As I’m sure you’ve probably heard by now, a couple of weeks ago Lady Gaga confirmed that she has fibromyalgia.
She was also promoting her new documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, which premiered on Netflix September 22, 2017. The description of the documentary says, “Follow pop provocateur Lady Gaga as she releases a new album, preps for her Super Bowl halftime show, and confronts physical and emotional struggles.”
From the description, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would she talk about fibromyalgia? Would she allow us to see how much pain she was in, or as many of us do, would she try to hold it together and appear as “normal” as possible? Would we gain some understanding of how she is able to do such high energy, physically strenuous performances when she has fibromyalgia?
After watching the documentary, I can tell you that most of my questions were answered.
I didn’t hear the word “fibromyalgia” mentioned specifically, but sometimes when she was talking about her pain, there was music playing and other things going on around her so I didn’t catch every word. It’s possible she mentioned it and I just missed it. It’s also possible that she had not yet been diagnosed as I believe most of the documentary was filmed in 2016. Regardless, the severity and chronicity of her pain was obvious.
At one point in the film, Lady Gaga is laying on a sofa, crying from the pain. As a therapist is massaging a particularly painful spot on her face, she expresses her concern for others when she 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 money to have somebody to help them. I don’t know what I’d…do if I didn’t have everybody here to help me. What the hell would I do?”
The cameras also follow Lady Gaga into an appointment with her doctor where she describes her pain and receives trigger point injections.
Addressing the question of how she’s able to perform with so much pain, Lady Gaga talks about the adrenaline rush that takes over when she is on stage. Although few of us will ever have the need for the level of energy and physical strength required for such a performance, I think most of us have had the experience of pushing through the pain, and sometimes even temporarily forgetting about the pain, in order to accomplish something that is really important to us.
My concern for Lady Gaga – and well as for any fibromyalgia patient who regularly depends on an adrenaline rush to keep going – is that those adrenaline rushes come with a steep price tag. In fact, an increasing number of experts believe a key problem in fibromyalgia, perhaps even the cause, is the long-term activation of the fight-or-flight response. Along with the release of adrenaline, comes the release of other stress hormones like cortisol. While that can be helpful to get us through short-term stresses, if the release of those hormones continues indefinitely, which appears to be the case with fibromyalgia, it can cause significant problems throughout the body.
But I digress. Turning back to the documentary – overall, I found it to be well worth watching. I should note that if you are offended by occasional strong language or a brief topless scene, you might not want to watch it. However, if you have any interest in a behind-the-scenes look at how one celebrity copes with chronic pain, you will probably find it worth your time.
Gaga: Five Foot Two is currently playing on Netflix. If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you can try it free for a month. The above link will take you to a short trailer of the film. There is also a button at the top right corner where you can sign up for the free-trial of Netflix.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.