeling, or what their motivations are. We were only children. Looking back, I don’t think they did it to be horrible.
Despite clinging onto how I felt then, I don’t know how things played out. But the message I took from the situation was to think about others, not immediately react to my gut emotion.
It’s not easy though to always tap into that well of empathy. We all experience hardships through life, and the pain and suffering we feel is at the hands of another person. When you feel upset, desperate, depressed, angry, the default isn’t to react with kindness and positivity. It’s to spit that vitriol back at those who caused us to feel this way.
A New Perspective
Throughout my teens, my opinions became tainted with bitterness, often coming across as grumpy. I felt I had good reason to be this way. I never thought about how it affected others, or how the way I behaved could be so easily different.
It wasn’t until my early 20s that everything changed. I became ill with a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS). I had to leave work and was mostly home-bound, unable to socialize or interact with others.
Everything I thought I knew or believed about myself was flipped around. I was no longer the person I saw in my head. A separate, but related, situation added crushing stress to already one of the worst periods of my life.
It was a tough couple of years, but the kindness of my partner, our families, and a few friends got me through the worst. I’ll never forget what they all did for me. Even the seemingly smallest things are permanently lodged in my brain, and I’ll always be grateful for them.
Eventually, the stress eased, the interventions I took for my condition began paying off, and I was able to rebuild an entirely new life, and identity. Those years changed who I am; who I want to be.
Where I once had an almost militant focus on finding the negatives, I’ve gradually moved towards seeing the good in situations and people. It’s not always easy, and I’m by no means perfect. But being on the lookout for the positives has had a dramatic impact on how I get through each day.
Be Kind to Yourself
As anyone with a chronic illness will tell you, being kind to yourself is one of the hardest things you can do. Wherever you look, you’re constantly told that you have to be a ‘fighter,’ the implication that if you’re still unwell, it’s your fault.
When you have a bad day, week, month, you feel like a failure. Every canceled plan, missed event, and lost relationship is another self-inflicted black mark.
When I talk about kindness to yourself, I don’t mean in the overtly capitalist way where you have to book spa days and buy things. Instead, it’s about accepting your reality. That you’re doing the best you can, and some days will be better than others.
It’s a constant back and forth inside your head to be this way. In the years since I became ill, I’ve returned to work (as a freelancer), taken on volunteering positions, and generally tried to do more than I ever would have thought possible a half a decade ago.
I’ve taken up meditation and yoga. One of my favorite yoga teachers starts many of her classes with a mantra. It’s not something I’d have given a chance before, but when she says to repeat “I am enough” internally, I know it’s the right thing to do.
Enter: Frank Turner
Frank Turner is an English musician, who gained international recognition with his 2013 album Tape Deck Heart, and its popular single The Way I Tend to Be. It was around this time I first heard Turner’s music when attending the annual Ginger Wildheart Birthday Bash in London.
Ginger is a prolific and brilliant musician who celebrates his birthday with a special guest-filled gig each December. Frank Turner was one of the guests, and his performance was so powerful, I quickly consumed his entire back catalogue.
Just as I was approaching my fifth PoTS anniversary, Turner released his latest album ‘Be More Kind.’ The album is a loose concept album based about kindness and our shared humanity. It’s hard not to relate to that.
Crucially though, these are not empty words. He treats other people with kindness in his own life, keeping in touch with, and supporting other musicians, and in the case of Ginger, taking time away from his tour to be with him through some of his darkest times. There are others too.
In the album’s title track, Frank sings:
“Like a beacon reaching out,
To you and yours from me and mine,
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.”
Every time I hear those words, I know they’re true.
The last five years of my life have taught me to be kind to others and kind to myself. When it came time to commemorate the half-decade anniversary of PoTS, it couldn’t have been more apparent what I had to do.
That simple phrase, turned into song, written by someone who means it, was the perfect reminder of what I’d learned.
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.