Debbie Gibson 'Learned to Expect the Unexpected' with Her Health After Lyme Disease Diagnosis
"I've taken that word out of my vocabulary," the '80s teen queen tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands Friday. "For me, it's about being zen and open, listening for answers and yes, being a warrior, but a peaceful warrior and moving through things. When you've lived enough life, you start to move through things with more ease."
Gibson, now 50, first started experiencing undiagnosed Lyme symptoms — including food sensitivities, fatigue, night sweats, migraines and back pain — in 2013. At first she turned to Xanax — prescribed to her in her 20s after years of struggling with anxiety and depression — to help her cope.
"When I was in the throes of Lyme and didn't really know it, I'd take a Xanax to help me sleep," she says. "It started wigging my body out and was triggering something to do with the Lyme, and my body couldn't handle it."
After seeking answers for nine months, she finally received an official Lyme diagnosis.
"By that point, it got into my neurological system, and I still deal with the repercussions from that," says Gibson. "I'll have weird nights where I feel like I drank three pots of espresso. I've come to a place where I've learned to expect the unexpected with my health, but I know I can get through it. And every time I get through it, I'm reminded of how strong we all are."
With her beloved dachshunds Joey, Trouper and Levi around to help keep her calm and healthy, Gibson now manages her Lyme with homeopathic remedies and applied kinesiology, which she turned to after one doctor told her she'd need surgery on her back if she ever wanted to walk her dogs again.
"I was in debilitating pain, so I could have been like, 'Great, that's the answer,'" she says. "But I said, 'That is not my life. I refuse to believe that that is happening.' I am the girl who is relentless in looking for answers and the least invasive, most effective forms of treatment."
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Through the years she's also learned how to avoid her triggers.
"I was never the type of person to put in the rider: request the M&Ms with the green ones taken out or whatever," she says with a laugh. "But I will request that you not clean my dressing room with chemicals or scented plug-ins. I've learned the things that take me down and things I need."
"It's a gift when an artist, or when anyone, knows themselves really well and then you can just be specific in what you need to do your job at an optimal level," she continues. "And that's where I am now: I know what I need, I'm not afraid to say no to things and I'm not the people pleaser I used to be. I'm just fine saying, 'You know what? That's just one thing too many for me.' Because nobody's there to pick up the pieces in the end."
For her anxiety, Gibson has her longtime therapist on speed dial, and she does yoga and acupuncture. Plus, she's been taking the advice she'd give to her younger self: "Don't stress too much and take in the moments."
"Growing up in show business, I felt like it was noble to run myself into the ground," she says. "Now I see life as an adventure."
Gibson took all of the hard-earned wisdom learned over recent years and channeled it into The Body Remembers, her 10th studio album (set for release on Aug. 20). It's her first collection of original music in 20 years and also includes a reimagining of her 1989 hit "Lost in Your Eyes" as a duet with New Kids on the Block's Joey McIntyre, 48.
"When I went to do this album, there was a lot of life to draw from," she says. "Nothing feels better as an artist than taking your pain and turning it into art and inspiration."
"I feel like I have clawed my way out of my holes in situations with my health," she adds. "So to have this album culminate that challenging time as proof that you can make lemonade out of lemons really is the greatest feeling in the world."
In addition to the new album, Gibson will next kick off a series of shows with McIntyre in Las Vegas on Aug. 26.
"I grew up idolizing Donny and Marie Osmond, and I never thought that I might be a part of a Donny-and-Marie duo myself," she says. "It's a very special, unexpected gift in my career."
She also just wrapped an upcoming movie, The Class, with The Breakfast Club's Anthony Michael Hall, has two original Broadway musicals in the works and hopes to head out on a new world tour.
"I feel like this is the album to take me on a journey," she says. "I was the youngest person to do a bunch of things, and maybe now I'll be the oldest person to do a bunch of things. Wouldn't that be cool?"
Most importantly, Gibson is determined to live life to the fullest.
"Electric youth, to me, is a state of mind," she says, referencing her chart-topping 1989 album. "As I get older, I find myself saying to people, 'Stay eternally electric.'"
For all the details on Debbie Gibson's life now, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
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