If you listen to Christian radio, you might have heard music from Top 10 UK Independent Christian Chart artist April Shipton (‘Journey On’,A StepFwd, 2018). As well as regional mainstream radios, her feel- feature on the playlists of 3 major national Christian stations – where she has been recognised as Guest/Song of the week three years running (UCB2, 2017, 2018, 2019).
If you’re not one for radio, perhaps you were one of the 20,000 people who helped her debut music video for Journey On go stratospheric in 2018, or you may have come across her story in national publications such as UCB’s Word For You (2018), Premier Christianity Magazine (2018) or The Good News Paper (2019). Healed from anorexia at 19,April takes every to share the news that Jesus is alive. Between this, making music and being her own record label, April shares her healing testimony and heartfelt songs in a powerful combination during her acclaimed performances. You may have been in the audience when she performed for BBC Introducing at the internationally renowned Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts (2017), or more recently at Creationfest (2019). April has shared her story with MHMUK in the hope that it inspires more people to discover that Jesus is able to intercede powerfully in our lives and bring lasting freedom. She welcomes conversation, and warmly invites you to get in touch via facebook.com/AprilShiptonUK or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss her story or perhaps your own struggles.
The youngest in my family, I was born in Kent in 1992 where my sister and I grew up before moving to Herefordshire in 1999. Our Christian parents were actively involved in church – my dad as a worship leader and tech guru, my mum as a prophet and women’s group leader – so church was familiar and routine for us.
I was so blessed to have Christian parents and a Christian upbringing, but when I went to college, I was struggling with a tricky relationship with my mum, which triggered a lot of anger and rebellion. I never lost my faith, and I’m grateful to God for that, but I strayed from His path and started trying to control things myself. I think I allowed the devil a foothold, if I’m honest.
I sang publicly for the first time at Ross Baptist Church when I was baptised aged 17, right in the middle of this dark place of bitterness and feuding. Being a firm believer does not exclude you from being wooed by the world and slipping away from God’s best plan for you – and I did exactly that.
Fueled by jealousy, the pressure to be beautiful and perfect, the desire to prove my independence and a deteriorating relationship with my mum, I was seduced by what felt like a way to feel powerful and in control of all these things; I just decided to stop eating. I thought I was doing this brilliant idea to lose weight. I thought ‘Why has no one else thought of this? This is amazing!’ It wasn’t until someone told me what I was doing was called anorexia that I realised it was wrong. They told me, ‘This is an illness.
You’re ill, April.’ By the time I realised that I was, anorexia had become my way of feeling acceptable and coping with the turmoil at home, and I didn’t want to let go of it. Then things like depression and self-hatred started to seep in, because once the devil’s got an inch, he takes a mile.
Now, these are troubling conditions to write and read about, but I think it’s important I tell this story because you can only truly witness the victory of God when you compare it to the dark, desperate state I was in when I was ill.Very slowly over the months that followed, anorexia subtly slipped out of my grasp and morphed from a coping mechanism to something very dark and ugly.
Before long, I had decided that eating was weak and I that could be better than everyone else. I got a kind of adrenaline rush from it; some days it felt like I could fly. Other days, the faintness and exhaustion were justice, like I deserved it. Whichever kind of day it was, I was constantly thinking about anorexia.
I lied to everyone. I lied to my parents daily, producing excuses to avoid meals and explain the weight loss. I loved it when people told me they were worried about me, or when teachers asked me if I was alright. I would delight in finding new ways to lie to them about it. It was so introspective, so selfish, and consequently very isolating.
Six months in, it had become an oppression. I remember being extremely distressed – almost hysterical – alone in my room in front of my mirror. I found myself hideous and undisciplined, and could almost hear voices telling me this. I would look in the mirror and I was just bombarded by hatred.
Only now can I see what a disgusting, abhorrent, ego-centric illness anorexia is. It was so obviously an idol, looking back, but at the time I never even realised I was ill. I didn’t realise what I was doing was part of an illness so common that one in three girls and one in ten boys will find themselves pulled into it at some point in their lives.
REACHING BREAKING POINT
It reached breaking point about a year later, when I started gaining weight as a side effect of medication I was on. I gained stone upon stone, so the self-hatred and rejection began spiraling out of control.
A lot of people made comments about my weight – they might even have been telling me how healthy I looked now, but it was all backwards with anorexia – I was horrified at the thought of looking ‘healthy’ because in my ego-centric world, ‘healthy’ people were ‘fat’. Some people even told me they thought I looked better when I was skinny.
It was crushing, and just added fuel to the conflict inside my head. As a result the tension at home with my mum grew and arguments got worse. I hated how I looked so I stopped going out and became very isolated. Depression silently grew; every evening for three months I cried myself to sleep.
POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS
One day, during a routine check up, the doctor callously told me that I was obese. It was the worst thing I could have heard at that point, and I broke down in front of her. She prescribed diet and exercise.
With mum waiting to take me home, I had no time or energy left to make up another lie to explain my tear-stained appearance, and I finally explained everything. She was incredibly gracious. She cried with me, and said that she had suspected something like this. She asked if I would be willing to meet with a friend of hers to receive prayer for healing, and I said yes.
That’s how I came to receive prayer ministry. One evening in a small home in Gloucestershire, a Christian lady spoke to the anorexia and depression which had such a hold on me, and with calm authority commanded them to leave me in the name of Jesus.
My life changed that night.The next day, I found myself stood in front of a drinks machine on a hot May morning when I suddenly realised I had a choice. When I was ill, I would only ever drink Coke Zero or Diet Coke, because I knew they had zero calories. But that day, I fancied a Fanta. I put my money in. I pressed the Fanta button. And I had a Fanta.
I have never felt any compulsion towards anorexia since then. My life was literally turned 180° in just a few hours of prayer. My view of myself changed drastically; I didn’t need to compare myself to others anymore because I’d just seen with my own eyes the power of Earth’s creator – nothing gives fulfillment and significance like that. It took me a while to realise, but the crying at night had stopped then too – I was so far from those dark feelings that this simply didn’t occur to me until months later.
To this day I am in awe of what Jesus did for me that evening. I thank him for it when I can’t think of anything else to be thankful for – I thank him for saving my life.
This experience has shaped my attitude towards life, faith, mental health and so many other things, and spills out into my songs. ‘Invincible‘ and ‘Now That I’m Saved’ are especially influenced by this experience of healing.
It’s uncomfortable to think that I could have been living the full, free life I enjoy today, but instead I allowed jealousy, selfish ambition and arrogance to control me.
What if God had awesome plans for me that year, but I was too busy chasing the distraction the devil laid out for me? What if God has an awesome plan to use you to do amazing things this year? What distractions or obstacles could be stealing your focus away from achieving your true potential?
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again.
Finally, I’d like to leave a little note urging anyone reading this who is struggling with an eating disorder to tell somebody if you haven’t already, and start making your way back to freedom. There are charities like B-EAT to help you if you don’t know where to start, or your GP may know of services like counselling available in your area.
For issues beyond just those I’ve mentioned, if you want to receive prayer ministry and give your mountain over to The One who can move it, I would be really happy to hear from you and I’ll try my best to connect you with someone in your area.
Be blessed, be free.
Connect with April here