Hey there. My name is Cannessa Lewis. If you want to know just a little bit about me, feel free to click on “Who Am I” at the top of your screen.
This is my story. No, scratch that. This is my eating disorder story. Here I will tell about my battle with anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. I never imagined I would be putting my story out there like this, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. More importantly, I want others to know that they are not alone. If my story impacts someone, even just one person in a positive way, then this blog served its purpose. So, with that said, I hope you enjoy the words that are coming from my heart and I pray that by reading my story and future posts you will be inspired. And perhaps we can inspire each other together.
So, I guess this is where the story begins…
Up until High School, the beginning of freshmen year, I had never really experienced anything too difficult. I would say I had it all together and was looking forward to the new chapter of life ahead of me. In my mind, I had my future all planned out. I would be a multiple sports athlete in high school, earn good grades, and get a soccer scholarship for college. Little did I know freshman year would be the year where it all would begin to go downhill. Freshman year I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is an anxiety disorder which causes a person to have repetitive thoughts which come from a fear or anxiety that they cannot control or ignore which leads to ritualistic behaviors in an attempt to relieve the anxiety. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes repetitive movements and rigid thinking.
Due to my OCD, freshman year was extremely difficult for me. Not only was I dealing with ritualistic behaviors almost every second, but I was always consumed with the thoughts and the anxiety that fed my behaviors. I was extremely afraid of germs and would wash my hands often. If my hands touched my food, or even if my mind told me that they did, it could not enter my stomach because I feared that I would get sick. I had an extreme fear of being sick.
It gradually became harder and harder for me to function in school because of behaviors. It would take me hours to do my homework due to erasing and rewriting dozens of times. I also had many touching and counting behaviors as well. In fact, probably more than I can remember, or would like to remember.
My parents and I started to explore therapy options. I started seeing a Christian counselor which only helped me to an extent with anxiety but the behaviors were still there. The most frustrating thing was that I did not understand what was wrong with me. I constantly was frustrated with myself because I thought that I should be able to control my thoughts and behaviors. I wondered why I was always anxious and stressed and why I could not do anything to prevent it.
As sophomore year approached my OCD had shifted a little. It was not as severe and I was able to control it a little more than usual. I had become good at hiding it from people because I was self-conscious about it and it was embarrassing. Thinking back on sophomore year now, I do not really remember all that was going on with my OCD. I think I do not remember it because it was a time when I was just trying to bury it, like it never happened like I was perfectly fine. Looking back on it, I hid it from others but it still consumed my thoughts every second.
Nearing the end of summer before junior year, and into the beginning of junior year, my OCD began to slowly creep into other areas. I began to restrict my food intake. At first, it was not noticeable, but I would say that it progressed gradually and steadily. At the beginning of junior year, I also found that I had an immense passion for running. Now, I have always had this passion but it was always suppressed by other sports, such as soccer. I joined the cross country team and really loved it. I got to do what I loved while having a daily outlet where I could ignore my anxiety and OCD for a couple hours a day. However, running high mileage every day, on top of soccer practices and games and eating way less than I know I should have been caused me to lose some weight over the span of a few months.
As junior year progressed I still continued to control my anxiety through food intake. It is complicated because I never did it on purpose to begin with. In fact, most of the time I was not even consciously aware that I was restricting because of a suppressed appetite due to stress and anxiety as well as my OCD behaviors wanting to have control. However, since I could not control what was controlling me, I did what I could to control some aspect of me. So the restricting continued and I lost weight during the cross country season.
During junior year, my OCD behaviors were not as prominent. I was able to hide them and really only had “rituals” of behaviors in my home. I think this was because I would suppress and hide it all day long which led to my home being a safe place for me to let it out.
Towards the end of junior year, I had a tournament in Las Vegas and then that same week I went with my grandparents to visit my cousin in LA. I was away from home for a week. Away from my comfort zone and away from the place where my OCD did not have to be hidden at all times. During this week, I was stressed and my anxiety took over. I had multiple soccer games and then with my grandparents I ran every day by the beach. Also, due to my anxiety, I ate very little. I was anxious because I constantly had to hide my OCD behaviors and, of course, the fact that I was anxious. Inside I could not cope, but on the outside, I acted like everything was fine. Sadly, once again, I lost even more weight that week.
