How My World Has Changed

 Looking back,
I remember how 2013 saw me waste away,
When I couldn't hide my wilted smile
Because I couldn't understand where I was
Or why the wind blew through me so.
16 years taught me integrity and dedication,
Solid and grounding like the earth.
But I crumbled in the palm of a boy
Who didn't know what he wanted.
Swept away in my own river of tears,
I swallowed so much salty water
That my taste for love grew bitter.
Aching like a tree branch about to snap,
An eroding cliff with nothing growing,
I felt my bones and hope decay
And become fertilizer for the fear to stay.
On the edge,
Deep below,
I held my breath for so long
Wondering if one day I'd jump,
Soar and float,
Rise and finally make a toast.
Am I there?
Am I there?
I shut my eyes,
Held myself together through
Natural disaster and self-implosions,
Nursed my cuts and soothed my truths.
6 years have passed,
And I think I'm somewhere new.
Little me,
Would you believe what I'm seeing today?
The light shining from a world I haven't been yet,
The paths I've walked with radical love incarnate,
The ebullience that spills into my grin.
Would you believe how I hear
The tiny compliments I pay myself,
The laughter of a boy who
Has listened to all of my stories and poems
Since day one,
Or the loud and sweet dreams that carry me
When I still don't know where I'm going?
I don't know if you knew
That you'd survive all those times
When the world crashed and burned,
Smoked and flooded,
Shook and churned.
But here I am,
Heart swollen and full,
And I've found that
The landscape of me has always had
Hidden wildflowers and stunning weeds.
I just didn't know it
Until I sat down and got the chance to look.
Since then I've made my rosy lens critically true,
I've found real love for me and you in the dusty corners,
And I finally fucking flew.

My Self-Love is Misguided, Messy, and Meandering (The Story of My Eating Disorder)

Trigger warning: eating disorder, body dysmorphia, fatphobia

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the following post, I talk about my lived experience with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. In describing those experiences, I have used “fat” as a derogatory term. However, I want to recognize and highlight the important notion that fat is not a synonym for worthless, undesirable, or (morally) bad. To accurately depict the internalized fatphobia that fuels my ED and body dysmorphia, I do talk about fatness as though it is “bad,” but I don’t mean to perpetuate this harmful framework. Rather, I hope to speak my truth (because I’ve been having a hard time speaking it anywhere else) and offer solidarity to those who are also trying to untangle these violent societal messages like I am. I hope this isn’t the last time you hear of my ED stories. -Much love, Yema

My Self-Love is Misguided, Messy, and Meandering 
(The Story of My Eating Disorder)
I was 11 when I first thought
that something about my body
was Not Right.
Looking into glass that I would continue
to addictively and obsessively check well into my 20s,
I thought,
"My thighs
are too big."
For the rest of middle school,
that thought planted itself in the back of my head.
It remained docile,
staying in its corner
because I declared my thighs
only Sometimes Too Big.
Every time the insecurity sprouted,
I brushed it away by pointing to another girl
who had thighs like mine
and that she was thriving,
so I could too.
That method worked for a while--
until it didn't.

At 16, I remember the pivot,
the moment that finally broke my self-image
and spilt self-hatred everywhere.
After a year of taking dance,
I finally showcased what I'd learned in my limbs
on the stage,
but when I watched the playback,
instead of celebrating my effort,
my courage for leaping into the unknown,
I felt my heart crash into the grounds of my stomach
because all I could think about was
Right then,
I saw my leg cellulite for the first time--
(was it always there?)
and automatically decided I hated it
because the pictures of skinny Tumblr Asian girls
with thigh gaps and lean arms
told me to.
I remember
pinching my inner thighs for the first time
as devastation collapsed my confidence
and made me begin
to cave in on myself,
creating a site of body image wreckage
that only I could see.

