Dying for a Crown
- Sharon L. Fawcett Contributor, God Allows U-Turns
- 2006 21 Feb
I could sense the frustration in the young doctor's stern voice.
"You look like a prisoner in a Nazi death camp! You are starving, Sharon. You have to start eating." Dr. Fenton had been assigned to my case while doing her residency in psychiatry. I was one of her first anorexic patients.
I developed the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, two months into my first hospitalization for major clinical depression. Having grown up believing I was fat, it pleased me to be losing weight so easily. This is the one good thing to come out of this miserable experience, I thought.
I believed I had the illness under control and planned to return to eating normally once I was thin enough. But anorexics live in a world where normal is not possible, lies become truth, and reality is ignored. This is a place where flesh is fat and bone is beautiful. There is no such thing as "thin enough." Giving in to physical needs is weakness; wasting and withering are signs of strength.
My anorexia was partially a response to living an existence that always seemed frighteningly out of control. With my depression, life had become completely unmanageable. My body became my kingdom, the only thing I could rule. The treasures of the land were hollow cheeks and stick legs. My crown was made of bones.
Although I was a believer in Christ and knew God loved me, I always sensed I was, in some way, flawed, substandard, inferior. I desperately tried to hide this "truth" from others. By carefully controlling my behavior, my performance, and even my emotions, I believed I might be able to control what others thought about me. I didn't understand God's depth of love for me just as I was.
I worked very hard and managed to make people believe I was a bright, talented, decent person. The more praise I received, the better I felt about myself. I began gauging my value by my achievements and deeds.
I burned out at the age of twenty-six. Exhausted, I no longer had the energy to do anything. I couldn't concentrate on the simplest of tasks and lost interest in all the activities I had previously enjoyed. I withdrew from others, just wanting to be alone, quiet, and still. I had everything to live for--a loving husband and two beautiful daughters--but I began to long for death. I felt like a failure as a mother and a wife.
My first admission to the psychiatric ward came just days after my baby, Jenna's, first birthday. As the door to the unit closed behind me, I thought, What is someone like me doing in a place like this? I felt defeated and confused. My days of achieving had ended; my greatest accomplishments became getting showered and dressed in the morning.
My need to succeed at something, and my lifelong dissatisfaction with my body, made me vulnerable to anorexia nervosa. The quest for thinness became my new focus in life, something to fill the void, and I worked hard at it. My thoughts became consumed with calories, my weight, and ways to avoid eating. As I reached weight-loss goals I had set for myself, I was still dissatisfied with my appearance. "Just five more pounds" became my mantra.
The illness progressed and I became increasingly weak. While someone else cared for my children, I slept eighteen hours a day.
I grew battle-weary. I longed for a normal life and knew my first step would have to be to give up the quest for "thin enough." I resolved to start eating healthy meals again, but soon discovered it would not be easy.
I always felt terribly guilty, defeated, and angry with myself after I ate. One evening after finishing a meal, I was leaving the hospital dining room when I heard a hideous voice inside my head. Full of loathing, it screamed at me, You fat pig! Why did you eat that? You've ruined everything! I had never heard anything like it before. It was very frightening. My doctor knew I was struggling, but I never told her about the enemy in my head.
The harder I worked to get well, the more vocal the hateful being became. No, no, no was all I could hear. I felt like two people in one body, one who wanted to live and another who wanted me dead. I realized I was no longer in control. Someone, or something, had seized my throne and it appeared I was now at its mercy. Each day I became weaker. I tried to eat but often was too tired to even chew.
One afternoon, after realizing I would not live much longer as an anorexic, I found myself looking through my closet for something to wear to my own funeral. I was ready for death--but I was not willing to leave a legacy of pain and torment behind for my husband and children. I knew I had to live for them.
After three years of battling my psychiatrist, I resigned myself to trusting her to tell me how much to weigh and what to eat--no matter what the voices shrieked. In this way I managed to overcome the eating disorder, but the depression remained.
I tried everything the doctor ordered, hoping each new treatment or medication would be the one setting me free. But the depression would always sink its claws deeper into my soul, drawing me away from the edge of the pit, back into the darkness.
As my husband parented our children, I focused on trying to stay alive. I had many hospitalizations during the next six years and my absence was difficult for my family. My eldest daughter, Lauren, asked, "When will you be coming home forever?"
After a total of nine years, twenty different medications, two hundred electro-convulsive treatments, and eighty weeks of hospitalization, I realized if I was ever going to find a cure for my illness, I had to look elsewhere. While home from the hospital, I chose to see a Christian counselor.
Berys was unlike any counselor or therapist I had ever spoken to. "I don't have all the answers," she said, "but the Lord does. He can replace all the no's in your life with yes's!" Through prayer she invited Him into the counseling process, and it was prayer that started my journey toward healing. It was prayer that turned me toward a new direction. Berys also taught me how to listen for God's voice and study His Word.
The angry, condemning voice was replaced by God's loving, tender one, speaking softly to my wounded soul. As I listened, I understood the roots of my depression reached to the core of my spirit and my entire life had been based on a lie.
I had worked so hard to hide my inferiority, but I was not the worthless person I had always believed I was! I was the handiwork of the Creator of the universe, created in God's image, a beloved child of the King.
"Yes, my daughter, I love you, I will not forsake you," He said gently to my wounded soul.
I began to discover it was not a number on a scale determining my value. My achievements did not matter. My lineage or who I was did not determine my worth--Whose I was did. I belonged to God.
God told me He had a plan for my life, a future full of hope. He said, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart ... and [I] will bring you back from captivity" (Jeremiah 29:13–14). He fulfilled His promise. Within three months of my initial meeting with Berys, the depression was gone. I never had another electro-convulsive treatment. I never returned to the psychiatric ward. I no longer needed medication or the care of a psychiatrist. Five and a half years have passed and I remain free from depression and from anorexia nervosa.
For my daughters, my husband, and me, it has been a wonderful "forever."
I spent thirty-five years looking for fulfillment and value in all the wrong places. My quest almost killed me, but God used it to transform me, to turn my life around. Finding my true identity was the key to unlocking the heavy door to the dungeon I had been imprisoned in for nearly a decade. I have learned peace and contentment cannot be found in work or wealth, or even weight. By discovering the God-given worth, inherent in us all, I was lifted out of the dark pit of depression to stand in the glorious light of His love. God took my crown of bones and replaced it with a crown of life.
God Allows U-Turns for Women compiled by Allison Bottke (with Cheryl Hutchings)
Copyright © 2006; ISBN 0764201808
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.