I had just finished using the gym treadmill when someone caught my eye. She was in her late teens or early 20s, frail and carefully climbing onto a stair-climber.
Her spindly arms and her bony thighs looked as if they might snap in two. Her dull, thinning hair was tied back into a tight ponytail, and her skin lacked colour and elasticity.
It was clear to me that she was battling an eating disorder. I knew all too well what she was going through because I’d suffered from anorexia as a teen.
As my weight plummeted, Mum and Dad admitted me to hospital. I was angry and defiant, totally uninterested in receiving help of any sort because I was in complete denial that I had a problem.
Not until my doctor informed me that my organs could shut down at any moment did I realise that I was slowly committing suicide. I didn’t want to die, so I decided to live—which I hoped this girl at the gym would too.
Week after week, this girl came to the gym, feverishly trying to burn off the few calories her body sorely needed. I wanted to tell her that I understood her pain and fear—but the words wouldn’t come.
I talked to a few gym members and one said, ‘If it feels right with your soul, approach her.’
That’s what I needed to hear. The next time I saw this woman, I would talk to her—only there was no next time. The girl never returned to the gym. I didn’t know why and I was disappointed with myself for not saying anything.
About a year later, I spotted a familiar frame over by the elliptical machines. It wasn’t the same person, but the outward appearance was nearly identical—gaunt figure, pale skin, thinning hair, lifeless eyes.
I felt a rush of emotions—empathy, sadness, fear and panic. I didn’t want to blow my chance again. I went into the change-room to splash my face with water and saw her standing by the lockers.
It’s now or never, I thought.
‘Hi,’ I said, reaching out my hand. ‘I’m Christy.’ She looked at me strangely.
‘Are you OK?’ I asked.
She furrowed her brow. ‘Yeah. Why?’
‘I just wondered if you were struggling with anorexia,’ I said quietly.
She shook her head. ‘No, no!’ she insisted as she pulled a baggy sweatshirt over her head.
‘I’ve had anorexia. I know how horrible it is,’ I added.
Again, she shook her head. ‘I’m fine,’ she said.
I handed her a scrap of paper with my phone number on it. ‘In case you ever want to talk,’ I said.
She took the paper and smiled, then leaned in for a hug.
‘I’m Nikki,’ she said in a whisper.
It’s difficult to open up to a total stranger, but I knew I was doing what Jesus instructed by helping a lost sheep find its way (Luke chapter 15, verses 3–7). I prayed that this girl would go home and think about our chat. Even if she wasn’t ready to seek treatment, perhaps she felt better knowing that a stranger cared enough to ask if she was OK.
This is an edited version of a piece that appeared in Faith & Friends.
Republished with permission.