The next day I worked out
for hours.
From then on I began eating Clean Foods Only,
more salads and less rice,
more fruits and fewer fats.
Pride swelled in my hollow chest--
I was finally Actually Healthy,
Actually Fit,
finally Truly Beautiful.
Step by step,
I was building the foundation for a Lifestyle Change
and becoming stronger,

So when I was 17 and I started exercising even more
and eating even better,
I thought I was the best I'd ever been--
working out 6 times a week
(doing Pilates for 30-45 minutes
and often running beforehand for 15-30 minutes)
and eating as many unprocessed foods as I could.
With my luxurious breakfast of 2 whole grain pieces of toast
(never white bread-- too little protein,
and God forbid simple carbs)
and nonfat Greek yogurt with a dollop of honey
(the alternative of fat and processed sugar?
no thank you)
and cinnamon mixed in
(to repress appetite, of course),
I thought I was really living.
I thought my lunch of microwaved fresh spinach,
plain tofu, a few spoons of rice,
and some seasoned seaweed to add some flavor--
that was going to get me the self-acceptance
I so desperately craved for.
I thought that looking at before-and-afters
of girls who had gotten plump butts and hard abs
would inspire me
and help me envision the Better, New Improved Me.
I thought exercising even when I was sick,
even in the dead of night or waking of the morning,
would build transformative discipline
that would 180 my life onto the right path at last
because that was what all the fitness bloggers said,
because that was what society wanted me to believe.
So that's what I did.

But then at 17, I had to sit down
with my Burmese immigrant dad
as he tried to convey his concern about my eating habits
and my excessive exercise regimen.
I cried because I thought
At the same time,
some of my momentum slowed
as it dawned upon me that
what I was doing
may not have been so purely good for me after all.

This is the part where we expect
the delivery of an idyllic ending,
a satisfactory conclusion that ties up the qualms,
the fear and uncertainty,
with a nice bow.
But I don't know
if I have that.
The epilogue to this story
is more complex
then a self-esteem Happily Ever After.

Now 22, I am a mixed bag:
I am orthorexia,
a mental illness that encourages me to eat Healthy Foods only,
to exercise or else be shamed.
I am body dysmorphia,
a mental illness that makes me detest certain parts of my body
and go to extreme lengths to change them.
I am the moments when I still pinch my thighs,
when I look down at my arms numerous times a day
to assess how much fat they have,
when I squeeze my stomach to feel how big it is,
when I gaze into the mirror and still feel mostly
I am the body scrutiny epiphanies that make me crumble,
the guilt that drags my spirit through the mud,
the never-ending desperation for my body to be
Just Right Already.
(And I am the urgent, ineffable need to make sense of all of this
and the midnight poem that is born as a result.)

But I also am full of knowledge,
power, and love,
and that fact is not in spite of my mental illnesses--
it is together with and because of them.
I am the tacit understanding that my eating disorder
and body dysmorphia and internalized fatphobia
are my body's earnest yet misguided ways
of keeping me safe and trying to make me happy.
I am the critical lens that reveals
how capitalism constructs a paradoxical definition of beauty
for us to lose ourselves in,
and I am the reminder that
we are allowed to opt out
and rebuild liberation elsewhere.
I am every day since I was 12
that I have pushed to grow radical self-love
and unconditional compassion
through dancing and reading,
talking and writing,
searching and resting.
I am the steady determination
to be transparent and honest about my eating disorder
because I need that for me,
and someone else might need that too.

I'm not at a place where
I believe that I love my body
or even myself wholly,
but you know what?

Crossroads and Confusion

cw: panic attacks, anxiety

Today, I am lost.

I thought after this last horrendous sophomore year, it’d go uphill from there. When summer came, even though I still had panic attacks and a constant thrum of anxiety in my veins, I was still convinced. “This year will be better,” I thought. “I will be happier.”

And I am. But I’m also not.

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Refocusing: Big Picture Goals and Being Good Enough

cw: orthorexia, body dysmorphia, anxiety, panic attacks

Ever since I was little, people told me that I needed to have goals. It was all about what your ambitions were. Where you wanted to go, who you wanted to be. We encouraged big dreams– visions bigger than ourselves. We cheered when people “succeeded”– AKA reached their goals. “They worked so hard to get there,” we thought. “They must be so happy now!”

And we were right to be happy for them. Sincere effort and diligence are worthy of admiration and praise.

But what if we were wrong?

What if there’s more to life than goals?

What if it’s the goals we shouldn’t even be focusing on?

