As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this week, I came across yet another post of someone lost to an eating disorder. A sad truth when you have a history inside treatment centers is that you get to meet, connect, and love many individuals who struggle with the same life threatening disease as you. You get a first class ticket to the battles happening inside of people’s minds without the knowledge of how the fight will pan out.
Though manifested in different ways that is what an eating disorder is, a battle. One that you fight and fight and fight. Even when you are exhausted and you wake up with sore arms and cramping legs and the last thing you want to do is trudge downstairs to make yourself breakfast, you pull yourself out of bed and you deflate the abusive voices inside your mind with each bite. You fight until one day it isn’t so hard anymore. Your arms have grown stronger and your mind more resilient. You start to know more of yourself and less of the disease that once controlled you. Fighting becomes, simple.
But some aren’t so lucky. Some loose footing in those early stages of battle. They slip, twice or three times, or perhaps only once is enough to sweep them from the battlefield and pronounce them defeated. After all wars produce causalities and that is the sad reality that those with eating disorders are subject to. We know battle. It just isn’t loud or flashy or apparent to those in every day life and, therefore, commonly goes unnoticed. That is until you scroll through your Facebook feed and see another has fallen. Another gone. Another stolen by an eating disorder.
Perhaps that is what causes the constant push and pull of positive and negative energy inside of my mind. The prevalence of such beauty, like my trip to Mongolia, and such darkness, like the reality of this young woman’s life lost to mental illness. How can both coexist? How can I know such triumph and still empathize with anothers defeat?
Yin and yang is a fundamental concept in philosophy whose principle is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example female-male, dark-light and old-young (acient.ed). The principal proponent of the theory was the cosmologist Zou Yan (or Tsou Yen) who believed that life went through five phases (wuxing) – fire, water, metal, wood, earth – which continuously interchanged according to the principle of yin and yang (ancient.ed).
I have been thinking about yin and yang a lot. Partially because the symbols were plastered all over the Mongolian city I lived in for the past month proving a great reminder of the solace the philosophy can bring me in times of questioning. Life is all just one big balancing act. Food’s power over us only looses authority when we loosen our control and learn balance and intuition at the table. Body image only starts to improve when we are able to look in the mirror and reassociate what it means to be beautiful. Self esteems flourishes when we are able to accept our flaws, mistakes, and gifts. Allow both the negative and positive energies to pour over you. Refuse and challenge aspects of the darkness. Take in and hydrate in the truths of the light.
I see that another woman was lost to an eating disorder and that there is the reason I have to keep writing, keep sharing, keep falling deeper into my recovered life. I have to use my voice, my story, my insight into the struggle to help spread awareness, to help prevent any further losses. Nothing negates the fact that tragedy sucks, that is doesn’t feel natural or acceptable to move forward after it. But what is necessary is movement, a constant shifting through time and space, a forever transformation where each of us is falling deeper into the selves we were meant to be.
That is the concept behind the five phases of life that Zou Yan was speaking about. Wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each phase has their own attributes. Wood being creative and luxurious, fire being enthusiastic and passionate, earth, nurturing and stable, metal, ambitious and determined, and water being transformative. Would we want to get rid of one of these things? Cut it out completely from our life? Leave behind creativity or passion, never experience ambition or transformation. I don’t think so. Same are life’s seasons. Each coming with its own surprises, each offering different opportunities for growth, and each melting into the next. Just as wood fuels fire, fire forms earth (volcanoes, ash, etc.), earth contains metal, metal carries water (buckets, pipes, etc.), and water feeds wood (trees, plants, etc.). So does each phase of our own life prepare and shape us for what is to come.
So yes there is darkness and yes there is sadness, heartbreak, grief, and loss in this lifetime. I know it. I get it. I feel it all the time. But out of darkness comes light, growth, and room for transformation. Without a collapse, no one can learn what it feels like to get back up. Without my eating disorder, I wouldn’t have my story or insights or perspective on life. Without it, I couldn’t speak and touch others. Embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly, knowing that everything in life is a balancing act. Where there is bad, so is there good. It all is just a matter of where we choose to focus our attention.