I was born in 1990. Both my parents were Catholic, and my sister and I were baptized and raised in the Church. She is two years younger than me, and one of my best friends. I grew up about five minutes on the Delaware side of the Pennsylvania-Delaware border. I went to a really intense private school growing up, which was, for the most part, good. I received Baptism and First Communion and took parish education classes. Around when I was ten or so, we stopped going to Mass and transitioned to home school parish education, which we did very rarely. Around this time, my faith was based largely in fear. Very suddenly between third and fourth grade, I developed OCD. I had a variety of obsessions and compulsions, including ones about reading, checking, the lights, fire, bedtime routines, and death. The reading ones would get in the way of my school work. I would read the same passages over and over, underlining them to try to prove to myself that I had read them in a way that “counted” but ending up rereading and re-underlining so many times I tore holes in the pages. I was afraid that if I read a word wrong and it didn’t count, I’d be a cheater and cheaters were bad people and bad people went to hell. In this way, I was largely holding onto a view of God as angry and punishing, and I didn’t know Him as a loving and merciful Being at all. I would pray on and off, but mostly this was just a fear of what would happen if I didn’t.
So around when I was thirteen, I was getting ready to go to high school. I was really worried about fitting in and changing schools, and my anxiety was definitely still a problem. In the midst of the time, purging seemed to be a really good idea, and I developed bulimia. So I went to high school, and despite my worries, things went okay. I made some good friends, and track and cross-country were my life. I was confirmed, even though I’m not sure I understood what it meant, and when my sister was confirmed two years later, I was her sponsor. Throughout high school, my eating disorder continued to get worse, and I eventually became very depressed. The school found out about the purging my senior year and told my parents, and I started outpatient treatment. It wasn’t enough, so I went to a residential treatment center the summer before my freshman year of college.
At first, college seemed exciting, but I relapsed quickly. My roommate found out about the eating disorder and moved out. I was terribly suicidal and in a lot of pain and only really left my room to run, go to class, and get food to binge and purge. At this point in my life, I deeply resented God because I felt like He had tied my hands. I was living this awfully depressed life, but I felt I couldn’t kill myself because I deeply feared going to hell, which was the only thing I could imagine that was worse than what I was living. I went to Mass one time the whole year, and the reading was from Job. The priest spoke about how God’s love is the only remedy for the depression of the human condition. I related deeply to this, as I felt the way Job described when he said “When I say , My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint, Then thou scarest me with dreams and terrifiest me through visions: So that my soul chooseth struggling and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live always: let me alone, for my days are vanity.” (Job 7:13-16)
The next summer, I went back to treatment because I felt like I was at the end of my rope. It didn’t do much good, as I relapsed as soon as I came home, but I did come back to school with a plan to start doing things differently. I finally started going to Mass. I’m not sure why, but I certainly needed all the help I could get. After one particularly difficult weekend, my psychiatrist convinced me to admit myself to the hospital. From there, I was told I had to get treatment for my eating disorder before I would be allowed to return to school. I was devastated, and I didn’t think anything worse could possibly happen.
And so I went out to Oklahoma and admitted to treatment. While I was there, I struggled profoundly, but a lot of growth happened. One of the more striking things was going to Confession for the first time since I was young, which left me finally feeling the mercy and love of God. Since I left, I have struggled deeply. I have been back in the hospital and in treatment several times. And yet I have been extremely blessed. I have a transformed relationship with my family and with God. I have changed my major and plan on going to nursing school. I’m in a really fulfilling relationship. It’s still difficult to make it through the day, and I’m not as graceful as I could be about my suffering. I have to remind myself over and over again to offer it up for others who are suffering. I have to remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And some days, I forget to fight at all. But through it all, I know He has never left my side.
“Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; When his candle shined upon my head and when by his light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2-3)
The above testimony is from a young woman who I have had the privilege to get to know this past year. I am very grateful to her for letting me share her testimony with you. Today is also the feast of St. Francis of Assissi. He once said, “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” Since St. Francis is quoted as saying that, I would be willing to bet my life that we can take that phrase to the bank. And if that is the case than this young woman is indeed an artist.
May St. Francis intercede and pray for all of us this day!