The worst part was when I got home. I knew my mom would notice, and she did. I felt so angry with myself, and probably shame as well. Why? Because I didn’t understand. Why can’t I just control my anxiety? Why does it affect me the way it does.
Junior year came to an end, and my parents and I knew that I needed to get my OCD under control to where it would no longer affect me the way it did. My parents began to research anxiety programs and therapy options before Senior year started. I wish I could say that I was on board with their motivation to get to the root of my anxiety and compulsions and get professional help, but I was not. I was terrified about opening up to someone about what I struggled with on a daily basis because I am not someone who is naturally open about my problems. Naturally, I tend to try to overcome things on my own, or suppress my true feelings because it seems easier that way. When, in reality, it only makes things worse. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about my weakness, my imperfection, and my daily struggle. Why? Because the more open I was about it, the more real it would become. I could no longer hide it. I had to face it dead on. With only about a month of summer left my parents found an anxiety treatment center that offered a day program five days a week. I was strongly against the day program because I was not a fan of having to face my anxiety head on every day. But, after a lot of conversations with my parents I realized that I needed to get better, and the sooner I did the better.
After a lot of insurance troubles, I was finally ready to begin the program. I was terrified and felt a spectrum of emotions as I walked into the anxiety center. I was blessed to be working with an amazing therapist who worked with me every day for two weeks. She challenged me and helped me to get control of my OCD behaviors in just two weeks. It was hard work, and although it was not always an ideal situation or the way I would have liked to spend the end of my summer, I knew that in the end I would be so much stronger.
I had completed the day program about a week before my senior year started, which I was happy about because I had a little time to adjust from being in therapy every day to coping on my own. I knew that I could do it because I had all the tools from therapy and a lot of knowledge on what to do and how to cope.
Although I am no longer doing the day treatment, I am blessed to still be working with my therapist to this day at her other office of practice. She has helped me more than she will ever know and I am so thankful that God has placed her in my life. I see her once a week and although I have a lot to learn and work on still, I have made a lot of progress.
Once I had met a few times after the day treatment with my therapist and have gotten my OCD under control, for the most part, my therapist and I were able to explore my OCD and the relationship it has with my eating problems. To be honest, this was the LAST area I wanted to explore when it came to my OCD. It brought up too many emotions. It brought up too much pain. And plus, I felt that if I indeed did have an eating disorder that I would frown upon. As we began to really dig deep into it and we concluded that I have an eating disorder. In fact, it is very common in people with OCD.
Being told that I had an eating disorder brought about two very distinct feelings. In one instance, I felt relief. I would no longer be completely buried by something that only I knew about. But on the other hand, I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach, unable to breathe or think. My world felt as if it was crashing down and all I wanted to do was deny any diagnoses that I was given. It took me a while to grasp the fact, or want to, that I actually have an eating disorder. I guess you could say I was in denial. Not blatantly. But I did not want to admit it because that made it all the more real. It also was hard for me to constantly have my parent’s telling me to eat more, or that I needed to gain. Constantly hearing that just angered my OCD because then I would not have control. I struggled with the fact that my OCD has ventured into something deeper, something others noticed and something I couldn’t hide.But now I can proudly say that a year ago I started recovery from my eating disorder. I accepted the fact that I had a problem that was beyond my control. I accepted the fact that I was not okay. I accepted the fact that I needed to recover, not only for my family and other people who began to notice but most importantly for me.
It was then that my mindset changed. I really did want to get better. My OCD and my eating disorder have taken too much from me to let them win and I am tired of being enslaved to them. In reality, before I came to this realization, I knew my habits had to change. However, I did not know how to go about changing them because of how it corresponded with my OCD and due to the fact that that is how I coped with my anxiety and how thought I had control.
