a slave to my mind

Editors’ note: The following poem details graphic imagery of bulimia, and may be upsetting.

My name is Rhea Mathews, currently residing in India. My psychology teacher once told our class that if we were faced with stress, that we should channel that chaos into writing. I remember exactly when I started penning down thoughts. My first love had just broken up with me. I didn’t know what I was feeling and how to deal with the heartbreak so I cried and I wrote and I cried some more. It was relieving, even empowering, it provided me clarity and perspective. Slowly after this I began writing poetry. My poetry is very personal to me, I haven’t shared it with anyone. The piece I submitted was about being bulimic, I had put off writing this for a long time because I didn’t know if I was ready to face the truth.

Staring into the pot of my filth that had been forcefully purged left me feeling empty and deeply flawed. Bulimia haunted me for three years of my life. It gave me a warped self-image, and every day was spent on overcoming the self-defeating of guilt, anxiety and depression associated with the disease. It took me time to realize the harm I was inflicting on my mind and body and to change the negative perceptions of what I conceived to be attractive and desirable. The social stigmatization of this mental illness dissuaded me from ever opening up about it. People suffering from disorders are often unwilling speak about their tribulations or even worse unable to accept the reality of the situation. Mental disorders transcend boundaries created by caste, creed, religion, and state, and therefore it makes it all the more crucial for society to understand the complexity and severity of mental diseases to be empathetic and provide support to those whom need it.

I submitted this piece because although it may not be an extraordinary piece of work, it is honest. It’s what people need to hear, especially those suffering from any mental illness because if even one person can feel that they are not alone in this journey, then it’s worth it. If one person can relate and understand, it can empower them. If one person’s negative preconceived notions, of what it’s like to have a mental illness, changes, then society is already a little bit better.


I wrapped away this problem,

Buried it at the back of my head,

Kept it so deeply hidden,

So not a tear would be shed.

But it didn’t disappear,

It didn’t go away,

It continued to haunt to me,

Each and every single day.

A lingering shadow,

A demon in my mind,

A toothbrush in my toilet,

That I wished not to find.

It didn’t have a face,

I did not speak its name,

That would make it real,

Did that make me insane?

To deny, suppress and ignore,

For three exhausting years,

All the misery, guilt, and pain,

Bundled with all my fears.

Low self-esteem.

Low self-worth.

Lack of self-respect.

Dirt. Dirt. Dirt.

Illusory standards of beauty,

Is what I decided to chase,

Because I didn’t accept,

My body, my mind or my face.

It began with two fingers,

Dug deep down my throat,

Faced the mirror after,

I looked repulsively bloat.

I had successfully purged,

Everything I had eaten,

Teary eyes, runny nose,

I had just been beaten.

By a version of me,

That I truly despised,

Being your own enemy,

Something I can’t describe.

I tried to just,

Reduce my appetite,

But the pangs of hunger,

Were what I couldn’t fight.

The body needed,

More than I was giving it,

So then I ate excessively,

And felt absolutely shit.

I was overwhelmed,

By these negative thoughts,

My only relief was purging,

Believe it or not.

It gave me a feeling,

Of self-satisfaction,

A sense of control

Fueled by this action.

I lost twelve kgs,

In less than a year,

It made me quite happy,

That’s what I feared.

I didn’t care about,

The damage I was inflicting,

I told myself I want this,

On days, even insisting.

It was an unnatural,

Obsession with food,

Unhealthy and damaging,

That dictated my mood.

Every plate served,

Every bite I had to swallow,

Ultimately left me broken,

Weak, empty and hollow.

I experienced days staring,

Into the pot of my filth,

Tears streaming down,

And intense feelings of guilt.

Why am I doing this to my body?

Will people love more?

Will I be happy if I lose weight?

What am I doing this for?

Day after day,

It got easier to do,

A mild irritation now,

And only a tear or two.

Food was constantly,

Dispelled from my body,

I got used to this habit,

And I loved it, oddly.

To eat all you want,

Not put on a single calorie,

The best of both worlds,

This was my mentality.

I treated it casually,

It became a way of life,

A self-defeating cycle,

Of sadness and strife.

Eating in secret,

Over-exercising,

Hiding it from everyone,

And constantly lying.

It gave me happiness,

That was temporary,

After a while,

Relief came rarely.

My teeth become yellow,

I became disgustingly thin,

I stopped loving myself,

For what was within.

Misguided thoughts,

Is what I was left with,

Beauty by being slim,

It was all just a myth.

I was envious of all types of women,

Those who were slimmer,

Those who didn’t give a fuck,

And were much plumper.

They had this aura,

No one could bring them down,

No amount of body-shaming,

Would ever make them frown.

They loved their bodies.

They loved their extra skin,

They loved their curves,

They loved everything within.

I have to teach my children better,

Not pass on this false perception,

Of beauty and attaining love,

It’s all a horrid misconception.

Don’t be fooled by the models in the magazines,

The advertisements and the billboards,

That objectify people and their bodies.

The posts that highlight your insecurity,

The instagram pictures that distort reality,

And provide a negative notion of,

What’s considered desirable and attractive.

The articles on losing weight,

The diets to follow,

And your calorie intake,

Throw it all away.

Throw it all away.

It’s not important,

Society does not have to determine,

How you look or behave.

I’ve begun my journey to alter,

My warped self-image,

Learning to love myself,

For me, that’s a privilege.

It took me two years,

To finally accept and admit,

That I was bulimic because of,

The social stigma associated to it.

Don’t trivialize your suffering,

Don’t be afraid to speak about the tribulations.

If you have a mental illness,

Seek support and help to change your situation.

I urge both men and women,

To speak up and fight,

For those who suffer,

Do what is right.

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