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What Lady Gaga's Concert Meant to Me as Someone With PTSD and Chronic Pain

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It’s about 5 p.m. as we arrive to the side entrance of the arena, my medication bag in hand. For me, attending an event such as a concert can be an anxiety-inducing experience and one I would rarely consider. Carrying the weight of severe pain from several chronic illnesses and the thought of standing in long lines seems impossible. Add to that the concern of being in large, loud groups with strangers pressing against you from behind — a real trigger when you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) like I do.

• What is PTSD?

However, on this day I am lucky enough to use a quiet side entrance without any lines. As we walk towards the two metal detectors I open my medication bag and hand it to the security staff. She is so kind as she looks through the bag gently confirming what is inside. There are no other concert attendees in this area at this time to look over my shoulder as my medications are examined. There are no whispers or agitated people behind me wanting to know what the holdup is. It is just quiet and calm. We walk over to a small table where we check in and get our VIP badges (a price worth paying for me to be able to be here) and are escorted up to a room with comfortable couches. As I sit down looking around at the people smiling and laughing as they are sipping their drinks, I take a breath and think, “I made it. I am actually here and I am feeling so peaceful in this moment.”

On a table towards the middle of the room is a picture of Lady Gaga with her head up, wearing a pink cowgirl hat. A replica of that hat sits on a pedestal nearby. Under the hat stands large block letters that spell out “Joanne.”

The concert is, of course, amazing. Lady Gaga, as always, does not disappoint. The voice of an angelic powerhouse fills the arena. The choreography of the dancers, costume changes and special effects all make for an incredible show. However, the moments of the evening that are the most powerful are those where Gaga speaks about Joanne. She talks to her audience as if she was just leaning up to one person telling them a story.

“Joanne,” the title of Gaga’s current album and tour was also the name of Lady Gaga’s aunt on her father’s side. She was taken from this world when she was only 19 years old from Lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.

Though Joanne died prior to Gaga being born, she tells the story of how her aunt has been one of the biggest influences in her life. During the concert she speaks very openly about the affect the death of her aunt made on her family. She talks about how the grief was so deep it became generational. A pain so visceral that it almost seemed to pass into her bloodline. Lady Gaga was even given the middle name Joanne in honor of her aunt.

As she tells this story, the entire arena is silent as you can feel the very real pain Lady Gaga is speaking of. Being a huge fan of Gaga myself, I was already aware of the story of Joanne and had felt a deep connection to it. However, my spouse (also a big fan), was not aware of the story and as Gaga was speaking, I felt a hand grab mine and whisper in my ear, “That is your story.”

My sister Amy died when she was only a little over a year old. She drowned in only a couple of inches of water in a freak accident in our home. Though my sister died two years before I was born — like Joanne to Gaga — Amy has been one of the biggest influences in my life as well. My sister and I even share the same middle name. I knew from a very early age from comments that had been made to me (sometimes by those in an inebriated state), that I was conceived because my parents wanted some sort of relief from their grief. They had three sons that they needed to carry on for, but their grief was all-consuming. I was aware of my sister and how she had died from as long as I could remember. A large painted portrait of her in a little pink dress (a dress that currently hangs in a closet in my home) sat in my parents’ room like a shrine. A photo of her with her actual hair clip attached to the frame sat on their dresser through every passing year. The portrait and photo are now on a wall in my business with a brief story of why I dedicate my business (a company that teaches others to save lives) to my sister. I tried to take on the grief caused by the loss of my sister from as early of an age as I could. I even went as far as writing her name on my schoolwork instead of my own when I was only 7 years old. I could see and feel the pain her death had caused my mother and wanted so desperately to remove it. My parents have now both passed on but the pain of losing my sister was held in them both well into the last moments of their lives. I carry my sister with me every day of my life, even though we never met.

Like Gaga, I also experience both chronic pain and PTSD as well. I had a traumatic brain injury when I was only 17 years old after being attacked — a story few know and one I prefer not to discuss beyond the walls of a therapist’s office. In my adult life, I worked both on an ambulance and in a children’s hospital seeing things most people could not even imagine, which further powered my PTSD. I started having chronic pain around age 11 and received my first diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis when I was only 18. I have been diagnosed with a handful of additional diseases since then — including two extremely severe forms of nerve pain in the face and head. Lady Gaga has also spoken of the challenges she has faced suffering from chronic pain, as well as PTSD.

Gaga experienced a severe trauma at age 19 that forever changed her as well.

I do not know Lady Gaga personally, but I am so very proud of her. I know the very difficult challenge of carrying on when your body and brain feel broken and exhausted. I understand the burden of keeping not only your own pain, but the pain of others as well. I feel that struggle to want to save the world when you yourself are hurting so significantly. I too feel so very blessed and empowered when I receive love and support and I send that to her and to everyone who struggles with mental and/or physical pain.

“I believe that the most inexpensive and perhaps the best medicine in the world is words. Kind words…positive words… words that help people who feel ashamed of an invisible illness to overcome their shame and feel free.” — Lady Gaga

Photo via contributor.

Originally published: September 6, 2017
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