May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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Rising Above Life’s Challenges

Last week I delivered a speech to psychology students in IDC in Israel. Generally, when I visit Israel, I speak in various colleges and seminaries, where I discuss body image and eating-disorder awareness, and present my personal story. The program this week involved teaching the psychology students the basics about eating disorders and then bringing the subject to life by describing my journey.

At the conclusion of the 90 minutes, the professor of the class turned to me in front of his students and commented, “It seems like, though this may sound strange, in the end it was a sort of blessing that you went through all of this.” When the class expressed confusion, he clarified. “I don’t mean to say that it’s good that you had an eating disorder. But, at the same time, you were able to work on things that otherwise you might not have thought about, and you were able to truly grow as a person.”

I responded that, on some level, I agreed. My eating disorder was the hardest thing that I will ever experience. I lost many friends and important relationships. Thinking of it as a blessing makes it sound like it was too easy or simple. Still, as the professor said, “It allowed me to find myself.”

During the second half of the week, a dear friend of mine arrived in Israel for vacation. Together we visited the Blind Museum in Holon and walked through the dark hallways to understand, in some way, what it is like to live with blindness or visual impairment.

At the conclusion of the tour, the guide brought the group to the cafeteria where we sat munching on Bamba and Doritos and were able to ask her any questions. My friend asked how long it takes for an individual to become acclimated to his condition if he becomes blind: to learn to read Braille and to absorb his surroundings without the use of sight. She responded that for each person the timeline is different, but that the individual only begins to learn after he first accepts the fact that he is blind. This may take months or even years, as acceptance of this new experience of living can feel overwhelming or difficult and may lead to denial.

I asked if she felt that working at the museum was a way to help these individuals accept their lack of sight as it allowed them to use their situation as a means of teaching others. She said before she began working at the museum she did not speak to others about her visual impairment. After she began her job, however, she felt more comfortable and confident to discuss this with others.

We each face a unique set of challenges in life. This is part of living; it is not simply about the joy and happy memories, but about the difficulties that we experience and the ways in which we react to these experiences. When man faces a challenge, he must learn to process his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to the difficulty. He will then discover the most beneficial way to overcome the challenge, the way that will best allow him to learn and to grow.

It is by welcoming this growth that we can look at the negative and change our perspective. Only when we use the hardships in life to advance ourselves and our experiences of the world does it feel meaningful. This is not the say that the process is simple or that we can fully appreciate something that has caused us pain, even when we use the experience to progress and develop. Rather, we can strive to continue moving forward and not simple dwell in the pain.

There are three options when faced with great challenges: be defeated by them, rise above them, or allow them to build us and propel us to grow further. My hope is that we do not let those around us— or ourselves—be defeated or crushed by our challenges. I have heard from many individuals that once they overcame a challenge they needed to close that chapter and move on. This is the path that feels most comfortable and positive for them and allows for growth and inner peace. The final option of using this challenge is one to which I have connected and use in my daily life. It is not simply that I overcame anorexia. Rather, my journey with an eating disorder has given me a passion and inspiration to create ripples of change, to work with this population, and to inspire hope.

It is each individual’s duty to discover how s/he’d like to overcome life’s challenges. Above all, my trip to Israel has reminded me of the importance of pushing ourselves to constantly move forward. We can easily remain stagnant, or let the difficulties overpower our experiences in life. It is important to feel our reactions and to create space for pain and sadness. But at the end of the day the lesson of learning to use our challenges as strengths and to create deeper meaning in our lives will only enhance our experiences and lead the way to greater appreciation and development.

By Temimah Zucker

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