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What to Keep in Mind When Aaron Carter Posts About His Health

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Megan Griffo, The Mighty’s editor in chief, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

What the hell is going on with Aaron Carter?

If you, like me, pay close attention to the Twittersphere (and in the past… but definitely not anymore… had “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)” in your music library), you too may have asked yourself this question after reading recent reports on the once beloved child pop star.

In July, after making headlines for a DUI arrest in Georgia, Carter, 29, faced intense body-shaming for his thin frame. A week later he told Entertainment Tonight he’d been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia when he was 19 and has since lost weight from the pain and discomfort of his condition.

Our Mighty chronic illness community, as well as Carter’s fans, empathized with the singer, recognizing how difficult it is to watch your body change when you have little to no control over it.

Carter, who’s also stated he deals with anxiety, came under scrutiny again in mid-September when he appeared on “The Doctors” and allowed the show’s medical experts to test his health claims. He tested negative for all illegal drugs as well as any infections in his liver, thyroid and kidneys and for STDs including HIV. However, doctors Jorge Rodriguez and Travis Stork discovered candida in his throat, which they said can be a sign of a weakened immune system. They also said he was malnourished, with a body mass index in a “scary range.” Carter tested positive for prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and pain, leaving Stork and Rodriguez concerned he might mix his medications, which can be deadly.

“In my opinion, you’re not healthy… physically right now, I think your body is hanging on by a thread, seriously,” Rodriguez said. “[Your mind] has to calm down… you are going a million miles a minute… until there is peace in your mind, the rest is not going to follow.”

On Friday, Carter tweeted that he will be “disappearing” for awhile to take care of his health, while simultaneously promoting his upcoming single, album and new version of his 2000 hit “I Want Candy,” all for which he’s received a wide spectrum of both support and judgment.

His note read:

My loved ones,

I would like to tell all of you that I will be disappearing for a while to work on myself. I would also like to announce that I am releasing a gift to yo uon Oct 27. In time for Halloween, a new version of “I Want Candy” . 4 Weeks Later, I will be releasing my first single from my new album, LOVE . I’ll see you soon looking amazing and ready to play my new songs LIVE. Most importantly my stressors haven’t subsided with family and this year has been crazy and I need some time off from all of it.

Going to get strong. And deal with my stress conditions and get better.

“We can talk about this when I’m done taking care of myself,” Carter added. “that (sic) goes to everyone especially the medias. I’m gonna have a lot to say. Thanks.”

You’d think as the editor of The Mighty, I’d be better than this, but as a self-admitted cynical patient, I’m often skeptical when celebrities open up about their health while also promoting their work. That’s not fair of me, but I’m not alone in feeling this way. A few months ago we polled our chronic illness community on how they feel when celebrities tell their health stories. The responses were mixed but thoughtful, and our readers mostly showed concern over whether the celeb was sharing accurate information.

Carter is an interesting case study because he seems to be in the midst of his diagnosis struggles versus celebrities who have been dealing with a condition for awhile before they discuss it with the media. Despite the support, with every article we’ve reported on him, the criticism rolls in too — most of which anyone with a chronic illness has also heard.

“He’s doing this for attention.”

“He’s making this up.”

“That’s not what my experience is like.”

“Is he even sick?”

Though he’s on haiatus, the chances Carter will once again talk about his health when he returns are high. So before that happens, I want to make a suggestion:

We need to give Aaron Carter a break.

I’ll explain why.

The confusion that comes with any diagnosis is real, and it can be uncomfortable and frustrating.

About a year ago when I started experiencing chronic headaches, some so intense I’d lose balance while walking, I was catapulted into the unpleasant world of seeking a diagnosis and the right treatment. With each new appointment, doctor, symptom and prescription came two unavoidable consequences: confusion and frustration. What questions do I ask? What search terms do I Google? How do I feel about this? How do I feel about me? Should I get another opinion? Do I have enough money to pay for another opinion?

My moods fluctuated, too. With friends and family, one minute I’d want to talk about nothing but my health and the next I’d want to pretend like nothing had changed. One minute I’d feel empowered as a patient, ready to demand help, and the next I’d feel defeated, opting to instead hide in my bed. I could sometimes feel myself contradicting things I’d said the day before. Treat me like this. No, treat me like that. Thanks for your help. No, actually you could be doing a lot more. Just listen! But do you have any advice? I’m an advocate! Please don’t define me by my diagnosis. 

I imagine many of you have flip-flopped like this too. Because diagnoses, even when you’ve had one for a long time, leave a lot of room for grappling with feelings — but most of us don’t have to do the grappling in the public eye.

When you’re first learning how to navigate a diagnosis, symptom, prescription, etc., it can feel like nothing makes sense. We all cope with this differently. We talk it out with friends and family. We turn to professionals. Sometimes we stay silent until we’ve had time to digest the news.

At the start of all this, Carter didn’t really get to decide if he wanted to stay silent — yes, you can argue the attention all started with his arrest, but most people don’t make TMZ for breaking the law. The media forced him to publicly navigate and explain his health — an already tricky task made more complicated when a stranger with a camera stands outside your home and yells invasive questions at you. Yes, he didn’t have to then go on television to be further diagnosed — but we’re also talking about someone who’s been in the spotlight since he was 7 and who may be feeling pressure to handle everything in a “celebrity-like” way.

Carter isn’t a “veteran” health advocate (yet) — he’s probably dealing with a lot of confusion and frustration, so maybe we can cut him some slack if he slips up, misrepresents a condition, or says something others consider inappropriate.

I would love for Carter to become a health advocate, but we can’t force him to be one. 

Do people in the public eye have a responsibility to be more thoughtful when discussing health? When we asked our community, many said influencers need to take responsibility for everything they say and how it can be perceived, while also acknowledging they may not represent the average person’s experience with a condition. This is why many applauded Lady Gaga’s documentary, where she brought up the fact that most do not have the resources she does to deal with illness, while also being careful but honest in describing her fibromyalgia.

That’s a lot of pressure, and we can’t expect this of Carter just yet. He hasn’t been a healthcare rights champion in the past, and he’s new to talking about health.

What we can do is ask him to consider the ramifications of talking about diagnoses in the public eye. We can ask him to elevate voices of health advocates. We can ask him to support nonprofits that do this work every day. We can ask him to get educated while he works on feeling better, so when he’s ready, he can be a spokesperson we rely on and trust to spread accurate information and inspire change.

Whether we like it or not, he has the right to refuse all this. How he navigates and talks about his health is his choice, though it’s frustrating when people with platforms don’t work to help greater causes.

Despite my instinct to pick apart how and why celebrities discuss their health, at the end of the day, I remember most of us are just trying to do the best we can. Carter is probably just doing the best he can, too. So maybe as he works through this, we can take what he says with a grain of salt, continue advocating for our own causes, and hope he one day helps us do so.

In the mean time, we can all enjoy this:

Originally published: September 29, 2017
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