By Annie Orth
Ever since I was little, my parents showed me the beauty and importance of having a relationship with Jesus. I grew up going to church every Sunday and was heavily involved in youth group and mission work. Until I was 16 years old, things went very well for me. I had wonderful friends, a loving family, good grades, and several athletic and musical accomplishments that made me proud. However, since I was five, I struggled immensely with perfectionism in all aspects of my life. It wasn’t until the summer before my junior year in high school that my perfectionism started to harm me.
As my junior year began, the pressure I put on myself to perfect my resume in preparation for applying to college and my obsession with having a varsity-level cross country season led me to eat less and less and run more and more. Through the fall and winter of junior year, I continued to cut foods out of my diet, and I became obsessed with exercising. Starving myself while excessively pushing my body to work out caused me to lose about one third of my body weight, culminating in a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, followed by a visit to the ER with one of the lowest heart rates the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) has ever seen. I was admitted into the cardiac unit by doctors who told my parents that it was a miracle I hadn’t died while running, let alone in my sleep. I was hospitalized for three weeks to stabilize my heart rate and to begin to stabilize my weight. The CHOP Eating Disorder Recovery Outpatient Program emphasizes family-based or Maudsley treatment, and upon discharge I began a two-year recovery journey.
Recovery was the hardest, most painful time of my life. My doctors and therapist taught me to personify anorexia. Anorexia convinced me that no weight would ever be good enough, that I was obese, and that my doctors and parents were my enemies because they were forcing me to eat. Anorexia had also convinced me that my entire worth was based on my weight or how skinny I was, so eating and gaining weight were literally torture for me. Anorexia is so horrible and difficult because it makes you desire anything but to heal.
Throughout recovery, I struggled with major depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, lying to my loved ones, hopelessness, and serious anxiety. I also struggled with my perception of God and even doubted His existence. I didn’t understand how a loving God could let me go through something so horrible for so long.
As my weight was restored and I became myself again, I realized that God had been present the entire time. He guided my parents down the long, frustrating path that finally led to the right treatment program for me. He saved me from my own self several times, when I would lie awake in bed at night on the verge of ending my life and His comforting whisper of assurance gave me surreal peace and the strength to keep fighting.
He blessed me with incredible friends who surrounded me with love and prayed like warriors for my recovery. He blessed me with the most resilient, strong, confident, devoted, and loving parents in the entire world. And most importantly, He really did have a purpose in allowing me to fight the long battle that I did. My battle taught me how to truly trust people, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to be all right with asking for help, to appreciate every day I get to live, to rest in God’s promise to always work for our good, and to find my identity in being a daughter of God, not in my accomplishments.
When we go through dark times, we can choose to focus on resentment and anger, or we can choose to keep our eyes fixed on God, our protector and teacher, the One who loves us unconditionally, and the One who is always by our side. I was blessed to have friends and family who encouraged me to choose the latter and to eventually see the good that came out of those horrible years.
One of the most positive outcomes after my battle with anorexia was that God called me to write and publish my story. So last year, I wrote and published a book called Struck Down, but not Destroyed: Breaking Free from Anorexia. My hope is that my book will help people either truly understand what it’s like to battle an eating disorder or help those dealing with one understand that they’re not alone in the dark thoughts and compulsions that plague them. Above all, I want my story to glorify God; without His guidance and presence in my life, I would not be here today.
Because of, not despite, what I went through, I am positive that no one will ever be able to convince me that God doesn’t exist and that He is not loving, all-powerful, sovereign, and good. I hope my story and book will mobilize others to feel the exact same way, as I now get to become an everyday minister for His glory.