Friday, June 30, 2017
Christians & Mental Health Care.
Emily Parker spoke with author, award-winning blogger and speaker, Emma Scrivener.
Over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders and it is estimated that one in six people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem. Emma Scrivener is an author, award-winning blogger and speaker and Emily Parker spoke with her about her book A New Day and her own struggles with anorexia, anxiety, perfectionism and control.
Emily: What was your childhood like and what was life like for you before you became a Christian?
Emma: As you can hear from my accent, I'm not from England originally. I grew up in Belfast. I was the eldest of three kids. I have a younger brother and sister. It was a very happy family life; very secure, very settled. In our family, I was a typical eldest child. I was bossy and a perfectionist, liking things to be done in a certain way. My identity would have been in this idea of me being a good girl, being a leader, being bossy, keeping rules and doing things right. I was just very happy and very content with it.
Emily: How did you become a Christian?
Emma: I guess there were a number of different things. Mainly because I had a series of friends at school who were Christians and even though I came from a great family who were loving, there was something different about them. When I saw them and I saw the way that they dealt with life and the way they looked at the world, it seemed to me that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I guess growing up in Ireland, in the '80s particularly, there was a lot of focus on moralism and a lot of focus on sin and hell, and I was scared. I didn't have answers for death. I felt like I kept doing things I didn't want to do and so in some ways it seemed like an answer to me for that.
Emily: In chapter one of your book, you say that when you became a Christian you'd been told that everything would change, but it didn't actually change in the way you expected. What happened?
Emma: That's right. There were a number of things going on for me around the same time that I became a Christian. When I hit 13, some things in my life changed. I moved schools. I was bullied there; my body was changing, but it didn't feel it was like the women I saw on TV or other places. I didn't feel like I fitted in, in the same way as I had before. I guess I was finding out more about God, but I hadn't really got the whole picture. I'd understood about sin, but not so much about grace. I'd understood God to be someone who wanted me to keep rules. There were other things in my life too. My grandfather died and no-one had any answers for that. It all added up to this feeling of being messy and of being too much.
I had heard testimonies of Christians at church and youth groups and it was always a before and after story, with something like, I was into drugs or drink and then I met Jesus and suddenly everything changed; I no longer had any of these problems. Or, I had a stutter and then, overnight, I could speak. Or, I was this and then Jesus came and now I'm this. So I had expected this transformation along the lines of a new soul, new mind and hopefully better skin, but that would be a bonus. I was expecting life to get better in every possible way and me feeling like a better person. In fact, along with all the different things that were going on, I just felt more messed up.
I was the only Christian in my family. Even though my parents were generally supportive, it was something they couldn't understand, so it was something that made me feel different from them as well. I had heard that Jesus would save my life, but in some sense I felt like it made my life even more complicated. In some ways I felt like He was part of the reason that it was messed up.
That for me began a period where I really struggled with mental health. The biggest issue at that time was the way I was trying to deal with the mess that I felt that I was, internally and externally. It was my body, but also all the questions I had. The mess felt to me like I was fat and so losing weight seemed to be a way of cleaning myself up and that's what it did for me. So around about the same time I stumbled upon what felt like an amazing secret, where even though I couldn't control my world, and couldn't control all the ways that I felt it was messy, I could control my own body and I could lose weight. That was the beginning of a long struggle with anorexia. Then there were other mental health issues as well that came up around the same time.
Emily: That's an awful lot to have happened, in what I get the impression is actually a short amount of time.
Emma: It is, but I suppose what's interesting is that, although a lot happened, many of the things that happened, like moving house, moving schools, or death in the family, were just a part of ordinary life. When people develop mental health disorders as teenagers, we look for one particular reason, or a big trauma, but in my story it was just a series of different things that challenged who I was and then triggered things that were already latent in my personality. It was a combination of who I was, my circumstances and then discovering ways of coping with stress, or coping with life that were then very difficult to break.
Emily: You've talked about controlling your weight, what was the out-working of that at the time?
Emma: It was something that developed over quite a long period of time. We'd gone to the doctor for help and the doctor said, "You're just throwing up, there's nothing to worry about." Eating disorders weren't something that was talked about at the time. It seemed like something completely out of the blue, that didn't happen to families like ours. Cross Rhythms.