Shania Twain Details 20-Year Battle With Lyme Disease That Led to Blackouts on Stage
In her new documentary for Netflix, Not Just a Girl, Shania Twain opens up about two of the most difficult moments in her life—contracting Lyme disease and the dissolution of her marriage to her longtime producer and songwriting partner, Robert “Mutt” Lange.
After releasing multiple chart-topping hits and the album Come on Over, which would go on to become the best-selling album of all time by a female solo artist, Twain was getting ready to go on tour in 2003 when she went for a horseback ride that changed the entire trajectory of her career. “The tick was infected with Lyme disease, and I did get Lyme disease,” she said. “My symptoms were quite scary because before I was diagnosed, I was on stage very dizzy. I was losing my balance, I was afraid I was gonna fall off the stage… I was having these very, very, very millisecond blackouts, but regularly, every minute or every 30 seconds.” The illness also took a toll on her singing voice resulting in her inability to control her vocals. The country star explained, “My voice was never the same again. I thought I’d lost my voice forever. I thought that was it, [and] I would never, ever sing again.”
And it wasn’t just the potential end of her career that Twain was facing in that moment, but also the end of her marriage to Lange. She and the rock producer had a professional relationship before marrying in 1993. They also had one son together named Aja. But she said, “In that search to determine what was causing this lack of control with my voice and this change in my voice, I was facing a divorce. My husband leaves me for another woman. Now I’m at a whole other low. And I just don’t see any point in going on with a music career.”
The singer discovered that Lange was having an affair with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud, and they divorced in 2008. She described that experience as being similar to how she felt when she lost both of her parents in a car crash in 1987 at just 22 years old. “When I lost Mutt, I guess I thought…I was thinking that the grief of that was… It was similarly intense to losing my parents. And you know, it was like a death,” Twain said. “It was like the death was the end, a permanent end to so many facets of my life. And I never got over my parents’ death. So I’m thinking, ‘Shit, I’m never going to get over this.’ Like…how do you get over that? So all I can do is determine how I’m going to carry on from there. How am I going to crawl out of this hole that I’ve fallen in? Just like that, you know?”
It all worked out for the best, however, as Twain went on to marry her former friend’s husband Frédéric Thiébaud in 2011. But even though her personal life was back on track, the singer confessed she was still unsure about returning to the studio without Lange by her side. “It took a long time to be ready to write and record again,” she explained. “It was really more about taking independence, [and] just being able to listen to myself back on my writing tapes was difficult…It was an exercise of saying, ‘Okay, look, you can’t just not ever make music again because you don’t have Mutt. You gotta just dive in.’ And I was petrified, I really was.” She added, “So now I said, ‘Okay listen, I’m going to not only get back into the studio without him, I’m going to write all the music alone, and just discover myself again as individual creative, like I’d been all of my youth.’” And in 2017, Twain released the album Now, which she’s called her “favorite recorded work” she’s ever done.