I have a lot of issues, but all of those feelings listed above are rooted in this one BIG issue: my pride issue. I hate not being able to do it all on my own. I hate having to rely on other people or things for help. For my whole life, I have hated any form of my own imperfection, weakness, or neediness.
Isabela Brooke Lemon, born on January 24, 2002. My mom experienced numerous complications throughout her pregnancy with me, one of them being that I caused her a lot of bleeding in the beginning. I, a wee little egg at the time, was not attaching to the uterus. The doctors expected and prepared for the worst: a miscarriage. Since the very literal beginning of my life, the odds were stacked against me. Miraculously, the little egg that was me began to fight: I clawed like a dog digging for a bone, desperately trying to attach to the uterus, desperately trying to survive. And to the doctors astonishment, I did just that — I lived. I fought just to have a chance at life, and I have been fighting ever since.
Here is where the first mental illness enters the stage: OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. Characterized by an obsession of cleanliness, neatness, and orderliness. But, what most people don’t realize, is that it is so much more. At a horribly young age, I was caught in the traps of something so much darker and scarier than I first imagined: pornography. OCD can manifest itself in many different ways, and one of those ways is through an obsession of sexual content and the naked body. I would watch these graphic scenes and images and feel absolutely disgusted with myself. I convinced myself that I was destined for hell and that no matter how many times I asked God for forgiveness, I did not believe He could ever really forgive me. My usual spunky personality was overshadowed by this cloud of darkness. I became quiet, reserved, and extremely sensitive. I put on this “good girl” persona just so that nobody would ever really know the darkness that truly lied within. I hated myself, because I wasn’t myself.
What came along with my OCD was anxiety disorder. I became so focused on all the things that could go wrong — I was caught up in the sticky claws of “what ifs,” crying uncontrollably and barely being able to breath over the smallest of circumstances became routine. Panic attacks mostly went hidden from my family as I cried in my closet trying to wrestle these demons that no little girl should be having to face.
Next up comes chronic depression. From a young age, I felt this deep, dark chasm of emptiness that no thing, no person, no circumstance could ever fill. Sleeping for most of the day, and staying up all night in the quiet loneliness became my only solace. Sleep was the only escape my mind ever had — the only remedy to this unexplainable emotion. I remember being so overwhelmed with despair that I could not even find the motivation to cry. So, I would lay on my bed and stare into nothingness until some outside force or circumstance forced me to move. Even when I seemed “happy” on the outside, my smiles had a deeper secret than what lay on the surface.
Anorexia Nervosa. This one is tough. I remember disliking my body from the time I was 8 and always feeling like I needed to eat healthy in order to be desirable or successful. I remember sitting in my ballet class as a little girl and being told by my teacher that I should not eat “junk food” if I ever wanted to be a ballerina, as dancers have to be tiny, light, and, delicate. In that same class, my teacher always put me into the “big girl” category. I was never given a spotlight or even a small solo; those were only for the skinny girls.
When I was 12, I was officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa — the deadliest of all mental illnesses. I spiraled out of control when my sweet baby kitten, Milo, was gruesomely run over by a speeding truck. I saw the whole thing, and I did nothing to help him. I blamed myself for his death, and I wanted to punish myself. I lost weight rapidly, until I was almost unrecognizable. No matter how many pounds I lost, it was never enough. Once I started losing weight, my dance teachers all started to notice. They finally approved of me. I was finally accepted by them. They looked at me with pleasure as my ribs shone through my light blue leotard. I was finally given a solo in tap class and was even moved into an advanced pointe class earlier than any other girl had previously been.
However, I never finished that last year of dance. My disorder had made me too sick. I could not walk up stairs without feeling lightheaded and dizzy, let alone dance vigorously across the stage. I was angry for being pulled out of dance, but that didn’t last long when I realized how freeing it was to be out of the toxic bondage of the dancers world. My 13th birthday came and went, and by that March I was barely able to function. I went to a doctor appointment and was threatened to be involuntarily placed into a treatment center. That terrified me, so I began recovery at home. I got to a healthy weight, and I thought my eating disorder was cured; I was wrong.
