Debbie Gibson in March 2013
04/18/2014 at 12:00 PM EDT
When Debbie Gibson flew to Chile for two sold-out shows, she had a great idea: she would share concert photos and videos on her blog, thinking it was the best way to interact with her fans.
But the reaction wasn't exactly what she had hoped. The usually slender Gibson had lost even more weight, causing fans to taunt her skeletal appearance online. "Some were just plain mean and ignorant," she says.
The response inspired Gibson, 43, to come clean about a health challenge she has been facing.
"Last year, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease," she writes on her blog.
"It is an elusive disease that disguises itself as many other things, and creates a lot of pain and discomfort."
"The first symptoms came in the form of food sensitivities," she continues. "I found I could not touch sugar, starch, caffeine, certain oils, etc. without having a severe reaction that felt like electricity running through my body."
Next came the nerve pain and muscle fatigue. She wondered if she had mono. According to Gibson, her doctors tested her for "everything under the sun" – except for Lyme disease.
She continued to worsen. "I kept eating a ton of protein and fat to try to keep weight on … egg yolks, red meat, you name it. But the weight kept falling off and I had a gaunt and sinewy look."
She felt numbness and tingling in her hands and feet, which she says was "very disconcerting for a pianist and dancer, to say the least." The tingling was followed by night sweats, fever, nerve tremors, nightmares and migraines.
Her loved ones were concerned about her weight loss. "At times, my boyfriend would insist I eat some pasta and butter, even though I did not feel great doing it," she says. " 'You need to gain weight,' he would say. My spine was frail and unprotected."
Alarmed by her gaunt appearance, Gibson says she sought Botox to smooth out the deep lines in her forehead. "Both the trauma of the needles and the toxin itself wreaked havoc on my physical and mental state. I will never put this or any other toxin into my body for vanity reasons again."
"Five days after the treatment, I was texting my boyfriend and he noticed I was mixing up my words. I had trouble with directions and driving. I was terrified."
Gibson says she finally found a "Lyme-literate doctor" who started treating her for the disease. "I remember sitting in his office, despondent," she says. " 'I am in here somewhere,' I said through tears. By this point, my cognitive thinking had been affected … my sense of direction, sleep, moods, stamina, muscles and joints. And I had this sunken-in look and dark circles under my eyes."
The doctor put Gibson on an intense round of antibiotics and other medications. As her body has responded to the treatment, Gibson says she's getting back to normal.
"I actually feel like me again," she says. "We all face challenges and I am learning much from the ones I am facing. No disease in the body can keep the spirit from soaring, the love from pouring, and nothing can stop the music!"