What Does Lady Gaga’s Recent Announcement Mean to People Living With Invisible Illnesses?
If you follow Lady Gaga or entertainment news, you saw that she recently announced her Fibromyalgia diagnosis. This was a pretty huge admission to many of us who struggle with invisible illnesses. While some people critique her, saying she isn’t the right representative – in that she is still able to dance and perform – I’m happy to see a high profile person admit their struggle with a chronic illness.
Lady Gaga demonstrates that invisible illnesses affect everyone differently. Each body is different and everyone experiences different levels of pain and/or handles their pain differently.
I used to think I couldn’t talk about my chronic illness because I’m not “sick enough.” My best friend straightened me out. I haven’t had one day in eight years that some part of my body hasn’t caused a problem. I spend thousands of dollars a year on medical treatments, doctors visits and medication. I am “sick enough” even though I don’t look like I am since I work and am fairly active with my kids.
I didn’t start out with Fibromyalgia. I developed Ankylosing Spondylitis, an autoimmune disease, after having my first child. After living with chronic pain for five years, my body took it to the next level and I now also have Secondary Fibromyalgia. This is pretty typical for people who have chronic pain. At a certain point, your body can’t process the constant pain so your nerves get out of whack (my non medical explanation).
While I definitely don’t wish a chronic illness on anyone, having a high profile person like Lady Gaga who has a disease that is sometimes dismissed as existing only in your head, is a huge step. I also personally am grateful that a person who “looks” perfectly healthy is open about having a chronic illness.
Many times, people don’t believe someone is sick or in pain if they look “healthy” or if they are physically able to function in society. The thing is, just because a person appears healthy and holds down a job or parents children, it doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling every day. People who have invisible illnesses regularly push their body way past its ability.
Seeing a public figure like Lady Gaga chronicle her illness in a public forum shows others that people who live with invisible illness may appear well on the outside but they are fighting an internal battle that you can’t even imagine. Maybe then, people won’t think that someone is “faking” pain or being lazy when they finally do succumb to the pain they are in and take a well-needed break.
Most people I interact with on a daily basis have no idea that I live with pain every day of my life. They don’t realize that the reason I’ve lost 10 pounds recently isn’t because I’ve been on an amazing diet, but because I’ve been really sick the last few months and have battled daily nausea that makes food incredibly unappealing. I joke with my inner circle that my outside looks the best when my inside is at its worst.
I hope that Lady Gaga quickly learns what took me seven years to learn – living with a chronic illness means you need to listen to your body more than the average person. If you are tired, rest. If not, you’ll probably get sick or push yourself into a flare. Pay attention to how you fuel your body. If you don’t, it will make you pay the price sooner rather than later. Living with a body that works differently than a healthy body means you need to really pay attention and take really good care of it. You can’t take your health for granted and you will learn to really appreciate the good days.
Before my body decided to attack itself, I was a healthy, active person who worked really long hours and thrived in stressful environments. I worked in public relations agencies and regularly worked 50-70 hours per week and traveled at least once a month on business. Suddenly, I didn’t just have to adjust to having a child, I had to adjust to living with debilitating pain and an exhaustion that is indescribable. The best way I can explain it is to say that even after sleeping 9-10 hours at night, I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept in days.
For a long time, I tried to use mind over matter, convinced that my disease wasn’t going to change me. It didn’t work. My body rebelled and I got sicker. I now know that I need to care for myself first and foremost. I’ve learned to say no to things that aren’t priorities and I’ve learned what is important and worth expending my energy on. Given Lady Gaga’s passion for creating and performing, I imagine she will struggle with the desire to not let her illness hold her back and the demands of her body.
My hope for Lady Gaga is that she has a strong support system and a team of doctors who are open to varied treatments. I’m thankful that I have a team of fantastic doctors whom I truly trust. When you have a chronic illness, you spend a lot of time with your doctors so it is helpful when the relationship is positive. Hopefully, she’ll find practitioners who don’t just focus on Western medicine, but bring best practices from Eastern medicine and holistic medicine to the table.
So while I don’t wish chronic illness on anyone, I welcome Lady Gaga to the club. People who live with chronic illness are stronger than they think, develop empathy for others and learn to take better care for ourselves over time. It isn’t the worst club to be a part of, although most of us would happily hand over our membership if given the opportunity!