Singer/Songwriter Sonali Talks About Battling Lyme Disease & Rediscovering Her Love For Music

By Sonali

I’ve wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. Every single move I made from the time I was a little girl, including signing myself up for hip-hop classes at age 8 in a child’s attempt at “artist development” (spoiler alert: I still suck) was to build towards my artistry. That’s why I was so excited when I graduated NYU a year early, ready to hit the road and devote all my time to the love I built my life around.

But it’s funny, I think life has a way of throwing extra curve balls at those Type A people who think they have everything planned out. And I think that it all works out for the best in the end…or at least that’s what I tell myself anyway. So very fatefully, just about a month after college graduation, I started to feel sick. I didn’t think much of it as first, but as the months progressed so did my sickness, and so did the amount of doctor visits.

A plethora of different tests were run, and they would always come back fine. It got to the point where there were days I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed, and still doctors would justify my symptoms with a dismissive “fatigue is so normal at this age” (I don’t have a medical degree, but I’d venture to guess people in their early 20s should be able to move?). I didn’t know I had an illness with a name, and I often found myself wondering, “is this just who I am now?”

I was confused as to how the ambitious, driven, and cheerful person I had always been had somehow become so pessimistic and unable to focus. I thought maybe I’d just become lazy, maybe I just didn’t have what it takes. I went from being the girl who had it all together, to the girl sitting on her couch watching everyone else move on. And I thought it was all my fault.

The next year and a half of my life was a series of ups and downs. There were periods where I felt almost normal, and so I’d dive back into music at 200%, thinking I was ready to go. And just as something promising seemed like it was on the horizon, my health would decline again. There were a lot of moments that felt like maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. There were a lot of false starts.

Finally, in early 2017, I went to a doctor who thought to run a different test on me. I remember how solemn she sounded when she told me I had tested positive for Chronic Lyme Disease. I honestly didn’t know a thing about it, aside from being fixated on a quote from a 2015 article on Avril Lavigne’s Lyme disease, in which she said “I thought I was dying”. Even so, for some reason all I wanted to do was smile.

I think a part of me was just so relieved to find out that everything I was going through had a name, and with it a treatment plan. Either that or laughter is just a great defense mechanism- take your pick. But now that I knew what I was facing and how to do it, I knew I could take it on. And this is probably an opportune time to shout out to my parents, who are the most loving and wonderful and supportive people on the planet. They were behind me 100%.

But as can be expected, even after the diagnosis, it was a hard battle. Since my immune system had practically crashed, all kinds of random and serious medical issues kept coming my way. By this time I had been fighting the disease for almost two years, and it had taken a significant toll on my nervous and endocrine systems, causing my hormone levels to be all out of whack.

Credit: Brett Tinsley

This was probably worse than all of the physical symptoms I experienced combined, because I no longer felt like myself. I was incredibly emotional, easily flustered, and just generally felt low and empty, all the time. The smallest thing could set me off, and I internalized everything. My mind had become a very dark place. On top of all that, I felt like I didn’t even deserve to be upset. As bad as it was, I saw how it could be so much worse. I was so embarrassed that this was what I had become, that I was so emotionally “weak”.

I decided that I would never let this part of my illness show, and boy did I succeed. I seemed so collected and content on the outside, which led to a lot of comments like “but you don’t even look sick”. That made me feel like I had to prove it, like what I was feeling wasn’t validated. Some of the people closest to me didn’t even take it seriously, and that hurt the most. Not all illnesses are visible.

It was during this time that I completely lost my love for music. I didn’t know whether it was just the disease talking or if it was something I was genuinely feeling, but I know that I put my guitar down one day and didn’t pick it back up for months. I didn’t miss it at all.

After going through an antibiotic treatment that didn’t work, I decided to leave New York and move back home to Florida. My doctor suggested I go back to my roots and try Ayurveda (an ancient form of traditional Indian medicine). I started a very strange regimen of breathing exercises, yoga, herbs, supplements, and probably the strictest diet known to mankind (I’m serious). If you don’t know much about Ayurveda, not going to lie, it definitely sounds a bit kooky. But then this crazy thing happened…it actually worked.

I started to feel better; my passion for work and just life in general was coming back. Out of the blue, a producer contacted me with a demo and asked if I’d like to collaborate. I still wasn’t sure that music was for me at this point, but I figured I’d be stupid to pass up a good opportunity. I very reluctantly sat down and tried to write something, and the next thing I knew I was locked in my room with my guitar for hours. Just like that, like a switch that had been turned off and then back on again, it all came to me. Sometimes it really is just that easy. I returned to music with more of a drive and passion than I ever had before. It was the best gift, in a really weird package.

My battle with Lyme is almost over, and I can honestly say there’s a world of a difference compared to how I felt even just six months ago. I have a solid treatment plan that I know is working, and that gives me so much hope. I was finally able to release my first song in three years, and that still blows my mind. To me, it signifies that Lyme disease is becoming something of my past, and no longer my future.

I’m so thankful to have the platform that music has given me, because I’m hopeful my story can help so many more. I’ve decided to keep an ongoing vlog that chronicles my story with Lyme and eastern medicine in more detail, and that’ll be up on my website soon.

Remember that you know your body better than anybody else, and no matter what you’re going through, you’re never alone. Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story, and if there’s anyone out there who wants to talk but doesn’t know where to begin, you know where to find me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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