July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How Walking Helped Me Grow

On October 5, hundreds of people gathered in Foley Square for the annual National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Walk. Each year NEDA hosts many walks all over the country to raise awareness on the subject of eating disorders. The NYC walk takes place annually on the first Sunday in October and attendees walk together across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Every year the walk amazes me. NEDA moved its headquarters to New York in the summer of 2011 and at that time I became a volunteer on the national helpline. NEDA’s mission is to promote awareness and understanding of eating disorders, as well as offer support. The walk is one of NEDA’s biggest events in NYC and I am always struck by all those who come together for this unified cause.

This time of year is one that stirs up memories and sadness; I was first diagnosed with anorexia on Erev Sukkot (eve of Sukkot) and early October generally reminds me of where I was six years ago and all the pain and ugliness of the situation. My introduction to NEDA came when I finally had my foot out the door, when my recovery was in my grasp. I knew then that I wanted to somehow give back to working in this field but that I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing. Oftentimes people wish to inspire others and give back after recovering, but the person must recognize that it is no longer about his story but about the people he is working to help. I worked as a helpline volunteer, speaking to those in recovery, clinicians, supports, and individuals interested in learning more about eating disorders.

NEDA showed me that I could work in this field and that while my history motivated me, my part of the story wasn’t really important. It was about the people who needed help, the people who wanted hope or support. My history is a testament to the fact that there is hope, but it is not the only reason that I continue to work in the field of eating disorders. I work in this field because I believe that people can get better and if I can provide any help or support then that’s what I’d like to do. NEDA taught me that I could give back, and could do it with the right intentions.

This year when I arrived at the Walk I was greeted by a sea of familiar faces; my parents came with me and many of my colleagues were there. I even brought my dog! But I also saw young women who attended treatment with me, friends I’ve met along the way, people I’ve lent support to, and some friends who were there lending their own support. I was able to take the time to reflect how much things have changed in six years.

Before my eating disorder I had been a completely different person, someone that I couldn’t let go of for a long time. I had been much more confident and bubbly before my eating disorder; the weight of things wasn’t on my shoulders. Then while I was suffering from anorexia my entire personality shifted. I was depressed and lonely and sad. I felt guilty and undeserving and hopeless, and the most menial tasks felt like impossible challenges. And now I stand with a healthy head on my firm shoulders. I’m able to reflect on how much I have learned, lost, and gained. I believe an essential part of growth is reflection. When we are able to reflect we can acknowledge growth and progress.

Additionally, the walk not only allowed for me to reflect on my journey, but it also provided a tremendous source of strength: eating disorders are often misunderstood. People generally believe it is a young women’s disorder that is related to vanity. In reality, eating disorders do not discriminate. They are about pain and suffering, depth and loss. There were hundreds of people who attended the walk, all affected in some way by an eating disorder. The magnitude of this left me sorrowful–it represented the fact that so many people are impacted by eating disorders. But it also gave me hope because it showed that people want to show support and join together.

Fostering a sense of support in the community is essential when facing an illness like eating disorders. There were countless people who were clearly part of the Jewish community at the walk and yet this issue is ignored by so many. It was nice to see that people felt comfortable coming out and identifying with this unfortunate illness. It is no secret that eating disorders are rampant in the Jewish community and the fact that some people are able to reach out for support shows some progress.

The NEDA Walk was a reminder of the importance of reflection of one’s progress. While it can feel strange, acknowledging and being proud of one’s accomplishments is key. Moreover, it is important to recognize the need for awareness and coming together within a community with regard to painful issues.

By Temimah Zucker

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