When most people think of Lady Gaga, images of outlandish and fashion forward outfits (remember the meat dress? Of course you do...), flashy performances, and high heel shoes that could kill a man probably come to mind. But when I think of Lady Gaga I view her as much more. To me, she is my Italian goddess role model, an empath with a bleeding heart, and as revealed in her 2017 documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, a sufferer of chronic pain and fibromyalgia.
Over the past few years, Lady Gaga has adopted a no-holds-barred attitude toward being her most authentic self in all realms of life. In my opinion, Five Foot Two is a perfect example of letting people in to see what her life is truly like, which includes the struggles of living with and managing chronic pain.
Naturally, I anxiously anticipated the release of Gaga's documentary - I have loved and listened to her music over the years and connect with her love for family and Italian heritage. As I watched the documentary, I found myself resonating with nearly everything that was in it, but I was especially glued to the screen when chronic pain was the subject. I found these moments raw, honest, moving, and sometimes painful, as I unfortunately know life with chronic pain all too well.
What Life Looks Like With Chronic Pain
Earlier on in 5 Foot 2, Gaga is laying down on a couch as a flare up starts. She asks for a washcloth and says the following:
"It's the whole right side of my body. It's in a... I don't know, a spasm. It feels like there's a rope pulling from my, like, first toe all up my leg into my... and then... around my first rib... into my shoulder. And then, my neck. And head, jaw. My fucking face hurts."
This describes exactly what it feels like when I am going through a flare up: it's on my entire right side, I can't necessarily put the feeling to words, and everything hurts. It hurts to move any part of my body, it hurts to sit still, and ultimately, it hurts to exist in those moments.
As the scene progresses, Gaga talks about how her privilege and wealth plays a role (that's my empath queen for you though <3), something that's far too often ignored by the able-bodied community when thinking about effective and consistent treatment for chronic pain:
"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?"
And while I'm certainly nowhere near as wealthy as Lady Gaga, I am able to work full time, I do have great health insurance, and I am able to afford treatment for some of my conditions. Yet, I wonder how much better I would feel if I could afford to do all the things I know will help, such as acupuncture, going to the chiropractor, getting regular massages, and seeking out other holistic treatments.
The Effects Of Chronic Pain Go Far Beyond Physical Symptoms
What typically happens with many of us spoonies during or after a flare subsides is the feeling of embarrassment, remorse, or shame for looking and feeling weak. Lady Gaga ends up vocalizing this mindset during the aforementioned scene:
"Do I look pathetic? I'm so embarrassed. And I don't even know, like, what a childbirth will be like. Or if I can. I know I think I can get pregnant. I just don't know, like, what are my hips going to do? I don't fucking know."
The last part of her statement also highlights how debilitating chronic pain can be as she questions whether her body will betray her during childbirth. For me, I question whether my body is going to let me go for a long bike ride without "punishing" me for a few days afterward or if I'll be able to bust all the moves on the dance floor during a night out and feel okay the next day.
I've had to abandon a lot of my former hobbies (e.g., boxing, weight lifting, MMA classes) due to my chronic pain, and while I've found different ways to move my body and exercise, the void is still there and I too sometimes feel pathetic and embarrassed for not being able to use my body like I used to.
Later on, we see Lady Gaga in a doctor's appointment, which for many of us are some of our most private and vulnerable moments. The doctor goes over her medical history and Lady Gaga shares that she's been "chasing this pain for five years" and it plagues her every day. She even talks about what mental strength it takes to overcome the physical pain to be herself and do her job, "And the fury in all of this is that I'm fucking strong and I can still be me... But it doesn't mean I'm not in pain."
Her doctor notes that in order to perform, Gaga has had to shut down physically and emotionally and let adrenaline take over, which can only sustain a person for so long. For many of us with chronic pain, this might sound all too familiar - I know it rings true for me.
I started experiencing compartment syndrome-esque symptoms during my sophomore year of college and could barely run a couple of laps around the rugby field without feeling like my throbbing legs were going to explode. I was in excruciating pain, but being the sports-crazy gal I was, I continued to push through. I also had chronic injuries all the time that never seemed to heal. But it wasn't until physical activity was basically fully stripped from me following a horrible Lyme herx that the mental effects of fear and anxiety took place surrounding my body.
Empowering, Inspiring, Painful - All At Once
If Lady Gaga had never come out and shared her experience with fibromyalgia, I never would have thought she struggled with chronic pain (I mean, have you seen her performances? She is kickass and a warrior.). But watching someone I admire with all of my heart cry and writhe from chronic pain and feel pathetic shows that chronic pain doesn't discriminate. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you ate all the right things, took the right supplements, or threw thousands of dollars into treatment to try to keep it at bay - chronic pain will barge through your doors uninvited.
Yet, hearing about and seeing Lady Gaga's experience with chronic pain helps me feel less alone, embarrassed, and pathetic inside of my body, which I resented for so long. Knowing that one of my role models is also going through these trials and tribulations gives me the motivation to strengthen my relationship with my body and not give up on it during those difficult times.
All in all, this documentary provided much more than a window into one of my favorite artist's life: it helped me realize that despite living with chronic pain, I can still live an empowering and successful life no matter what obstacles are thrown my way.