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.
Although I do not have children, nor do I ever plan on having any (more on that in a later post), I know plenty of my readers are parents, work with children in some capacity, or plan on having children some day. Also, while I may have a myriad of symptoms from my chronic illnesses, thankfully, I've been spared of migraines thus far. As such, this means I'm not the most informed about living with migraines or treating them, but I know how debilitating and horrible they can be for those who get them.
As such, I present to you a guest post from a medical practitioner who specializes in headaches and migraines in children. Please read on for more information and for a helpful presentation included at the end of the post.
Note: I was not paid or compensated for sharing this information - I just want to help as many people as I can with my platform/this website and arm my readers with information. I'll also note that no matter what medical advice you come across, regardless of who it's from, it's up to you to use a critical eye when reading to determine if the information resonates with you (e.g., I don't tolerate pharmaceuticals, so whenever someone suggests them to me I know to kindly decline and search for other options).
Parents are always on the lookout for any signs that their children might be suffering, and for good reason. A strong component of the parenting instinct is to want to protect our kids from anything that might be hurting them. Unfortunately, there are some ailments that don’t come with obvious signs parents can see. In the case of migraine headaches, for example, identifying whether or not your child suffers from them is more difficult than using a thermometer to diagnose a fever.
What makes it more difficult is the fact that young children often don’t have the language to explain their symptoms. That means a child may be experiencing intense migraine pain without parents being able to do anything about it or know when to seek treatment. When it comes to migraine headaches, it’s up to parents to be detectives, looking for clues to their kids’ symptoms and understanding when to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Getting treatment for potential migraine headaches as soon as possible can help alleviate the pain for kids and make life that much easier for them.
For example, parents should be on the lookout for signs of nasal congestion, swollen foreheads, or if one eye looks puffy or swollen. When seen in conjunction with a severe headache, these may be signs of cluster headaches — intense episodes of pain that recur over the course of weeks or even months. Severe abdominal pain accompanied by vomiting or nausea may be indicators of abdominal migraine, which can be a warning sign that the child may be likely to develop migraine headaches later in life.
These and other signs of various types of migraine headaches should spur parents to visit their children’s pediatrician or a headache specialist as soon as possible. Children are 50 percent more likely to develop migraine headaches if their parents have them, so you may already know your kids’ risk of developing migraines. The following guide details many of the most common types of migraine headaches and how they affect children. Parents never want to see their children suffer, but this guide can help you understand what you’re seeing and get your kids the care they need.
Presentation courtesy of Diamond Headache Clinic
Author bio: Dr. Merle Diamond graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and received her medical education from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. She has been a part of Diamond Headache Clinic since 1989 and has contributed numerous articles to the medical literature, and has lectured extensively on various headache subjects.
In case you haven’t had the chance to check in with your calendar, Valentine’s Day is *today* and we’ll be bombarded with pictures, posts, and other reminders of love manifesting between two people. But what about self-love and your relationship with yourself?
Oftentimes, other relationships in our lives take precedence over taking care of ourselves: spouse/partner, children, family, friends, work relationships, etc. Yet, if we don’t nurture the relationship with ourselves and check in every once in awhile, our overall happiness and ability to connect with and support others may suffer.
It took me a long time to realize that my inability to enjoy time spent alone with myself and my reluctance to engage in self-love (I’m a recovering Type-A perfectionist - it’s not the easiest identity to shed!) that I was doing myself a major disservice. Once I started facing an onslaught of health crises in 2012, I realized that in order to get better I *had* to put myself first and love myself through the difficult times.
Thankfully, I stopped being stubborn (for once in my life), and I employed the help of my therapist and self-help books to start on my self-love journey. After a few years of practicing self-love, I’d like to share some ideas and tips with you all that helped me improve my relationship with myself and that created a foundation of self-love from next-to-nothing.
Want to check out the rest of this article and read my four tips for bettering your relationship with yourself? Then you'll have to hop on over to my dear friend Rachel's website, Rachel L. Macon, where the post was first featured this past Sunday!
As I’ve shared before, my health started to plummet in 2012. Even though I didn’t have any formal diagnoses until a year or so later (Hashimoto’s, and then Lyme disease in 2016), the doctor that I first started working with noted that I had to change my diet to get better. We came up with a game plan to remove gluten from my diet to see if I would feel better, and I did, but little did I know that gluten would be one of many things that would be taken off the table – literally – over the next few years.
