Debbie Gibson: Recovery from Lyme Disease Has Been a 'Challenge'

Debbie Gibson: Recovery from Lyme Disease Has Been a 'Challenge'
Debbie Gibson
David Livingston/Getty

09/28/2014 AT 09:00 PM EDT

When Debbie Gibson was diagnosed with Lyme disease last year, she began a scary journey of pain and confusion.

"My back kept going out," she tells PEOPLE. "I couldn't lift my head sometimes. My boyfriend said I was mixing up words in my texts. It really got into my cognitive skills. I took crazy amounts of antibiotics, including doxycycline. It killed so much stuff in my body that I became a shell of myself."

But Gibson, who turned 44 in August, has recently seen marked improvements in her health. "This is my first pain-free month," she says. "My strength has really come back. I've put back on about 12-15 lbs. Before, I couldn't ride my bike. I could hardly walk. Now I can. I went to yoga for the first time a month ago. I'm someone who has spent my life dancing and working out, and I wasn't able to do it with this disease."

Gibson began seeing a chiropractic kinesiologist. She's no longer on antibiotics. "I'm on zero medications and two supplements. Isn't that crazy? It's all about getting my own body back online. My food sensitivities have gone away – I was able to eat airplane food yesterday and didn't have a major episode!"

One thing that Gibson requests: that you don't say that she's "battling" the disease. "I prefer to say that I'm 'overcoming' it," she says. "To call it a battle implies that there's a war with a worthy opponent, that some disease is a worthy opponent. I don't want to give this disease that kind of power over me. It's not a war. There's not a winner and a loser. 'Battle' sounds exhausting to me! It's a challenge that I'm overcoming."

Now that she's healthy, Gibson is back in the studio and exploring new career opportunities. (She'll be inducted into the Long Island Hall of Fame alongside Clive Davis and Patti LuPone on Oct. 23.)

"I'm taking things day by day," she says. "I get into trouble when I look too far ahead and worry about the future. I'm now grateful for each day. This whole experience has taught me a ton of life lessons."

And what would she say to anyone else struggling with Lyme disease? "There are definitely solutions other than the traditional ones," she says. "But you have to figure out what works for yourself and your body. But the one thing I've learned is that there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel."

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