When I was obsessively checking door handles and washing my hands and counting cracks in the walls and repeating phrases in my head – it was not because I enjoyed doing it. It was exhausting and demeaning and debilitating and painful and I did it because I felt compelled to; because in my head if I didn’t, the people I loved might get hurt. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how.
When I first stopped eating, I had never heard of eating disorders. I was thirteen and I’d never seen a copy of Vogue. But I found that as I lost weight, something in me felt safe and strong and good. Amidst the chaos of life, this was one thing that made sense. And I kept telling myself I’d stop, but something funny happened. When I wanted to, I couldn’t. And the thing that started as my friend, became something much darker.
When I can feel depression coming I try to stave it off with fire and jigsaws. Sometimes it grips me, quick, before I catch my breath. I think it’s depression, but the longer it stays, the less sure I become. Instead it’s ‘weakness’ or ‘letting down God and my friends and myself’. I beat myself up by thinking, I should be able to get better but I can’t do it by myself.
These are not simple choices. And they are not simple sins.
It’s not sin to be overwhelmed with sadness. It’s not sin to look at myself and despair. It’s not sin to have hungers and to long to be safe. It’s not sin to be human and weak and to feel.
There can be sin in how I respond to the feelings:
The lies I tell to hide my behaviours.
The self-pity I wrap like a cloak round my heart.
The insistence that there’s no suffering but mine.
The belief that I can make it all right.
The refusal to rest and receive.
Struggles are not sin. But they can become the occasion for it. Hardship can harden me; or it can open me up. Suffering can make me selfish; or give me softness and strength.
Pain is not permission to live as if there’s only me. It’s an invitation to the grace that’s bigger than my brokenness.