Thankfully, I continued to work with intelligent and forward-thinking doctors who recognize that for many individuals with chronic illnesses and gut issues like myself that we *have* to clean up our diet to heal. For me, so many food items either cause inflammation, which further exacerbates autoimmune responses in my body, or I cannot properly digest food, which in turn causes discomfort and pain.
While it might sound simple enough to just remove a certain food from one’s diet, it was challenging. I remember sitting in front of the TV at night with a bowl of ice cream and pounding a sleeve of Oreos (that could also be attributed to the anti-depressants I was on that gave me a Michael Phelps-inspired appetite haha). I especially struggled to stop eating comfort foods during times of stress. Long story short, it wasn’t easy for me to get to where I am today with my diet, but I learned a lot along the way.
Although I could sit here today with my *very* limited diet of select vegetables and a handful of other food (sunflower butter = my saving grace for calories) and throw a pity party for myself every day because I can no longer eat my dad’s meatballs and sauce or chocolate peanut butter ice cream, I realized that my relationship with food has changed throughout this healing process, and for the better.
So, for all my other spoonies out there who are sad over having to give up their favorite foods just like I was, this list is for you. And even if you don’t have a chronic illness, this list might inspire you to change your relationship with food – you never know!
Becoming One With Cooking/Preparing Food
Over time, and as I’ve removed more and more things from my diet, fast food and even eating out at healthier restaurants is a big no-no for me because of my bubble girl ways. As such, I prepare and cook all of my food (except for when one of my lovely parents helps me out!). While I knew how to cook before, I’ve learned a lot more about cooking and preparing food that I might not have otherwise. From bacon-wrapped dates to chicken chile avocado cups, I’ve experimented with some pretty cool recipes that have taught me a lot about cooking - watch out, Master Chef... I'm coming for ya!
Grocery Store Discoveries
I know that nowadays people advise to focus on snagging food items on the borders/outside of the grocery store where the produce is located, and I couldn’t agree more! When I first started this journey, I had no idea where most of the food I was supposed to buy were located, as I used to mostly eat gluten, processed and packaged foods, and frozen meals. Now, I feel like I’m a grocery store pro :)
Trying New Foods
One of the diets that I tried for a while was the autoimmune paleo diet. There are so many amazing recipes out there, and I couldn’t wait to try as many as I could. Naturally, trying new recipes brought about trying new foods. For instance, if you had told me five years ago that I would be eating acorn squash on the regular I would have thought you were talking about squirrel food. I’ve tried tons of different produce items and cool ways to rework traditional recipes (like using frozen bananas to make ice cream!), and aside from the nastiness that is raw rhubarb, I’ve loved it all!
No Choice But To Eat Healthier
I think this one speaks for itself, but considering I was given the choice of either be inflamed, bloated, gassy, in pain, and ave cystic acne all over my face or eat a more balanced and better diet, I chose the latter. Most people ask me how I do it and applaud me for being more conscious about what I put on my plate, but when it comes down to it, I really didn’t have a choice if I wanted to be feel better.
Overcoming Emotional Eating
When you can only eat vegetables and a handful of other food items, the temptation to use food as a crutch in times of stress or happiness or whatever other emotion you’re feeling is less likely. While I still can pound a whole lotta sunflower butter when things are really rough and I need to “reward” myself, I have a much better control on emotional eating than I used to. In return, my relationship with food has changed for the better.
Eating to Sustain
Speaking of my relationship with food, I mainly view it as a way to fuel and nourish my body each and every day. Instead of using it as a reward or a punishment, I mainly view food as a way to keep my body alive and thriving. This is not to say that I hate the food on my plate, but I don’t have an addiction to certain foods anymore (looking at YOU, cheese <3) and I recognize that as a country, we have a very gluttonous and unhealthy relationship with food. Do I miss wolfing down an entire order of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings? Sure. But I can tell you I don’t miss the hold food used to have on me.
I Literally Wouldn’t Be Healthy Otherwise
I understand that everyone’s dietary situation is different, nor are everyone’s conditions as serious as mine are. But for me, I would not be functioning if I didn’t remove things from my diet and change my relationship with food. As frustrating as it used to be to not be able to eat the office birthday cake or pay a visit to my long, lost love Taco Bell, it would never, ever be worth the residual effects to me.