Summer of 2016. The summer I exploded. The summer that all those years of unspoken trauma, hurt, discomfort, and pain developed into a monster that still haunts me to this day: rage. I became violent, ravenous for revenge, and desperate for a change. All those years of that “good girl” persona completely torn away and burned to the ground. It was time for people to get to know this dark side I had hid for so long. Countless screaming matches, rebellion against God and my faith, hurting and lashing out physically and emotionally to the people closest to me, getting involved in a bad group of friends, cursing, cussing — all these things filled my whole summer.
I felt like there was some other entity in my head that was forcing me to act this way, to act so recklessly and carelessly towards my life in general. This was the summer I first fell victim to self-harm. I remember smashing a picture frame off the wall and using the glass to dig into my skin. I felt relief that was shortly followed by shame and guilt. The darkest night of my life came soon after when I found myself screaming my mom’s name in the middle of the kitchen as I held a knife above my chest, threatening to kill myself. My physical body didn’t have the strength to do it, but my mind wanted nothing more than the sweet escape of death. Summer came and went, and I seemed to get over this spell of anger and rage, but that horrific summer was only foreplay to the next one: the summer of 2017. The summer that my eating disorder almost took my life.
It all began innocently, as it always does. I started becoming more aware of the food I was eating, I began to work out in the morning before school, and it became a goal of mine to obtain a six pack. This innocent obsession soon took a sinister turn when I realized the trap I fell into. I had fallen into the seducer’s hands; my eating disorder was back with a vengeance. Working out obsessively to the point of wanting to throwing up, hiding food in the strangest of places, and living off a diet of water and tiny portions of “clean foods” landed me right back where I was when I was 13. Only this time, it was much, much worse.
On August 2, 2017, I was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Washington DC. They shoved a tube down my nose and into my stomach and attached countless wires to my chest. That first night, my heart rate dipped and leveled out into the low 30s. I should have been dead. Alarms and monitors kept beeping and nurses kept rushing in and out of my room to see if I would stabilize. I don’t remember any of that night, because I was fast asleep. Ironically, it was the best sleep I had ever had. I stayed at the hospital for eight days, where my mom never left my side. I was then transferred into a treatment center in Fairfax, Virginia, for 8 weeks. No doubt it was ridiculously tough to be away from my home and my family for so long, but I have never felt so close to God as I did in those weeks away from home. I learned so much about Him, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. When I returned home on October 3, life soon calmed down and fell into a rhythm. I would have dreams of waking up and being back in treatment, only to realize that I was safe; I was home.
I have had many ups and downs since then, but I would not be here if it wasn’t for the God that I wholeheartedly love and believe in. He has brought me this far. He has done it all. He gave me this story, and He gave me this life for a reason. If I continue to keep quiet and not speak up, then my life will be wasted. I always told myself that I would share my story only when I was fully “recovered.” That I couldn’t speak up until I was certain that these disorders could be overcome.
But what I am learning is that, there is never going to be a point in my life where I am “fixed.” There will never be a time in my life where I am fully “recovered” — not until I am made perfect by God’s glory in heaven. He has given me these “thorns” to keep me close to Him. He has given me these “thorns” so that He can use me and say, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” It is my duty and privilege to live this life He has given me, but I can only do that by surrendering my heart completely to Him. So, by writing this, I am choosing just that.
This is my surrender. This is my story. This is not only my story, it’s God’s story. This is not only God’s story; it’s all of our stories. We are all broken, we are all weak, and we are all needy — and that is what makes life beautiful.
I want to make a special shout out to my family, who, even in my darkest hours, made me feel loved, special, and important. I want to say thank you, because when I was fighting my hardest battles, you all banded together to fight with me. Thank you for always believing in me, praying for me, and supporting me. Thank you to my mom, who, even when I said I didn’t need her, never left my side. I would not be where I am today without her interceding on my behalf. Thank you for being the greatest example of a godly woman in my life. Thank you for raising me as not only your earthly daughter, but also as an Eternal daughter of the One True King.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. 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.