By Ryan Zepeda —
Through MySpace, Heather found just the sort of compassionate older friend to whom she, at age 12, could confide her troubles, things she couldn’t share with her own parents.
Then, he showed up on the evening news under arrest for intent to prostitute a minor. Heather’s profile popped up as one of his top eight on MySpace, a now virtually defunct social media.
“I felt like talking to him was a rush because it was a secret,” she recounts in a CBN video. “I saw the red flags on multiple occasions, but I ignored them because it was not what I wanted to believe. I could talk to him about school. I could talk to him about family. He was this unbiased person I could bring in. He was kind. He was someone I could confide in. I enjoyed talking to him.”
When the man was arrested, Heather feared she would be raped. She had no idea if he was in jail or released. All she knew was that he lived in her town.
Her fears grew into gnawing anxieties that dogged her for most of the rest of her life.
As a teen, she discovered anorexia and bulimia — and this gave her a sense of control.
“I was so anxious and afraid that I remember I wasn’t hungry,” she says. “I remember thinking, oh this is a great distraction. I felt powerful.”
Next Heather turned to “cutting” — the practice of slitting your wrists to toy with suicide and express desperation.
“There was an overwhelming release of tension with cutting,” she says.
During her sophomore year of high school, 11 loved ones died within eight months.
“I felt more out-of-control having people being ripped away from me, people dying too young,” she says. “I started cutting a lot more, a lot deeper.”
By now, she was receiving professional counseling — to no avail.
“I kept punishing myself for the mistakes that I had made,” she admits. “It distracted me from the sadness I felt. But more than anything, it helped with my anxiety.”
“I felt like there was nothing left that even the world could offer me and I was not going to get better,” she says.
She submitted to professional treatments and even electroconvulsive treatment — shock treatment. But she fell back into self harm.
“I still carried a lot of guilt and shame,” she says.
Six inpatient treatments, two intensive outpatient treatments, multiple counselors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, 12 different psychiatric prescriptions only made her feel like a hopeless case.
“I didn’t feel like a person anymore,” she says. “I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t leave the house; I’d have a panic attack.”
“Although I believed in God, I wasn’t a follower of Him,” she says. “I was too bad of a person to be a Christian.”
The counselors were loving and genuinely concerned for Heather. At their urging, she got a Bible and began to delve deep. A roommate talked to her about Jesus and led her in a prayer to receive him as her Lord and Savior.
She was a new creature in Christ!
“I literally felt like I had taken a whole layer of myself away and became a new person at that point,” she says. “And even though I knew my walk wasn’t going to be perfect from there on out, I knew I was going to be different.”
As Heather proceeded with her treatment and advising, she began to see herself through God’s eyes.
“I wasn’t a bad person. God didn’t look down on me, and He wasn’t disappointed in that,” she says. “All I had to do was accept His help and that I could change, I had to believe that I could actually change instead of being labeled the hopeless case that I had been for so many years before.”
Now, Heather is married and studying for a nursing degree. Her scars are reminders that God’s love overcame her failings.
Ryan Zepeda studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.