My struggle with mental illness started way back when I was in secondary school.
I was overwhelmed by family and relationship issues, and faced great pressure in school. I felt the need to perform so I could please people and gain recognition.
Life was chaotic and messy. And as I was desperate to regain control over it, I tried to distract myself by filling up my daily schedule to a point where I was so busy that I had no time for meals. I know it makes no sense, but as I lost weight and started getting more attention in school, I realised how controlling how much I ate gave me a sense of control and power. That would go on to drive my poor diet.
I was desperate for help but even more afraid that my parents would find out.
The voice in my head gradually made more and more “rules” and techniques for me to skip meals. The better I got at it and the less I ate – the greater the sense of achievement and satisfaction I found in my secret ability. It was the safety bubble that protected me from the mess outside. But when even bigger issues arose, I progressed to cutting myself just so I could feel I was in control.
Eventually, my health declined and I felt like a walking zombie.
I felt unbearably cold all the time, desperate for warmth. It was as if I was having a perpetual fever. I had episodes of chest pain that made breathing so painful I couldn’t talk. My period had stopped for at least half a year by then, and I felt like I had chains on my legs – every step I took was so tiring.
It was a challenge to even walk in a straight line and not faint. I was desperate for help but even more afraid that my parents would find out. If my struggle went on, I knew it was not long before I would be exposed.
In another bid to regain control, I was determined to overcome my eating habits so I could restore my health all by myself. My weight returned and while I was often sick the years that followed, I managed to keep everything a secret. Nobody knew, and I resolved to see it as just a phase of my life and chucked it at the back of my mind. While I recovered physically, my distorted way of thinking went unaddressed.
In my second year of university, having to study about eating disorders triggered and resurfaced my past memories. Eventually, faced with additional pressures, I turned back to my old eating behaviours to cope with the stress.
Many people think of an eating disorder as a body image and diet issue, but it’s actually much more complex than that. The root of an eating disorder comes down to issues of self-worth and self-loathing. An eating disorder is a form of escape from such problems – a false sense of control.
Despite knowing God, I struggled to let Him take control of my life. I constantly wanted to be my own God and to be in control by restricting my food intake. I still struggled to see myself the way God does and often punished myself through self-harm or restricting food to deal with my guilt and shame for sinning – as if Christ had not paid the full price of my sins.
Although my friends urged me to get help in the form of therapy and later antidepressants, I was initially very reluctant. My desire to rely on my own strength hindered me from seeing that these were God’s answers to my cry for help. My pride also hindered me from sharing my struggles with people because I wanted to support others, rather than be the one who needed support.
When I finally realised what had been holding me back from getting help, I decided to receive help so I could resolve issues that were previously not dealt with and begin to live rightly for God.
I desperately wanted Jesus to return so that I could escape everything and fast forward to heaven.
However, my efforts to return to normal eating resulted in me swinging to the other end. I would binge on food having been deprived for so long. Then, disgusted and ashamed with myself, I would purge and starve the following day to regain the control.
Trapped in the binge-purge-restrict cycle, I fell into depression. At my lowest point, I spent nights crying and battling with thoughts to end my life. I felt like I had dug a pit and fallen into it by myself. The pit got deeper and deeper, and darkness was overwhelming me.
I alternated between drowning and sinking in my negative thoughts, helplessness and mess. Each day felt impossible to get through. The future seemed bleak, daunting and scary – I never looked forward to it. And the present felt so unbearable, I just wanted it to pass. I desperately wanted Jesus to return so that I could escape everything and fast-forward to heaven.
But God showed me grace and mercy.
He reminded me of my family and friends who haven’t come to know Him; how I needed to continue living and fulfil His destiny for me. I began to learn to turn to God through prayer and meditating on His Word.
I prayed and reminded myself of who God is. He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). I began to see that God is powerful, merciful and loving – He sees me and is with me at my lowest point.
I also did up a table with two columns. I listed my negative thoughts on one side, and I wrote Bible verses on the other side that countered them. I look at it regularly to remind myself of God’s truths. I start my days with a psalm and prayer to remind myself of who God is, that His grace and strength is sufficient for the day.
Calligraphy is also a big help for me: I write scriptures down to refocus myself whenever I feel overwhelmed. These verses are also up on my wall. My church community and close friends also check on me regularly and pray for me! Negative thoughts tend to come when I’m alone at home so they get me out of home where it’s healthier for me.
I listed my negative thoughts on one side, and I wrote Bible verses on the other side that countered them.
Even as I journey through depression, I know that I can trust God in all circumstances and turn to Him for rest, strength and hope.
As His plans continue to unfold in my life, I’m learning to allow myself to be vulnerable and share with others how good and wonderful God has been in my struggles.
I’m messed up and sinful. And I often feel that I don’t deserve to be saved. But isn’t that the truth! All of us are sinners who only deserve death. Yet because of God the Father’s love, grace and mercy for us, He sent His Son Jesus to save us and make us believers His children.
Though I often feel invisible in this world, He sees me. He loves me and wants an intimate relationship with me (Psalm 139).
This is the goodness of God, and it is worth living for.
The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.
- What has been the worst part of your life?
- What got you through it?
- Do you have a community you can reach out to in tough times?
- Who is someone you can encourage this week?