Michelle Zagardo: Lysande

Michelle Zagardo is the founder of Lysande (pronounced like liss-ONDH), a hair accessories brand that empowers women to own their boldest selves. When she’s not working on Lysande, she volunteers for Project Sleep, as a trained speaker with the Rising Voices of Narcolepsy program, and writes about her experience living with type 1 Narcolepsy and chronic illness with the goal of spreading the message that our bodies deserve to be heard and that we deserve diagnoses.

Lysande was born from Michelle’s love to sew and personal style. Head scarfs, head wraps, or bandanas- Rosie the Riveter style, of course- were apart of her usual look. However, headbands can often look pretty but be extremely uncomfortable. Michelle jokingly told Make Muse that, “it’s not empowering if it hurts!”

A few years ago, Michelle was simultaneously taking a style class and planning her wedding. A crafty gal, she handmade most of the decorations for the event. While making flowers with floral wire, she tried inserting the wire into one of her existing headbands other scarves she already had, making them much more comfortable but still just as stylish. She wore her creation out and people commented, giving her the business idea.

Michelle dreamed of starting an Etsy shop. While she was sick, this goal seemed daunting and extremely unachievable. While she was seeking a diagnosis, she was in therapy a lot trying to figure out why she was not motivated to get out of bed. She knew there was a smart and creative individual inside of her, but those dark times prohibited her from making.

With her diagnosis, support structure, and positive response to the medication, Lysande become possible. Still, she says that there are times that it is tough to power through. Learning her limitations has made her powerful and has given her resurged interest and energy to make things.

We sat down with Michelle to chat about female-run businesses, chronic illness, and more over mid-morning coffee.

Make Muse: Can you talk about your experience with narcolepsy? What signs should people look out for if they think they may suffer from a sleep disorder?

Michelle: I was diagnosed with narcolepsy with cataplexy, a REM disorder, in 2017 after over 20 years of misdiagnoses. There are a wide range of sleep issues; in total, there are something like 84 diagnosed sleep disorders.  With me, all of the warning signs were there but I thought that I was the problem - that I needed to improve my diet, exercise, commit to meditation, etc. Unfortunately this is all too common in the world of sleep disorders.  You might think that it’s you and that you are the problem, but especially if your friends and family have ever commented that you can sleep anywhere, there might be an underlying problem that needs (and deserves) medical attention.  You should be on the lookout if you have decent sleep hygiene (meaning you sleep about 6-8 hours each night), but you still do not feel rested and cannot stay awake during the day. Instead of trying to fix your sleep hygiene, go see a doctor.

Make Muse: What advice do you have for young women dealing with chronic illness, especially those who do not feel that their concerns are being heard?

Michelle: I would say prioritize your mental health and self-care. Know that you’re not high maintenance. Go to the doctor when you feel like you can. Remember, you can take a break from the doctor and from seeking a diagnosis. You’re allowed to be sick.

If you can remember a time when you were much younger, even 7 or 8 years old and felt good, connect with that person and know that’s who you are. FIght for that person, get strength from that person. That person is not lying to you. That gives you so much compassion for yourself.

 Taken during Michelle’s sleep study in February 2017 that led to her Narcolepsy diagnosis.

Taken during Michelle’s sleep study in February 2017 that led to her Narcolepsy diagnosis.

Make Muse: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs trying to balance their business as well as their mental and physical health?

Michelle: Mental health comes first every single time, though I say that coming from a position of privilege. Additionally, a big part of my entrepreneurship is community. Not everyone feels that way, but I need to have friends who will respond when I text with the inspiration to keep going. I need to have those people in my life who can remind me of that.

There are so many tasks as an entrepreneur. On bad days, do your favorite things! If you love getting on the sewing machine, just do that. If you love Instagram, just do that!

Remind yourself you have something to offer on your worst days. Draw on and know your strengths. You need to be real with yourself. Know what your weakness are, but know what you’re actually good at.


Make Muse: What advice do you have for young women who want to start a business?

Michelle: It’s always going to be scary. You need to to know why you’re doing it. You need to have the words you look at every day that remind you why you're pounding the pavement. You need your “why?” or else you will get lonely. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of resources. If you feel that you don’t have these resources, seek out people in your community to for mentorship. Cold call companies or send emails to people you admire on LinkedIn.  The worst thing that can happen is they never respond and you’ve already moved onto the next opportunity! There are so many people who recognize their privilege and are eager to give back.

 Project Sleep has a campaign - Narcolepsy: Not Alone - to raise awareness about this neurological disease, and to create visibility, reminding everyone that we are never alone.

Project Sleep has a campaign - Narcolepsy: Not Alone - to raise awareness about this neurological disease, and to create visibility, reminding everyone that we are never alone.

Make Muse: What is the next step for Lysande?

Michelle: My number one pipe-dream is to create a Lysande fellowship for those with chronic health and mental health issues to provide structural and financial support to fill in the gaps for people who don’t have access to those resources. I also want to use the platform to speak out about these health issues. I love photography, and right now, the Lysande feed is very curated. But it’s important to me to show the lives of women with chronic and mental health issues. I want to figure out the logistics to create a campaign for Lysande to do so utilizing imagery and representation.

Author: Maura Sheedy