This week my AMAZING mom, Theresa Lemon, wanted to share her heart, as a mother of children with mental illness. Here, she talks specifically about having daughters with eating disorders. As my mom testifies, through it all God was and continues to be faithful!
I have no idea where to begin or exactly what to say. I do know I want to offer hope to what often feels hopeless. The world of mental illnesses is like opening Pandora’s Box. When Anelise talked to me about her blog and what God was leading her to do, I felt such peace and excitement–for eating disorders and mental illnesses are topics we live with every day. Finally, an opportunity to start a discussion in the realm of the church, with topics that are very taboo, but, nonetheless very real, and often, very heartbreaking.
As a homeschooling mom of six, I never imagined we would ever deal with an eating disorder or clinical depression and anxiety–as well as, the world of OCD and high sensitivity thrown in as extras. I poured myself into raising our children in God’s Word, rooted and grounded in His truths. We were involved in our church; we served in ministries; we opened our home for countless opportunities to share God’s love; our schooling was immersed in Christian curriculum and a solid Bible class everyday; we did daily family devotions, as well as buying and reading a massive amount of Christian books on every topic relevant to raising Godly children. I made certain to spend one on one time with our girls, and, especially, to address topics on self worth, and finding their identity in Jesus Christ.
However, on that fateful night when Anelise came home from a night out with friends, crying that something was wrong (she couldn’t stop counting calories) our world seemed to stop and spin out of control all at once. After crying together, and reassuring her we would figure this out, I went to the computer and started googling her symptoms. All that kept coming up was eating disorder: anorexia nervosa. I had no idea what an eating disorder was. After reading and trying to digest this dark world, my first thoughts were, what a failure I am…what a horrible mother I am…how did I let this happen? I sat at the computer for days : reading and crying, crying and reading. Life as we knew it was over, and it became a world of survival: fighting for her life, fighting to keep some sort of “normal” in our family, as well as fighting my own battles of failure and trying to stay strong for everyone looking to me to fix things and make them better.
We were quickly consumed with the world of doctors, therapists, and nutritionists–trying to learn all we could on this long road to recovery. Our first doctor visit, when she was officially diagnosed, we were told, there is a good chance you could die from this. There were three girls in their practice that were dealing with this, and one of them had died while she was walking across campus to class: her heart was just too weak. Then, on Anelise’s first therapist appointment, we were told, again, there is a high chance you could die. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness. And, then, the “stare” at me from her therapist, like, wow, you really screwed up. This “stare” became the norm for me: the pity from people’s eyes.
One of the other first things we were told is, if you have more than one daughter, chances are greater that they will have one, too–especially if they have the same type of personality traits. We immediately knew which daughter (out of three others) in our family would be more likely. So, I purchased a small library of books and resources, and set out to do everything to not only “fix” this, but to also make sure it didn’t happen again. The reality is that, despite my best efforts, it did. I had followed all the “steps” to ensure that my daughters knew that they were loved, accepted, comfortable with their body, etc…. and, yet, we found ourselves in the throws of survival again.
She was only 13. We used the resources and tools we had been taught through Anelise’s treatment, and, by God’s grace, within a few months, we were out of the “danger” period–and, before long, things were back to a normal rhythm of life. Then, three years later, ED reappeared, and we were thrown once again, into the darkness. However, this time it was different–more dire–and, at my weakest moments, I felt the panic that we were in for a battle for her life like we had never faced before.
On 7/17/17, a day forever marked in my Bible, God gave me Jeremiah 33:3 and 6 as my lifeline. I knew God was going to show Himself powerful and mighty, and would bring her health and a cure and would fill her with an abundance of His peace and His truth. He also let me know that it would come in a way that we would never choose, but, it would come, and He would carry us every breath of it.
On August 2, I looked at her sitting at the table, and God told me it was time to do the hardest thing we have ever had to do. Within 30 minutes, we were loaded in the car and headed to Children’s Hospital in DC; it was the beginning of the most heartbreaking time as a mom that I have ever walked. She was in the hospital for 8 days–I never left her side–and, then, from the hospital to a residential treatment home for another 8 weeks; here, I couldn’t be by her side, and it was the most heartbreaking part of it all.
From this small part of our story, one would think I would be an expert in the world of eating disorders. We have lived in it for so many years, but nothing prepares you for the reality of living day-to-day in ED’s world. Unless you have an eating disorder, no matter how much you read and learn about it, one can never fully understand it. However, there are things I do know: GOD IS ENOUGH. He will never leave you or forsake you. His love and His promises will carry you through the darkest of days. I know this because I have walked many dark days, weeks, and months. There were times my heart was breaking in a million pieces, but yet I was not broken–because He was holding every piece in His hand and catching every tear that fell.
There are things God continues to teach me: I can not “fix” it. This is not my fault. Because I am covered by God’s mercy and His grace, I am not a failure. Cherish every moment of every day; stay so close to each other; give lots of hugs; immerse yourself in God’s Word; and continually pray for one another. Live simply in the present–not in the past or the future. Enjoy every God-given day, for it is a gift.
“It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:22-25
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.