While I have a ways to go with adding things like fruits and other vegetables back into my diet, what I’m eating now resonates with me and doesn’t cause my body to go into attack mode every time I eat. For that, I am extremely thankful.
Have you struggled with changing up your diet or removing your favorite foods out of your arsenal? Has your illness changed your relationship with food? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Whether you have an autoimmune disease or not, being single and navigating the dating world can be challenging. Trying to find someone who vibes with your interests and values, who will be there to support you through the ups and downs of life, and who will love you even on your worsts days isn't always easy. Unfortunately, many of the difficulties of finding the right match are magnified when you have a chronic illness, especially when your partner is living that #blessed non-chronic illness life.
Lucky for you, my love life, albeit a ghost town at the moment, is anything but boring, and I have had enough experiences dating with chronic illnesses to hopefully shed some light on this topic.
*DISCLAIMER* Admittedly, I don't always date the best people, or at least the best people for me. Even before I got sick, I didn't know how to pick 'em, and that's something that I'm working on. As such, I don't want to paint all non-chronic illness partners as demons or garbage cans, because I see plenty of people who have chronic illnesses in happy, committed, and supportive relationships, and that gives me hope :)
When Do You Tell Them You Have A Chronic Illness?
Well, if you're me, you'll tell them up front because I don't hide who I am or what my health situation is for anyone anymore. Granted, I don't divulge every single facet and symptom of all of my illnesses until I feel like I've earned the person's trust, otherwise they'd be running for the hills.
Ultimately, it's up to you to figure out when you think it's the right time to tell your love interest about your illnesses and how much you want to divulge. And I COMPLETELY understand the fear behind sharing this personal information with someone. I've asked myself "What if they'll think I'm a freak?" "What if they won't love me anymore?" and "What if they leave me on the spot?" before opening up. But after someone bounced on me mostly for health-related issues, a lot of people helped me check myself before I wrecked myself.
Look at it this way, if someone isn't going to accept you for you, meaning EVERYTHING that comes with you, including your illnesses, and love every facet of you, then that person isn't worth your time. If they look at your illnesses as a burden or have little to no compassion for your well being, then do you really want to be with that person? The answer should hopefully be a loud and roaring "NO!" but please know that as I give this advice I'm also trying to follow it myself. It isn't easy <3
Where Do You Go On A Date When You Have A Restrictive Diet?
One challenge, at least at the beginning of a relationship, is picking a place to go on a date. I literally cannot eat out anywhere, and while I do drink tea and tequila, I prefer to not drink a lot of either on a regular basis. So, finding a place to go on a date can be hard when someone is hard-wired into thinking you MUST go out to get drinks and food on dates.
Thankfully, I am able-bodied enough to do different things and I have a lot of interests, so here's a list of date ideas that don't revolve around the same chicken entree and bottle of wine for the 700th time:
Explaining Your Illnesses Without Overwhelming Your Partner
For people who are worth your time and energy, I recommend explaining what your bad days look like when you're having a good day and aren't feeling vulnerable. Obviously, it's impossible for the other person to *fully* understand what you're going through, but even if they understand somewhat, it should make for a better and more supportive relationship.
For example, I've explained what depression and panic attacks look like for me; why I can't eat certain food; why it's difficult for me to sleep over at someone's place because of my sleep issues; why sometimes I seem completely "normal" one day and then the next day my health has bottomed out; why I get burnt out in high-sensory environments; and the list goes on.
But, you might also want to ask your partner how they best receive information (some people prefer verbal to text and vice versa), whether they have any questions, or how they're feeling. It's a partnership, remember?
How To Recognize Your Partner Isn't Worth Your Time
Point blank: Some people just aren't equipped to handle someone else's health crisis, or even a health blip (yet somehow these are the same people who think they're going to die of a head cold?). Either they lack the empathy and don't have a nurturing bone in their body, or perhaps they feel like this isn't what they signed up for. I've been with people who channeled both of these attitudes, and it wasn't easy.
Here are some red flags related to my illnesses that I wish I would have caught earlier:
To close on a positive note, I think that all of my chronically ill brothers and sisters are worthy of all the love the world has to offer, romantic or not. That being said, you can find me turning my love inward for the time being until I find someone who is able to handle everything I bring to the table: sweet potatoes, sunflower butter, and a whole lotta beets ;)