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Five Foot Two, the documentary that follows the life of Lady Gaga as she delves into her life of music, passion, love, family, performance, and chronic pain. Vanity Fair described it as a “powerful, thrilling portal into Lady Gaga’s life.” I definitely agree, it was a riveting and thought-provoking watch. Beyond the fame and notoriety, her honest and candid portrayal of life with chronic pain was more than just relatable, it was like looking in a mirror.
Unlike many of us warriors though, she experiences her pain from a place of privilege. She openly admits, “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have the money to get someone to help me. I don’t know what I’d fuckin’ do if I didn’t have everybody here to help me.”
Gaga is lucky enough to be incredibly talented and driven, to a point where she has built a fantastic empire of love, support, and money. In the documentary, we can see she has a team of supporters around her almost constantly. Her career enables her to have people on hand to help and access to treatments she needs to get by. You see, one of the worst parts of this is the vicious circle of pain and unemployment. A lot of those with chronic pain are unemployed or trapped in low-income jobs. Our pain often gets in the way of working. It’s hard to be good at our jobs when our bodies are screaming at us that something is wrong. Sometimes it’s our treatments: they can suppress our immune systems as a way to treat us, leaving us open to infection, and subsequently time off work. Sometimes it’s our means of getting from A to B, when employers can’t look past a wheelchair or a rollator or even a walking stick. This keeps us without money.
Without money, chronic pain is gruelling, arduous, and burdensome. We don’t have the luxury of choosing private doctors who are experts in our conditions. Even here in the UK, where we have free universal healthcare, where the doctor you see doesn’t depend on how much you can afford, finding a good doctor who listens well, and treats you well, is a very laborious task. We don’t often get a choice. We are too frequently told, “This is the specialist. You will see her and only her.” In the US, where healthcare is cost-dependent, this task is even harder. There may be more choice, but our warriors often end up out of pocket or rejected by insurance companies. We often get stuck with doctors who don’t believe we are sick and are sent on our way, with no follow-ups, no treatment, no diagnosis, and no help. No relief. The more money you have, the more believable you are.
“I have chased this pain for five years.” Gaga, you don’t know how lucky you are that it has only taken you this long to have some answers if not all. You’re trying treatments. You’re getting trigger point injections. You’re getting help. I have personally been chasing my pain for over ten years and I’m only 21. There are too many people who are way older who have been chasing their pain for way longer. Better access to better doctors would give us this. Without money, there is no chance of that.
Without money, even if we are lucky enough to be offered treatment, we cannot always afford it. I know of too many people who cannot afford their medication or often have to choose between eating three meals a day and some relief. In the UK, prescription-only medication costs £8.60 per item. Chronic pain conditions are seldom manageable on only one medication. In my case, for example, I have pain relief, both long and short term, as well as daily medication to regulate my heart beat and nausea and anti-emetic medication for when nausea gets really bad. I am also supposed to take anti-histamines and some supplements but can’t afford them on prescription. Some treatments we are advised to undergo are not even covered by the NHS. Yoga, for example. In the US, treatment can be refused by the insurance company. There are co-pays. There are costs. They aren’t a “one price fits all” like the UK’s prescription service. Then there are over the counter medicines, like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc.
Without money, we crowd fund for mobility aids. I crowd funded for my wheelchair, so I can get around from day to day. Wheelchairs are massively overpriced considering the financial situations of the majority of people who need them. A custom wheelchair, designed for a person’s body, is upwards of £2,000. The ones that are a “one size fits all,” that often lead to a worsening of problems, more pain, and bad posture, sit in the £200 ball park. The NHS will partially fund it in some cases, but we often don’t have that sort of cash lying around. We crowd fund for people’s medication, just so they can live. We crowd fund for rent because we lose our jobs to pain. We crowd fund to stay alive in our pain.
Without money, we get told by doctors that the cure all for our pain is a healthy diet, yet all I have in my fridge is one-third of a tin of peeled baby potatoes and a variety of sauce. There are so many fad diets out there that claim to cure us. We are often made to try them all before actual, real treatment is offered. The no starch diet is bollocks. Going vegan, while good for the planet, will not cure your chronic pain. Some of these alternative remedies are downright dangerous.
That being said, there are a lot of things about chronic pain that money can’t change. We are often so isolated from friends and family for many reasons. Sometimes our pain makes us unable to go out and meet people, or we simply can’t afford to. We understand that it is not fair for them to come to us whenever we want to see each other. Sometimes we cut ourselves off for fear of upsetting the ones we love, or because chronic pain goes hand in hand with things like depression and anxiety. Not everyone can handle a personal relationship with someone with chronic pain. Lovers leave when the going gets tough. Family don’t understand. Friends meet new friends and move on.
Gaga’s career brings with it the company of other people, whether it’s her colleagues or her fans, but as she touches on in the documentary, “I have people touching me all day, but then when the night comes who’s there? I’m alone.” Regardless of fame or wealth, as a chronic pain warrior, you will never be alone. We will always have your back. We understand each other, we understand pain, and as such we are a family.