By Jayna, as told to Alpha Singapore
When I was young, I always felt pressured to be as perfect as possible so I could please my parents. They would tell me that I needed to achieve a certain grade before they could praise me and acknowledge that I’m good enough. So, I began to associate excelling with scoring near full marks.
Aside from academics, I also had to perform well in extracurricular activities, which meant getting my parents to notice the matches I played in. I had to reach a certain level of qualification (such as reaching quarters or semis) to catch their interest and have them ask questions.
But after years of working hard, I still couldn’t excel as much as I wanted to because I couldn’t control how circumstances would turn out or how people would respond despite my efforts.
My appearance, however, I could control. My worldview informed me that to be beautiful—to be perfect—I had to be thin. When a schoolmate commented on how I had gained weight, that really impressed on me how “imperfect” I was.
So, I fell into a cycle of strict dieting and exercising. I would eat only one meal a day (and the meal had to fit in my palm), and would run almost 10 kilometres daily. Initially I was on a high after quickly shedding a lot of weight. Receiving validation from others about how I looked and how disciplined I was further reinforced my behaviour.
Not long after, however, I was hospitalised due to my rapid weight loss. I was then diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. At that time though, the diagnosis felt like a trophy to me, because it certified that I was truly skinny.
An eating disorder that’s more mental than physical
The illness gained full control of my mind, flooding it with thoughts of food, calories, and my appearance. The voices in my head were highly critical and would sound something like this: “You know you will be nothing if you are not thin, right? So, stop eating, you slob, and start exercising now!”
I became a slave to these thoughts, always thinking about what I had eaten, what I should be eating next, and what I needed to do for exercise. Because of this, I struggled to focus and be fully present with people. I would lose track of conversations, so I couldn’t follow up on others. Social gatherings were a challenge, especially when it involved food. These made me awkward and shy away from gatherings; it also made people reluctant to invite me.
Meanwhile, my family was clueless about mental health. After my diagnosis, my parents’ first response was, “Why don’t you just eat?” I didn’t know how to explain that it was complicated, and not simply because I didn’t want to eat. Over time, they kept asking, “Why do you want to spend money on seeing doctors when you can just choose to eat?” They just didn’t understand.
Thankfully, I had a handful of friends who knew what I was going through. They stood by me, even though they were not in the position to really help me. In particular, I had a colleague who was also diagnosed with anorexia. I had approached her after I noticed her compulsive exercise regimen and drastic weight loss. When she recovered after being hospitalised, she reached out to me and invited me to her church’s Christmas service.
By then, I was at my breaking point, having struggled so long with the voices in my head constantly telling me how ugly and worthless I was. I wasn’t expecting anything from the Christmas service, but I was openly searching for alternatives.
I was in for a surprise when, during the service, the voices in my head miraculously dissipated. This piqued my curiosity and I began to yearn for this peace of mind.
A week later, a voice in my head said, “Why not go to church?” I did a quick search online and came across a church in Ang Mo Kio. Challenging the voice (presumably of a higher being) that prompted me, I thought, “If you are real, then let me experience that peace again!”
Lo and behold, I did experience that surpassing peace again during the church service and on subsequent visits. This prompted me to go to church every week. It became a defining moment for me, and I started to believe that God was real in my life.
I needed a community more than I needed answers
Even so, I still had a truckload of questions: “Who am I? Why is life so hard? Am I born to suffer? What are these voices I hear?” I was desperate for answers. So, when I came across a church announcement about the Alpha course, I signed up.
But before I received any answer to these questions, God used Alpha to place me in a community. The truth was my illness had caused me to withdraw from people. Many avoided me because they could not understand my condition, and friendships and relationships were lost. At Alpha, I met two ladies, Jia Lin and Irene, who eventually guided me into a community where I could belong.
