How Lady Gaga's Cancelled Shows Can Remind Us There's Strength in Vulnerability
When I heard Lady Gaga cancelled shows because of pain from her chronic condition, I thought, “How unbelievably brave!”
The world loves stories of people overcoming their illness and pushing through their pain. We honor people who don’t let their health condition define them. We are taught in so many ways to never give up and never give in.
No pain, no gain.
Set your mind to it and you can do anything, be anything.
Don’t let anything stand in the way of your dreams.
Always keep fighting.
I admire the strength, determination and grit it takes to push through the pain. I know what it means to hurt so much and to still put on your armor and mask and face the outside world. From my own experiences I know how much someone who is ill can pay in private, with days of pain and exhaustion, for all those public displays of strength and normalcy. I admire the resilience it takes to continue to work or care for your children while unwell, and I respect the choice not to let illness kill your dreams. These things all take fortitude and bravery.
But you know when my hands shake and I can’t breathe and I feel most terrified? It’s the days when I take off the armor and the mask, peel off all the layers of my public self, admit defeat and crawl back into bed. It’s when I call in sick to work, renege on promises to my children, cancel social plans or otherwise turn away from the world.
When you are sick more days than not, stopping can be intimidating. I worry that giving in will make it harder to get up again. Canceling plans on one day is betting the odds that the next day or next week I won’t be even sicker. I worry about appearing unreliable. I worry people will be annoyed that I’m talking too much about my illness. I worry this time the world will turn away from me.
It has taken me years to realize (and I’m still learning) that admitting that some days (or weeks or months) your illness owns you is not a mark of failure. Being sick is not an excuse for not doing things, it’s a reason (the reason). Staying home is not “letting your disease win,” it’s accepting that your illness puts hard limits on your body. It’s understanding that a chronic health condition is sneaky as hell and will bite you in the ass when you least expect it. It’s seeing that your disease draws different lines and contours for how things get done. It’s acknowledging that you may have different markers for success than a healthier person.
Conceding defeat to your illness and staying in bed is defying social norms in order to protect your health. It’s standing up for your body when it has been pushed too far by illness. It is showing yourself the same empathy, caring and patience every sick person (whether chronically or periodically) deserves.
I know the rest of the world will not celebrate you or me (or probably even Lady Gaga) for calling in sick. It’s unlikely someone will write books or poems about the valor of not going, of not doing, of saying, “Today, I cannot.” I doubt a hashtag in our honor will trend on twitter. But those of us living with a chronic illness can know and share in the strength and bravery that it takes to be incapacitated and vulnerable.
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Lead photo courtesy of Lady Gaga’s Facebook page