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Lady Gaga Shares What It’s Like to Live With Trauma, Mental Illness and Fibromyalgia

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Ahead of the release of the film “A Star Is Born,” which stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, the singer opened up in a new interview with Vogue about living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fibromyalgia. In the interview, which was published  Monday, she described how she experiences trauma.

“I always say that trauma has a brain,” she said. “And it works its way into everything that you do.”

Lady Gaga highlights an aspect of living with trauma that might be relatable — trauma can show up anywhere in a survivor’s daily life. The body’s natural response to trauma is a fight or flight stress response. After the danger is over, the body can get stuck in that heightened stress state, which sometimes leads to mental health conditions like PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD may include flashbacks, always being on alert and feeling “keyed up.” Lady Gaga also described some of the physical symptoms of the condition. She told Vogue:

I feel stunned. Or stunted. 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.

Lady Gaga first revealed she had been raped by a music producer when she was 19 years old during an episode of “The Howard Stern Show” in 2014. In a 2016 interview with Today, Lady Gaga shared that she had PTSD as a result of her experience. After the release of her 2017 Netflix documentary “Five Foot Two,” that followed her struggle with chronic pain, she took to Twitter to raise awareness about fibromyalgia.

Since then she has been a vocal advocate for others who live with mental illness, chronic illness or have survived sexual assault. This included a moving performance at the 2016 Oscars of “Til It Happens To You,” the song Gaga wrote for the 2015 documentary on sexual assault on college campuses, “The Hunting Ground.”

In addition to living with the after-effects of trauma, Gaga opened up about her fibromyalgia diagnosis, chronic pain and the frustration of living with an invisible illness. She told Vogue:

I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real. 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. People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel.

Lady Gaga highlights that for many people, women especially, trauma and fibromyalgia may be linked. Fibromyalgia is a pain processing disorder in the central nervous system. The chronic pain condition functions in the body similarly to the hypervigilant fight-flight stress response that can also occur with trauma. Despite its possible link to the mental illnesses Gaga highlights in the interview, fibromyalgia is a distinct chronic pain condition and not a psychiatric disorder.

“Women who end up with fibromyalgia…have a much, much higher correlation in having histories that involve some level of trauma,” Dr. David Brady, vice president for health sciences at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and author of “The Fibro Fix,” told The Mighty. “I don’t want that to be misinterpreted into me saying this is a disorder of women, they’re all making it up because they had trauma….It’s a physiological response to a scenario and it absolutely is real. It’s a distinct thing. It’s really pain. They’re not making this up.”

Lady Gaga has been vocal about the challenges of living with a mental health condition and chronic illness, though making the decision to share was not easy. “For me, with my mental health issues, half of the battle in the beginning was I felt like I was lying to the world because I was feeling so much pain but nobody knew,” Gaga said. “That’s why I came out and said that I have PTSD, because I don’t want to hide any more than I already have to.”

Through her advocacy efforts and by speaking out about her own story, Lady Gaga wants to use her platform to foster more kindness in the world. “I have my unique existence, just as everyone else does, and at the end of the day, it’s our humanity that connects us — our bodies and our biology,” Gaga said. “That’s what breeds compassion and empathy, and those are the things that I care the most about.”

Image via Creative Commons/Afi Gee

Originally published: September 10, 2018
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