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16 year old Model, Actress, Youtuber, Singer, and Dancer Clarissa May is a survivor of a severe brain injury and Anorexia.  She became severely brain damaged at the age of 10, which caused life-threatening Anorexia Nervosa at age 12. She is now fully recovered, and she uses her story of recovery to help inspire other young girls.  

Clarissa is a multi-talented personality known for modeling, blogging, vlogging, and acting. She first gained fame through her Instagram account @clarissamay and her YouTube channels Clarissa May, Live on Pointe, and Life With Clarissa May, and has worked with major brands such as Seventeen, Aeropostale, Pacsun, Juicy Couture, Maybelline, Windsor, Discount Dance, Live Love Dream, Zooshoo, Dolls Kill, Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Bobbi Brown, Chic Wish, Relleciga Bikinis, Eric Dress, Flexistretcher, Black Swan Boutique, etc

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The beginning

Clarissa began dancing in 2005 at the age of four.  Her mom, Georgia, put her in her first ballet class because she wouldn’t stop pirouetting around the house.  She loved it, and kept dancing from that moment onwards.  As the years passed by, Clarissa’s schedule’s intensity increased, and she soon became her Russian teachers’ favorite, which was a blessing and a curse.  The other girls in her level, who were mostly at least a year older, became jealous, and started to bully her outside of the classroom.  Clarissa hid in the bathroom at breaks, and started to get chronic stomachaches from the stress.  Her schoolwork began to slip by the wayside, along with everything else outside of dance.  The car rides to and from dance began to fill with lectures on my unfinished schoolwork, and her family life began to deteriorate.  Clarissa was cast in the lead roll of Dorothy in the spring recital of 2009, but as the rehearsals progressed, the situation at home worsened.

After the show, Clarissa’s mom pulled her out of ballet. She felt the environment at the studio was not emotionally healthy for Clarissa, and that she needed to explore other options and interests before continuing her then-current level of commitment to dance. Additionally, Clarissa would have been en pointe at age 9, which was not something her parents felt good about. So her mom gave her 6 months to see if she could be happy without dance.

 

The Concussion

Eight months later, in February of 2010, Clarissa was still terribly missing dance.  She discovered fencing, which she greatly enjoyed. Unfortunately, in March Clarissa had a series of blows to the head (2 to the chin in fencing warm up, and one very hard hit to the top of the head getting in to the car – so hard my mom thought we’d had an earthquake as she was loading up the car). These knocks to the head occurred 2 weeks apart, and the morning after the last one, Clarissa woke up with flu like symptoms. Two days later she had a seizure. Over the next 2 weeks it became apparent that she was suffering from a massive concussion with gradual onset – similar to “boxer syndrome” or a football player’s cumulative injuries. The CT scan showed no bleeding, and Clarissa could still spell 3 letter words backwards, so the doctors all said she was fine – despite the fact that she could not so much as look at a book or travel in the car or make a choice between 2 different bathing suits without dizziness, headache, and anxiety attacks. Clarissa spent the next few months visiting doctors and natural healers, and lying on the couch with her eyes closed, listening to books on tape while her mom surfed the Internet, trying to figure out what was wrong with her daughter….

Ultimately, Clarissa’s mom was able to piece together that Clarissa had injured her hypothalamus, which is located just above the sinus cavity and acts as command central for a myriad of brain functions, ranging from hunger and thirst signals to stress response, body temperature control, blood pressure, heart rate, and hormonal function.

The hypothalamus helps control the pituitary gland, particularly in response to stress. The pituitary, in turn, controls the:

  • Adrenal glands
  • hormonal production 
  • Thyroid gland
  • The hypothalamus also helps regulate:
  • Body temperature
  • Emotions
  • Growth
  • Salt and water balance
  • Sleep
  • Weight and appetite
In addition, there are some areas immediately surrounding the hypothalamus which appeared to be impacted as well. These areas control decision making and vision, so Clarissa had chronic dizziness and full blown anxiety attacks (including uncontrollable trembling in the legs, racing heart rate, and fear of dying in my sleep) every time she had to make a simple decision between 2 things such as what she wanted for dinner or which bathing suit to wear.  She could not look at a book, a television screen or a computer without developing dizziness and headaches. She was unable to control her body temperature, and reacted to being in a slightly overheated environment for more than a minute by having a full blown anxiety attack (with all the physical symptoms including fear she was dying) and then sleeping for several days at a stretch.
After several weeks, Clarissa’s mom started her own rehabilitation program, which consisted in part of looking at picture books for brief periods of time, and going for walks when the weather was cool. After a few months Clarissa was able to participate in “normal” activities so long as she did not over exert herself (no running, no jumping, no balls flying through the air) and did not stay in the sun or in a space warmer than 72*. The most alarming latent symptom was the inability to control her temperature – her mom did not yet realize the severity of the problem with Clarissa’s hunger signals. She took up swimming until it became apparent that she had also developed multiple chemical sensitivities and could not tolerate chlorine.

The Anorexia

A year passed, with gradual improvement in overall symptoms, but it still was very apparent that Clarissa’s brain had not fully recovered, and her family often wondered if she would ever be her old self again. In the summer of 2011 Clarissa became alarmingly thin and refused to increase her caloric intake accordingly. In September, she had gastro-paralysis from an upset stomach, and developed full blown Anorexia Nervosa almost overnight. She lost a lb a day for a week, until she was 70 lbs with a BMI of 13, and for several days she was eating less than 500 calories a day.  Clarissa is a girl who needs 3-4,000 calories a day to maintain her current weight, and at the time required over 4,000 calories a day. Looking back, we think what happened is that her caloric needs were sky-rocketing in anticipation of 11-year-old growth spurts, but without hunger signals, she just kept eating what looked to her like a normal amount of food.
Clarissa and her family were back to daily visits to the doctor, acupuncturist, chiropractor and masseuse, and by Christmas she was “out of the woods,” which meant she was only seeing the doctor once a week instead of once a day, her family had to spend only 3 hours a day supervising her eating (instead of 6), and she was no longer living one meal away from a feeding tube. At this point Clarissa was at 75 lbs, and had grown another 4 inches since she started eating again. Fortunately her family (and God) were able to get Clariss well without ever admitting her to a hospital or ED clinic.
Clarissa’s mom learned later, after she noticed that the symptoms of my brain injury were finally improving, that a high fat diet causes growth specifically in the hypothalamus! Clarissa’s mom had spent the past 9 months pouring coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil and grape seed oil on Clarissa’s food by the tablespoon, so ultimately, while the head injury lead to the anorexia, the anorexia cured the head injury! We are still convinced this was a miracle.

Continuing the Journey

In August of 2012, Clarissa’s mom finally realized she was waking up crying several times a week after a recurrent dream that she was dancing on stage, only to wake up and realize it would never happen. Although Clarissa’s mom was very hesitant to have dance take over her family and their lives again, she saw that Clarissa would never be happy until she could dance again. With the brain injury healed, it was finally an option.

In late August 2012, Clarissa chose a low-key dance studio to get back on her feet and see how she felt about it.  After 2 months, Clarissa’s teachers said she was ready for pointe work, and less than a month later it became obvious to her family that PBC had little more to offer Clarissa, training-wise.

Clarissa felt very strongly about returning to her old Russian teachers from when she was younger, who had separated from the studio and formed their own studio.  Clarissa’s teachers were, from the beginning, very excited and supportive of her, and the speed with which she was catching up to the other dancers was exciting. Clarissa’s greatest challenges were that she had lost all of her muscle due to the eating disorder, she did not remember any of the steps, terminology, etc, and she had absolutely no muscle memory.  Clarissa spent her first 9 months back at dance rebuilding her muscles and memory.

Clarissa has recently contracted severe stress fractures in the metatarsals of both her feet, and it appears as though she will never be able to dance the same again.  The recent months have been extremely stressful as various doctors and teachers have tried and failed to help Clarissa return to dance. Although her injuries are forcing Clarissa to move away from dance, she is still able to continue focusing on modeling, acting, directing, and producing content for her Youtube channels where she currently shares her beauty, fashion, DIY, lifestyle, fitness, dance, vlogging, and comedy videos on her three channels, Clarissa MayLive On Pointe, & Life With Clarissa May.  She has collaborated with numerous brands, as well as directing, producing, and editing countless video projects.  Clarissa is known for her upbeat personality and positive outlook, and she is a role model to hundreds of thousands of girls.

Find Clarissa on Social Media:
Youtube: Clarissa May & Live On Pointe & Life With Clarissa May
Instagram: @clarissamay
Facebook: Clarissa May
Twitter: @clarissamay09

View Clarissa’s Full Resume

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