By Paige Wyant
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s Associate Chronic Illness Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
This morning I uncharacteristically leaped out of bed after only my first alarm – not because it’s Friday (well, maybe that too), but because it’s September 22nd: premiere day of Lady Gaga’s new Netflix documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two.” After several weeks of seeing Gaga open up about her battle with chronic pain on social media, I couldn’t wait to get a peek behind the curtain to see what her life is like when she’s not in the spotlight.
After watching it first thing this morning (and falling even more in love with Gaga), I am so appreciative of her vulnerability and honestly a bit surprised by how much I can relate to her struggles, as someone facing an unpredictable future with chronic illness. The documentary reveals the frustrating side of chronic illness that’s never shown: The fact that chronic illness can leave you feeling stranded, with no roadmap for treatment, no answers, and no one who can tell you when you’ll be “better.”
In one scene of the documentary we see her lying on her couch crying because of the pain. She has her team around her to keep her company, bring her washcloths and massage her aching muscles, but that does not seem to change the level of her pain.
As a woman massages her face, Gaga looks to the side and says, “I just think about other people that, like, have maybe something like this, that are struggling to figure out what it is, and they don’t have the quick money to have somebody help them. Like I don’t know what I’d fucking do if I didn’t have everybody here to help me. What the hell would I do?”
Gaga may be immensely privileged, but she acknowledges it, and brings up an important issue so many with health conditions face: What do you do if you can’t afford healthcare, or specialized treatments, or caregivers? What if you don’t have a team of people around you to care for you when you’re sick?
Fibromyalgia is an incurable disease with no one-size-fits-all treatment. This means those with fibro and chronic pain often must go through a process of trial and error to find therapies and techniques that help them manage or cope with the symptoms. With chronic illness, the future is uncertain and day-to-day life often unpredictable.
Healthcare for chronic conditions can be enormously expensive, and aren’t always covered by insurance, leaving many unable to get the medications or treatment they need to improve their quality of life – or, to simply live.
But though Gaga has far more money and resources than most of us and is surrounded by a team of people who help can help her with anything and everything, even she faces the physical and emotional challenges of a disease that is unrelenting. As Gaga cries on the couch, the pain coursing through the right side of her body, it is evident that even having plentiful money and resources at your disposal isn’t always enough. Without a cure or surefire treatments, everyone with chronic pain will continue to struggle – wealthy or not.
Later in the documentary we see Gaga at the doctor, once again in immense pain. She describes the tightness and inflammation that encircles her abdomen, and how she is still experiencing pain in her hip after breaking it three years earlier.
Gaga explains to her doctor how she is in pain constantly, but still wills her body to perform, because that’s her job. She says, “When I feel the adrenaline of my music and my fans, I can fucking go. But it doesn’t mean I’m not in pain.”
The doctor seems to understand and believe in Gaga (though as many chronic pain warriors know, this certainly is not the case with every doctor). However, the doctor’s strategy is to treat the immediate pain and symptoms Gaga is experiencing. There is no long-term cure or solution shown, and it is not even guaranteed that the procedures will make a difference (after all, in the months following the documentary being filmed, Gaga has canceled and postponed concerts due to her pain). They are simply trying to manage and reduce her pain.
Again, this highlights the frightening uncertainty so many chronic warriors face. Gaga has access to doctors and resources many don’t have, but even that does not necessarily mean her health challenges will be cured.
By bringing her chronic pain into the spotlight and showing the world aspects of illness that too often remain invisible, Gaga has the opportunity to change people’s perceptions and make a difference in the lives of those with chronic pain and illness. My hope is that she will continue to use her fame and influence to fight for awareness and raise money for research so new and more effective treatment options can be discovered.
The future shouldn’t be so unknown for the millions of people out there with a chronic pain condition. But hopefully the help of celebrities like Lady Gaga can begin to make a difference.