Name: Ava Silverman
From: Cedar Grove, NJ
the past forty years, my grandmother has sat down for our Passover
seder to read, what she calls, her butterfly poem. The poem was
written from the perspective of a young boy at Auschwitz and details
his experience of losing hope through the metaphor of seeing what he
thought would be the last butterfly. Butterflies did not live where
he lived. From the time I was a toddler, I sat down next to my
grandmother as she explained the meaning of the poem.
were a sign of hope for people in ghettos because their presence
meant that life could thrive there. When they disappeared, so did the
people’s hope that their lives could one day metamorphosize into
beautiful, vibrant ones.” She taught me that when I felt lost or
sad, that I should look for butterflies in my life.
June of 2018, my cousin passed away unexpectedly from an overdose. He
was 33 years old. Shortly after it happened, white butterflies began
to appear in my grandmother’s garden. She had been an avid gardener
up to this point, but had never attracted such creatures. The
butterflies returned day after day, and my grandmother soon realized
that they were her sign of hope in a troubling time.
past year, my childhood best friend began her recovery from a
persistent eating disorder. I had some knowledge on the subject, but
felt an obligation to learn more so that I could best support her
recovery. Through my research, I learned that eating disorders are
biopsychosocial illnesses, caused by a multitude of factors. They do
not discriminate based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or
size, and many sufferers face numerous barriers to receiving
the following months, I embarked on mindfulness walks with my friend,
talked through her treatment frustrations, and taught her how to
cook. She explained her personal experiences, and I discussed my
growing inkling to involve myself with advocacy work. To fulfill
this, I found Project HEAL, an organization with the goal of
preventing eating disorders through education and funding treatment
for those suffering. While helping my friend find butterflies in her
life, I applied to be a high school ambassador to the organization
and was accepted. Unknown to me at the time, the symbol for the
organization was a butterfly.
with my newfound knowledge, I began to develop an acute awareness of
environmental triggers in the world around me, and invested myself
into more research, determined to figure out how and why a culture
that thrives on self-hatred exists and is normalized. With a desire
to be a part of the solution, I spoke to the American Legion
Auxiliary Jersey Girls State General Assembly about eating disorders,
the CDC’s refusal to recognize them as a public health issue, and
what recognition would allow researchers and lawmakers to accomplish.
Looking out on the faces of four hundred young women absorbing my
passionate rallying cry to affect change, I dispelled previously-held
misconceptions about what an eating disorder looks like, and
experienced a sense of purpose and hope unlike anything else.
Following my speech, I was approached by several individuals eager to
inform me that I had instilled in them a frustration that could only
be resolved with a paradigm shift.
the wake of a tragedy that affected those close to me, and in
response to difficulties in the life of my friend, I found my
butterflies not in a garden, but in understanding, spreading
awareness about, and helping people overcome their eating disorders.
The ever-changing field of neuroscience and its interconnectedness to
psychology sparks my interest and imagination where I can envision
new fields of study and research into the biopsychosocial causes of
eating disorders, in hopes of developing more effective treatment
methods. This passion has driven me to my goal of becoming a clinical
psychologist and a part of the solution.