Lavigne wrote in an emotional letter to her fans that she wrote "Head Above Water" after deciding to quit fighting for her life. (Image via People Magazine)

During her Asian and South American world tour in 2014, pop punk singer Avril Lavigne developed persistent symptoms of severe exhaustion, a fever and later, shortness of breath. Doctors were wary to test her for what she and others thought was Lyme disease, an inflammatory disease transmitted by ticks, so it wasn’t until December of that year that she was actually diagnosed with it.

Following her recovery, she expressed her worry for the lack of concern and diagnosis for those with the illness. In a open letter she published on her blog, she wrote, “ … people aren’t aware that Lyme must be treated almost immediately.” Luckily, Lavigne was treated with medications and herbs shortly after her diagnosis. Because she experienced a slow and painful process of being properly diagnosed, she decided to use the Avril Lavigne Foundation, which was previously founded in 2010 to help people with “serious illnesses and disabilities,” to raise awareness, get people diagnosed quicker and help patients receive the treatment needed to fight Lyme disease.

The foundation’s page gives prevention tips, research information and more for anyone who wants to learn more about the disease. The Facebook page currently has over half a million followers, so obviously Lavigne has created something worthwhile, and she plans to continue helping people like herself in the future.

Since Lyme severely affected the singer, she had not been able to write, sing or play instruments for quite some time, which meant no new music for her fans. The last song she released was “Fly” in 2015, which, along with David Hodges, she co-wrote with ex-husband Chad Kroeger to support the Special Olympics World Summer Games. The song was inspired by those Lavigne had met through her foundation, and in a “Good Morning America” interview that year, she said, “This song took on a whole new meaning for me while I was sick, which was pretty magical.”

Lavigne hinted in the beginning of 2018 on social media that new music would be coming soon, and her first album in five years would be released by the end of the year. Of course, not many specifics were given, so fans, including myself, went crazy while they waited for more details. She told E! News, “I’ve been writing songs that are really just powerful and true and honest and sincere and I think people will really be able to relate to it.” Who doesn’t love those songs?

During this recent publicity and focus on Lyme disease, other celebrities, like Shania Twain, who was also diagnosed with the illness, spoke out in support of Lavigne. She told Canadian Press, “I’m inspired that she’s going out there and carrying on and not letting it get in her way.”

In August, Lavigne posted a photo to Instagram with the caption, “I can’t wait for September,” which was the best news that “Sk8er Boi” fans received all year. Although it didn’t specify what was coming in September, Lavigne previously mentioned an in-progress music video, so it told fans that good things were on the way.

At the beginning of this month, she released the details everyone was waiting for by posting photos from her album cover and music video on social media. A letter was posted to her website, sharing the news about releasing her first single in three years on Sept. 19, called “Head Above Water,” which was the first song she wrote when battling Lyme disease.

She wrote in her letter how the song came to be. “I had accepted death and could feel my body shutting down,” she wrote. “I felt like I was drowning. Like I was going under water and I just needed to come up for air. Like I was in a river being pulled in a current. Unable to breathe. Praying to God for Him to help me just keep my head above the water. To help me see through the stormy weather. I grew closer to Him. My mother held me. In her arms, I wrote the first song that I am releasing to tell my story.”

The lyric video was released for “Head Above Water” on Sept. 19 as expected and man, will it bring tears to your eyes. Hearing Lavigne’s story before listening to the song will have fans thinking about her struggle as she lied there, writing this song, speaking from her heart with the fear of dying. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to think that you’re not going to win the battle.

Lavigne brought her emotions to life through the lyrics, comparing her fight with Lyme disease to feeling like drowning. As she mentioned in her note to fans, God was a big part of her life during this time, and she makes this clear in her song with the lyrics, “God, keep my head above water. Don’t let me drown. It gets harder. I’ll meet you there at the altar as I fall down to my knees.” A line after the bridge hit me the hardest: “I’m too young to fall asleep,” she sings. So many people fight for their lives every day, whether it’s because of Lyme disease or a terminal illness, and many of them are too young to be taken from this world.

The lyrics and opening of the song trick you into believing that it will be slow throughout, but as the song continues, you can easily sing along. It’s not every day that a musician’s new music is similar to the old, in a good way, but Lavigne has accomplished that in this single, which will have fans pleased with the new music.

The powerful ballad is undoubtedly relatable from different perspectives, as Lavigne thought it would be. It’s not only intense in the emotional sense either; it’s inspiring in the way that a lot of the lyrics express Lavigne’s hope to recover from the illness. She might have accepted her fate, but she knew she needed to keep fighting as best she could, and fans can see that in this song. She has fought immensely and look where she is now: releasing a new single and soon a new album.

Many fans expected the singer to share the whole record in September, but “Head Above Water” is certainly enough to keep them at bay for now. Hopefully the rest of the songs will be out soon, and everyone can get an even deeper look into Lavigne’s struggle. I know this album will be one of the best she has ever written and recorded, and fans will continue to love her music like they have throughout the years.

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Michelle Dreyer

Southern New Hampshire University

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