In the past few months we have seen Lady Gaga open up more than ever about her journey with chronic pain, with her Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two” offering us a look behind the curtain at how difficult it can be to find treatments that work and face the uncertainty and unpredictability of life with chronic illness.
But after confirming her fibromyalgia diagnosis in September and cancelling several performances and tour dates due to chronic pain, Lady Gaga is back in action.
As a long-time fan of Gaga, it has been so exciting to see her almost-daily updates on Instagram and Twitter. Not only is she back on the road for her Joanne World Tour, but in the past few weeks, she has also managed to join all five former living presidents for a hurricane relief concert, partner with former Vice President Joe Biden to advocate for sexual assault survivors, become a brand ambassador for Tudor, oh – and get engaged to CAA talent agent Christian Carino. All of which she does wearing high fashion and a smile on her face.
There’s no doubt Lady Gaga is a captivating performer. Even just looking at photos of her, I am in such awe of her style, beauty and poise.
And yet, simply watching her jet around the country to attend various events with important people and put on high-energy, kickass performances makes me tired.
As someone with an autoimmune disease, my energy tanks are constantly low, even after a restful weekend or long vacation. I don’t think I could make it through a single day in Gaga’s shoes. Her schedule seems like it would be hectic, exhausting and stressful for someone in peak health, let alone someone with a chronic illness.
While I love following Gaga on social media to see what she’ll pull out of her sleeve next, it can also be difficult to watch someone with a similarly taxing health condition accomplish so much more than I believe I ever could.
Lady Gaga puts on incredible performances every other night, and I barely have enough energy after work to heat up leftovers for dinner.
Lady Gaga travels all over the country to meet and work with some of the most important people alive right now, and I’m in too much pain to walk my dog around the block.
So the thoughts go. It’s all too easy to look at snapshots of a celebrity’s life and think, wow, I must be really lazy or unmotivated because I could never achieve that.
This comparison game is dangerous, but it becomes especially tricky with celebrities like Lady Gaga or Selena Gomez who have been open about their chronic illness battles. I generally don’t lose sleep comparing myself to celebrities; I know they lead very different lives with access to far more money and resources than I have. But then, when they are open and vulnerable about health difficulties, it creates common ground between us. Watching Gaga’s documentary, I felt like I was connecting with another human being over similar struggles.
It’s those moments of relatability and understanding that make it hard to see Gaga go back to being a performer and superstar. In my experience, a bad flare-up usually isn’t followed by such a demanding and intensive schedule.
But, while those of us with chronic illness know the end of a flare-up doesn’t equate to being “healthy” or “back to normal,” for those who aren’t familiar with fibromyalgia or chronic pain, Gaga’s dynamic return may give the impression that her health issues have been totally resolved and that it’s possible for anyone to simply “bounce back” after devoting some time to their health.
Whether you’re a chronic warrior struggling with Lady Gaga’s return or a fan being introduced to the “chronic life” for the first time through Gaga, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Gaga is likely not “cured.” If Lady Gaga is feeling better and has found treatments that work for her, that is fantastic and I am thrilled for her. I sincerely wish she wouldn’t have to ever deal with chronic pain again, but unfortunately that is just not a common reality of fibromyalgia. As those with chronic illness know, these conditions are lifelong and unpredictable.
2. Celebrities tend to have far more access to money and resources than most chronic warriors do. It is likely that Gaga has been able to find enough relief to continue performing in part because of her fame and access to the best doctors. She is probably able to afford treatment options or medical equipment that many of us cannot, and she may also have access to luxuries such as a private chef, personal trainers, massage therapists, etc. that help keep up with her health as well as her busy schedule.
3. Even within the chronic illness community, we are all different and have varying abilities. Just because one person with fibromyalgia is able to do X, Y, Z doesn’t mean another person with fibromyalgia can also do X, Y, Z. (Maybe they can do A, B, C instead!) Just because Lady Gaga performed at the Super Bowl doesn’t mean everyone with fibro can leap off the roof of a football stadium (or have a job, go to school, or any other activity society thinks they “should” be able to do) if they just “put their mind to it.” People are unique, and so are their conditions and abilities.
4. Your accomplishments are just as amazing as Lady Gaga’s. Maybe you were able to take a shower today, or talk on the phone with a loved one, or keep yourself hydrated. Comparing yourself with someone else – healthy or sick – is silly, because they are a totally different person with totally different life experiences. There’s no good that can come from thinking about what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do, no matter how small it may seem, and celebrate that. If you’re doing the best you can, I’m proud of you – and I think Gaga would be too.
Although Lady Gaga seems to have recovered from her recent flare-up, I hope she continues to be honest about her chronic pain journey and serve as a voice and an advocate for the community. And I hope people recognize that Gaga is just one person with fibromyalgia, and what’s possible for her may not be possible for someone else. For now, I will try to resist the comparison trap and continue to cheer her on, one chronic warrior to another.