This part of my story brings me to the present. I am still going to see my therapist weekly. Also, I have been seeing my dietitian for about a year and a half now. I am now at a healthy weight after long months of increasing my intake and little to no exercise. My OCD behaviors are under control and I have mainly been dealing with other ways that my OCD tries to creep back in. I am getting healthy and overcoming my eating disorder.I am learning that it is not going to go away overnight. I am learning that I need to give God control instead of doing things on my own. I am learning that I need to focus on how far I have come and not how far I still need to go. I am learning that I need to be patient with the process. I am learning that it is okay to stumble. I am learning that I am perfectly imperfect. The list of things I have learned, in addition to what I’m still learning goes on and on. I am thankful for everything I am learning because it is making me stronger.
Since recovering physically, I have had to deal with the stomach issues have haunted me for years, which is one of the reasons that I unconsciously resorted to anorexia. Eating was never easy, and food was always something that I associated as a negative impact on my body because of the way it hurt my stomach and made me feel.
Summer of 2015 right before my second year of College it got increasingly worse. My stomach was almost constantly in pain and I constantly felt sick and fatigued. which was making my recovery process even more difficult. My dietitian and I wrestled with what could be going on and decided to take out dairy and gluten from my diet because she suspected possible allergies. Long story short, after months of a gluten free and dairy free diet and finally having both cleared from my system, I felt a bit better.
Although taking out dairy and gluten made me feel better, it still wasn’t enough. I was still always in pain and food was still not my friend. A few months later after trying way too many different avenues we scheduled a very intensive food panel test. It tested over 200 foods and the results came back with over 200 of them that I was allergic too. Fun.
Fast forward. That was four months ago. I can safely say that I have felt increasingly better in the past four months and I even get to begin incorporating some of the foods that aren’t as big of an allergy now that my stomach has healed a bit after taking all of the foods out of my diet that I am allergic to. I have also done other intensive regimens to clear out bad bacteria in my stomach in order to create a healthier environment in my microbiome, but that’s disgusting to go into detail about so I will spare you the details. You’re welcome.
So that leads me to the present. Slowly working on getting healthy every day. Sometimes my day sucks mentally and other days its like I don’t have any mental health worries at all. Sometimes my anxiety is immensely high and other days I can manage just fine. Sometimes eating is the hardest task in the world and sometimes I’m on fire for recovery and I go back for seconds. But every day I am getting stronger and every day I am becoming an advocate.
I don’t know if any of these mental struggles I have will ever fully diminish. I’m not sure there will come a day when I can say I am anorexia free or anxiety free. But what I have learned from recovery is that reaching a level of health and happiness that I deserve is possible. That doesn’t mean I won’t have bad days, but the bad days are no longer every day and that is a huge accomplishment for me. Three years ago I could barely function and today I am sharing my journey and living life and eating out with people I love and discovering that there is a life outside of anorexia and anxiety. There is a life outside of my head, and it’s pretty darn scary but incredibly amazing.
I am learning that it is not going to go away overnight. I am learning that I need to give God control instead of doing things on my own. I am learning that I need to focus on how far I have come and not how far I still need to go. I am learning that I need to be patient with the process. I am learning that it is okay to stumble. I am learning that I am perfectly imperfect. The list of things I have learned, in addition to what I’m still learning goes on and on. I am thankful for everything I am learning because it is making me stronger.
I still have long ways to go, but that does not undermine all the progress I have made so far. There may be days when I can’t try as hard as I would like, or days when my anxiety is too overwhelming but I am learning to accept the fact that what I am going through is a learning experience. But I know that as long as I keep persevering, I can conquer both my OCD and my eating disorder. Although I will constantly be haunted by both, I know that I can recover, and if I take a few steps back, I have the tools to get to where I want to be.
When I look back on those years I feel a wave of emotions. But if I had to describe my overall journey, I would have to say BLESSED. Now, you may be wondering how on earth I could feel blessed. Well, because I have made progress. And on top of that, I have learned many things. I have learned so much about myself and others who have experiences similar to mine. I can tell you for a fact that I am nowhere near where I want to be, BUT I have come a long where from where I used to be.
Well, there you have it. My story in a nutshell. So, I guess from here on out you will get to follow me on my journey of recovery.
Romans 8:28 For it is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.