While more and more celebrities have been opening up about the challenges of mental illness, it is rare to see one talk about having a chronic disease. Let’s chat a bit about Lady Gaga’s fibromyalgia diagnosis.
The singer blames her illness on physical and mental components. She believes it was brought on by a sexual assault that occurred when she was nineteen, and that then became worse over time, exacerbated by the rigours of touring and the pressure she’s under.
In late 2016, Gaga revealed in an interview for Today that she suffers from PTSD because of the assault:
“For me, with my mental health issues, half of the battle in the beginning was, I felt like I was lying to the world because I was feeling so much pain, but nobody knew. So that’s why I came out and said that I have PTSD because I don’t want to hide—any more than I already have to. I feel stunned. Or stunted. You know that feeling when you’re on a roller coaster, and you’re just about to go down the really steep slope? That fear and the drop in your stomach? My diaphragm seizes up. Then I have a hard time breathing, and my whole body goes into a spasm. And I begin to cry. That’s what it feels like for trauma victims every day, and it’s. . . Miserable. I always say that trauma has a brain. And it works its way into everything that you do.”
While there is no single known cause of fibromyalgia, researchers believe fibromyalgia is likely to be the result of an injury, emotional distress, or viruses that permanently change the way the brain perceives pain.
Life with Fibro
Much of Gaga’s battle with fibromyalgia is documented in the Netflix special Gaga: Five Foot Two. The documentary follows the singer as she is recording her Joanne album, while preparing for the halftime show at the 2016 Super Bowl.
Throughout the film, Gaga is seen suffering with what she calls “full-body spasms.” She is often seen covered with ice packs while massage therapists try to relieve some of the spasms.
The treatments that Lady Gaga also uses to manage her fibro flares include the following:
• Warm heat
• Electric heated blankets
• Epsom baths
• Infrared sauna
In the October 2018 issue of Vogue, Lady Gaga explains why she wanted the cameras to document her illness:
“I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real. For me, and I think for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result. People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel.”
Some of her other symptoms, in addition to chronic pain include the following:
• Sleep problems
Other patients with fibromyalgia may also experience additional symptoms, such as:
• Widespread pain
• Cognitive difficulties, such as memory loss or problems concentrating
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, or severe jaw pain
Fortunately, Lady Gaga is in an up phase these days: “It’s getting better every day,” she says, “because now I have fantastic doctors who take care of me and are getting me show-ready.”
Lessons for other Fibromyalgia Patients
If all people know about fibro is only Lady Gaga-related, they may develop misconceptions about the illness, and this could perpetuate the lack of understanding rather than reverse it. Chronic diseases are often undermined, but with public figures like Gaga speaking out, perhaps these conditions will begin to receive the recognition they deserve.
Also, while it’s great to see a public figure raising awareness on a generally misunderstood health issue, it can also be frustrating for those suffering from it to see a celebrity get special treatment simply because of their wealth or fame. Stars have far more access to money and resources than most of us do, something that Gaga is clearly aware of. In Gaga: Five Foot Two, she is seen wondering:
“I just think about other people who have maybe something like this, that are struggling to figure out what it is, and they don’t have the money to have somebody to help them. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have everyone here to help me. What the hell would I do?”
Finally, don’t forget that everyone is different. Just because someone can perform at the Oscars looking happy and healthy, doesn’t mean they are indeed well behind the scenes. Also, it doesn’t mean that anyone can nail any activity and forget about the pain just by trying hard enough. Everyone’s condition is different, and no one should feel guilt or shame because of it.