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My Mental Health Narrative: From Unaware to Ally to Self-Advocate

cw: anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation

My story begins at a young age. Some people might argue that mental illness is purely biological, so really, it began when I was born. But for me, it began when I was five or six– small, unaware, and inexplicably dazed.

There was this moment in Kindergarten that, for some reason, I’ve never been able to forget. I was on the playground– you know, just being like all the other kids and enjoying myself during recess. One second I was standing alone, and the next second, there were around 4-5 kids just madly dashing around me, playing an intense game of tag.

For most people this seemed pretty harmless. It was just kids playing around, right? But somehow, for me, it wasn’t. When they ran around me, I remember feeling suffocated, like the air was being sucked out around me. I remember feeling like there were just too many people around me, that I wanted to flee. That for those seemingly long seconds, I felt completely trapped.

Before I knew it, I was on the ground, crying my heart out, feeling overwhelmed and scared. I remember a teacher came and took me away, and she asked me, “What’s wrong?” and “What happened?” When she asked, I was at a complete loss for words. How was I supposed to explain to her that there were just too many people, that I needed to get out, but I couldn’t? Afterward, I remember feeling so ashamed that I couldn’t explain myself because there was nothing tangible to grasp onto, nothing solid to point to. I remember chastising myself in my head for being an attention-seeking drama queen and for making such a big deal out of nothing.

It’s been fifteen years since then, and only now have I finally realized with some peer support that what I had that day was my very first panic attack. And the shame and guilt following? That, you see, was my first memory of encountering the stigma of mental illness.

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Surviving and Creating Sustainable Change in Institutions that Weren’t Built for Me

CW: institutional ableism, medical leave

For almost my whole life I have been either too trusting, too complacent, or both. When I was younger, I believed kids when they told me “gullible” was written on the ceiling. I believed my mom when she told me she bought me from Target and that she could really return me if I wasn’t behaving. I believed that my parents’ word was law and that it was not an option to challenge it. So even when I grew older I didn’t actively rebel against my parents. I just believed what those with authority told me, did what they instructed, and that was that.

Most of the time, I readily accepted my circumstances as they were. If the circumstances weren’t the best, then I did my best to change them for myself. Yet not once did I think about criticizing or challenging the larger entities that influenced my life and the lives of others, whether that was the school I went to or the government that led the country I lived in.

Growing up in a Burmese-Chinese Buddhist household, I firmly held values of obedience and respect to elders. As a result, I also indirectly gained a blind faith to institutions. So, for almost two decades of living, I was afraid of challenging anyone or anything above me because I believed that they were above me for a reason. But then last weekend I realized that I was wrong. The system, the institutions– they weren’t perfect. In fact, they were very flawed and didn’t always work so well for the people that they were supposed to serve.

But I also realized that I had the power to change that. Continue reading

My Love: Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s, for as long as I can remember, has been one of the most contested holidays of the year, garnering perspectives from all over the opinion spectrum. I’ve heard “it sucks” and “I absolutely hate it” to “it’s all right” to “it’s my favorite holiday.” Just today I heard some girls scoff in disgust because they were in the I-hate-Valentine’s side of the argument. It made me feel a little uncomfortable considering the fact that I’m in the I-love-Valentine’s side, and I always have been.

Maybe I’m too predictable or cliche. I can’t blame a lot of people for hating it or not being crazy about it; maybe they think it’s just another capitalistic tactic to suck away your money or maybe they believe it’s an excuse for people to show their love to each other on a single day when, in fact, they should be showing affection toward each other all the other days of the year too. Yeah, I admit it. When you look at it that way, Valentine’s Day isn’t so great.

But aren’t a lot of things not-so-great depending on the perspective you stick with?

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My Greatest Strength and Weakness: I Love a Lot

“Your weakness is your greatest strength. Remember that.” That was what one of my favorite teachers wrote in my yearbook at the end of my junior year. Mrs. Keefer wasn’t one to be verbose, so out of all her economically chosen pieces of advice to leave me with, she chose to include those two sentences. And it was different from what everyone else wrote; it wasn’t just a “have a good summer” or “see you next year.” It was something deeper. And in the end, it was so deep that now I’m here, three years later, just beginning to realize what it really might mean for me.

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