At first, joining Alpha was intimidating, especially when the gathering involved eating together which was a struggle for me. But I wanted to be there because I sensed that God was there. With the help of the facilitators, I gained a better understanding of the existential questions I was struggling with.
A few years later, I hit rock bottom
A couple of years later, a series of events led me to develop anxiety and depression. A lot of losses—loss of friendship, dreams, a romantic relationship, cognitive abilities, and being on the verge of quitting a dream work environment—caused me much grief.
At one point, I felt that this was my final chapter. I began to have suicide ideation and even wrote a poem to sum up these thoughts. I naively believed this was God’s way of deliverance because I would end up in a better place.
By God’s grace, I was able to get professional help as I had been seeing a psychologist. During one of my visits, I spoke about my thoughts which prompted them to conduct a suicide assessment on me.
When the assessment found me at high risk of suicide, I was then admitted into hospital against my will. And while I was in utter despair, God called out to me. As I listened to the song God Will Make a Way, Isaiah 43:19 came to mind:
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
It was as if God was saying to me, “Do you not know that I am the King of miracles? Stand back and watch Me work.” So I told God, “I want to know the miracles and new things You will create. I have lost all control, but I know that You are in control.”
Rescued by the King of miracles
The King of miracles was faithful to His promise. When anxiety and depression drained me of all energy and left me empty, too exhausted to even eat, God sustained me and steadily restored my health. He created a new path, guiding me on the road to recovery. Slowly, I re-learned how to eat three meals a day.
Through Jia Lin and Irene, the two angels God placed in my life, recovery became possible. Both of them walked me through tough periods when tears were my food, day and night. They reminded me of who I am in Christ, and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). They also gave me the much-needed space and prayers for the Spirit to work in me.
More importantly, they taught me how to process my emotions Biblically and commit my thoughts to the Lord. Coming from a cultural background that discouraged expressing emotions, I found it refreshing and eye-opening to learn from the psalmists who openly poured out their hearts and lamented before God even as they continued to hope in Him (Psalm 42:11). It was reassuring to know that God takes and bears our burdens with us.
Through all this, the great and mighty One built a new identity for me. As His beloved child, instead of focusing on what I should do to be loved, I began to think, “I am already loved, what can I do to spread His love?”, “I am already enough, what can I do in service of God—in the work and ministries where He has placed me?”, “I am already protected, what can I do to build others up?”
Self-obsession was replaced with a heart for people, as God reminded me to stop looking for validation elsewhere and to depend on Him to see me through the seasons. Rather than continue to hide my condition, I learned to be vulnerable and genuine about my illness, which allowed God to heal me further.
Moving into a new territory
As I recovered, I began to pray for God to break my heart for what breaks His. He then placed in me a burden for people with mental health issues. As 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “We can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”.
While reading the book of Joshua and reflecting on how God had led me so far, I came to chapter 5 which talks about the Israelites preparing to enter the land of Canaan. Here, God tells them that He is going to cease the manna and they are going to eat from the land.
When I read this, I felt that God was telling me that He was going to cease the miraculous deliverance that I’d been experiencing, and that what He desires is for me to go into the field and plant and reap what is sown. I then decided that the mental health field was going to be the next step for me, and that prompted me to enrol in a counselling course.
It’s been four years since I’ve entered this field, and I’m encouraged to see how far God has brought me. I am thankful to be part of this ministry of reconciliation, and I see myself as God’s agent in reconciling people to God.
Who would have known that a broken person like me can be used by God? Who would have known that my scars could be used to tell of His power and glory?
For those who think that they are shattered beyond any hopes of repair, I want to encourage you that God’s miraculous work has yet to begin. Call out to Him, and watch Him do His work in you!
This article was originally published on Alpha’s website here. This version has been edited by YMI.
Alpha is an effective form of evangelism when done by and through the local church. By focusing on the essentials of the Christian faith, it opens the door for Alpha to be used in almost any context so that everyone has the opportunity to see their friends’ lives transformed by the gospel.