I have always wanted everyone around me to feel good all the time, and that's innate. When I was in kindergarten, I remember seeing my teacher crying, and I went over to her to help make her feel better. It doesn't matter what I'm going through—I could be at my worst, but if my friends call me, I'm there.
That mission became the core of the two Instagram accounts I run as a full-time influencer. For almost a decade, I posted brightly colored photos of my busy lifestyle as I moved to New York City and traveled to incredible places all over the world, with the goal of inspiring others to live their best lives. But behind the posts, I was struggling to live mine.
Daily migraines, full-body rashes, and bouts of dizziness made it hard for me to get out of bed for years—and doctors couldn't pinpoint what it was. After all, if you don't feel good yourself, how are you supposed to encourage others? I needed answers.
I first noticed something was off eight years ago, during my freshman year of college.
I've had bad stomach issues my whole life and have played a game with myself since I was very young called, What Am I Allergic to Today? But it wasn't until I moved into my dorm at the University of Florida that I started noticing my symptoms getting worse. I often had extreme fatigue and dizziness, terrible migraines, and I would get the craziest full-body rashes lasting for three weeks at a time.
I remember walking to class freshman year and everything felt completely upside down; I was so dizzy and so lightheaded. It was absolutely terrifying, but I began to normalize it and would place blame on what I thought could be my diet or drinking too much coffee.
I was eating a vegan diet at the time and consuming soy in excess, so at first I chalked my symptoms up to a soy allergy (which I had). My symptoms kept rapidly getting worse, and anxiety set in. I was so desperate to find answers, I got quite creative. I blamed symptoms on the self-tanner I was using, then convinced myself there were bedbugs in my dorm. I got my entire apartment fumigated (goodbye, $500), but there were no bedbugs—and I still had full-body rashes and crazy symptoms.
I saw multiple doctors, both at school in Gainesville and at home in Boca Raton, and nobody could pinpoint what was happening. My doctors said I was young, healthy, and totally fine, and just advised me to add more meat back into my diet. But the rashes and dizziness continued.
Eventually, I learned to live with feeling faint 24/7. By senior year, I was getting rashes daily on my thighs, back, and inner arms that were so uncomfortable. The fatigue and brain fog persisted, and I would also get bad headaches almost every day. My anxiety was at an all-time high. But the craziest part was that I was used to it—it had become my normal.
I eventually became a full-time influencer, and my goal was to help people feel their best. But I was secretly struggling to do that myself.
After college, I quit my 9-to-5 office job at 23 to be my own boss, focused on growing my two Instagram accounts—@lexie1225, where I share my daily life, motivational content, workouts, and travels; and @girlwithagourmetpalate, where I share gourmet recipes, the best restaurants and cafes around the world, and tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle. All I wanted to do with my life was help people feel good and live their best lives, but behind the scenes I was feeling sicker than ever.
I would wake up every morning feeling like a zombie, barely able to fully open my eyes until 3 p.m. Everyone who follows me knows I love a Starbucks coffee, but I was drinking almost five a day because I couldn't function without that extra boost. I would post about my daily workouts, but I got to a point where I would intentionally choose a spot in the back of a class in case I had to stop—I once accidentally punched myself in the face at Rumble Boxing because I was so disoriented. I shared videos from my personal training sessions at Dogpound, but there were many days I would show up and end up asking my trainer, "Can we go get a smoothie? I can't do it today." I felt defeated, confused, and overwhelmed.
I've always tried to be as authentic and real as possible on social media, but I never felt the need to share the negative parts of my day because I didn't think that that would be helpful for anyone. I always tried to focus on sharing the most positive content I could because I believed that’s what would bring people the most joy.
In 2020, I finally started to get to the bottom of this mystery.
While doing all sorts of testing and blood work and trying to figure out what was going on with my body, I had the incredible opportunity to train for the Los Angeles Half Marathon in April 2020 with Nike and 20 other women. When the pandemic hit, the half marathon was canceled, but that didn’t stop me. Even though I was having full body tingles and numbness in my arms and legs, I ended up running the race by myself in Boca Raton. It was also the confirmation I needed that I was actually sick. After mile four, I could not feel the left side of my body at all—it was a total out-of-body experience.
By April 2020, I truly couldn't function. I could barely eat, had the scariest vertigo, and couldn't stand straight. I felt like I was living on a boat. My mom, who I was lucky to be quarantined with, literally had to walk me to the bathroom. I would wake up at 3 a.m. having full panic attacks, barely able to breathe.
I genuinely thought I was dying, but being that we were in the early stages of the pandemic, I was also terrified at even the thought of going to the emergency room. But two of my doctors, who I was speaking to remotely, encouraged me to go. When I finally did, I spent five hours there—the hospital referred me to an outpatient doctor and sent me home with antibiotics because my case was not considered an emergency.
I had been doing some research online during quarantine and connected with another influencer I had become good friends with, Jordan Younger, who shared her experience with Lyme disease, an infection you get from the bite of an infected tick. I had zero memory of ever having a tick on me, but her symptoms sounded so similar to mine. I did a Lyme symptom checklist on LymeDisease.org and my score was a 184—the site said a 140 was considered high.
I asked the hospital to test me for Lyme disease, and my suspicions were confirmed.
I tested positive-high for Lyme, and the doctors were able to confirm that I had been bitten by a tick from the United States. I had this moment of, Holy $#!&, all of these things I've been feeling and experiencing finally have an answer.
I spent the next month getting pretty much every test possible to make sure all of my organs were working properly and there wasn’t anything else going on. I got blood taken, a number of MRIs and brain and body scans, a series of hearing tests, eye tests, stool tests, urinary tests, and more.
Even though I finally have a diagnosis, I'm still healing, processing, and finding compassion for myself. After starting treatment remotely, once I felt good enough, I moved to Los Angeles for a fresh start. I'm so grateful and very fortunate to have access to some amazing medical and holistic doctors out here that are helping with my treatment, which includes everything from shots and intravenous antibiotics to herbal remedies and supplements.
For me, right now, I am taking it day by day. With Lyme, just like as in life, you have to go with the flow and adapt to the ups and downs. There are days when I wake up and my head feels a little clearer, and other days, I wake up with the worst migraine in the world and can't lift my head off the pillow. What is truly crazy is that the way I'm feeling right now isn't the way I have to feel forever—for the longest time, I just thought that was life.
As I continue to treat my Lyme disease, I finally feel okay not being okay.
I want to turn this adversity into my power. I was always afraid to overshare on social media, so I kept a lot to myself, but I think Lyme is a gift that I was given to both spread awareness to others and to truly learn my own strength. If you catch it early, it's a lot easier to treat, and you don't have to spend eight years of your life wondering WTF is wrong with you, like I did. I want to encourage anyone who may be experiencing symptoms similar to mine to please go get tested.
I ran around nonstop for so long. I was always traveling, running to meetings and events, and trying to fit everything I possibly could into a day. I almost feel as if I was running away from finding out what was truly wrong with me. Nowadays, I often don't have the energy, strength, or mental health to write the book I’m working on or fully inspire people the way I want to. But accepting that you're sick doesn't make you a slacker—it is just an obstacle that is here to make you stronger. If you are out there living with a chronic illness, take a moment and give yourself a big hug. You are a badass. You are loved. You are strong. You will get through this. And I will too.
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