Since she first shone a spotlight on her experience with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes joint and muscular pain, in her documentary, Five Foot Two, Lady Gaga has been open about how chronic illness has affected her.
In a new interview with Vogue, Gaga expressed her frustration that people don't take fibromyalgia more seriously, and discussed the mental health issues that she believes have worsened her chronic pain.
"I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real," she said. "For me, and I think for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result."
Gaga makes an important point: Physical and mental health are often linked. While doctors don't know exactly what causes chronic pain, according to the Mayo Clinic, it most likely involves several different factors, including physical and emotional trauma. As a study in The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain suggests, post-traumatic stress can be a risk factor for fibromyalgia. And according to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 15% to 35% of patients with chronic pain also have PTSD, and some people's chronic pain stems from a traumatic event, such as a physical or sexual assault.
"I feel stunned. Or stunted," Gaga said about her PTSD. "You know that feeling when you’re on a roller coaster and you’re just about to go down the really steep slope? That fear and the drop in your stomach? My diaphragm seizes up. Then I have a hard time breathing, and my whole body goes into a spasm. And I begin to cry. That’s what it feels like for trauma victims every day, and it’s... miserable. I always say that trauma has a brain. And it works its way into everything that you do."
The Vogue profile says that Gaga believes her fibromyalgia was brought on by the sexual assault she experienced at age 19, and that it became worse over time as she became famous and dealt with the demands that come with touring. Last year, she had to cancel a series of tour dates due to fibromyalgia pain.
Though fibromyalgia is often misunderstood, it really can wreak havoc on people's lives. Symptoms can include widespread pain around the body, constant fatigue, and difficulty focusing. It is often associated with disrupted sleep, anxiety, and depression.
These days, Gaga is feeling much better, telling Vogue that "it's getting better every day" thanks to her access to doctors who can help her get "show-ready", but fibromyalgia can be a lifelong struggle. There is currently no cure for it, though medications like pain relievers and antidepressants (some of which help ease pain and fatigue) can help minimise symptoms.
"People need to be more compassionate," Gaga told Vogue. "Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel."