Living with Mental Illness

How can the church respond?
Living with Mental Illness

When I was little, I wouldn't eat for days at a time if I knew my friend was having a party. That way I could stuff my face at my friend's house and the kids wouldn't think anything was wrong. They wouldn't know I was secretly starving myself to death.

Damage done

I wanted my mom to look at me, to tell me she loved me over and over, to give me a mirror and trace my cheeks and help me believe I was worth something, but she didn't know how, having never known it herself. So I sat at the kitchen counter bent over a textbook desiring love from my mother while her back was turned away to roll out dough on the counter.

My dad was a pastor. I tried to forget the way he laughed with strangers in their pews, listening to them as if their stories were more important than mine. I tried to forget the way he closed the door to his study and sighed when I knocked, too timid to ask him a question.

My neighbor once saw me, just a seven year old, playing obliviously with my toys on the floor, and said, "What a big girl." I carried those words around like a bird in a cage until one day the bird got loose . . . and I stopped eating. It was a slow-stop, one that began with saying no—and that no felt good. I refused dessert. I refused the meals my mom dished up for me. I refused the spreads on my bread, and then the margarine, and then even the bread itself. And it felt good, like the ribs under my fingers that I practiced counting.

At night, I dreamed about food. My mom found me hunting for chocolates in my bedspread as I slept. I wanted her to hug me and make the fear go away, but then I grew worried I'd eat real chocolate because my guard would be let down by her soft touch. So I stopped hugging her for two years. My legs were getting thin and that was what mattered most to me, but still I dreamt about her arms around me and woke up hugging myself.

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