It’s been more than 20 years since Allyshia Gupta was diagnosed with Lyme disease — a secret she was willing to keep.
“It was something that I wanted to withhold,” the 26-year-old admitted to the outlet. “I didn’t want my employer to think, ‘Oh, I’m not going to hire her because she might potentially be disabled or unable to do this. I was advised by people to not share this because ‘you don’t want it to give you a bad rep.’”
“It’s so complicated and not really something that people know, like the way they do with cancer or diabetes,” Gupta shared.
According to the outlet, the diagnosis came after her mother noticed a rash on the toddler’s forehead. At the time, Gupta received treatments, including antibiotics and a spinal tap. However, the illness became so aggressive that she suffered paralysis in her face. At one point, Gupta was put in a medically induced coma for a day to curb inflammation.
The outlet reported the disease returned when she was 8 years old as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. Over the years, Gupta dealt with aches and fatigue.
“That was my normal, that’s all I ever saw,” she explained. “The biggest thing that I hated to hear is, ‘You don’t look sick,’ because people with Lyme don’t necessarily show it on the outside. But they don’t see the downside. They don’t see the mornings when you’re so achy that it’s physically disabling to step out of bed.”
When Gupta’s brother passed away in an accident, she soon realized that “the same kinds of patterns of stress or big events” triggered peaks of symptoms. She was 16 at the time.
Despite reaching out to doctors, Gupta said she was told her symptoms were caused by depression and instead, she should take anti-depressants. Still, Gupta persisted.
“I said, ‘OK, we can chalk up being depressed to a loss,’” said Gupta. “‘But what about the aching? What about the fatigue? What about the brain fog? What about the cramps, the shakes?’ There were so many things that just weren’t explained by a simple diagnosis of being depressed and taking antidepressants.”
Gupta said she now takes a hands-on approach to manage her symptoms.
“I try to eat clean,” she told the outlet. “I really monitor what I’m doing with my body and avoid any triggers. In college, I didn’t have the experience that most people do because I can’t stay up late or have late nights. If I do, I run the risk of waking up the next day and kind of feeling like a truck has hit me.”
“It has taken years to accept that, and also be cognizant and aware of when those peaks and valleys occur for me,” she continued. “And there are still times where I can be in bed for days straight after doing everything right.”
Gupta is now sharing her story in hopes it will raise more awareness of Lyme disease. She is currently gearing up to participate in the 2020 Miss USA pageant on Nov. 9. The show airs live from Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. Gupta has also partnered with the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, which focuses on prevention, as well as the development of better diagnostics and treatment.
“Life deals you a hand of cards, and you don’t get to choose what cards are dealt to you, but you do get to choose how you play them,” Gupta told People. “You can learn from it and grow from it, and that’s what I choose to do. I’m a huge believer and advocate of turning pain into power.”
“With Miss USA, you have to do it for more than just a crown and a sash,” she shared. “For me, my reason is to help educate the public about Lyme disease. And if sharing my story will help just one person, then I feel like I’ve done regardless of the outcome on November 9th.”
All photos are courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization.