Published by Philly Voice
Recently, Netflix released the documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” an intimate look at the iconic musician’s struggle to record “Joanne,” her fifth and most personal studio album, while battling the relatively common but mysterious chronic pain condition fibromyalgia.
Women are two times more likely to be affected by fibromyalgia than men, but healthcare providers are less likely to take women’s pain seriously, often dismissing fibromyalgia symptoms – including bodywide stiffness, fatigue, tingling, numbness, digestive upset, and migraines – as purely psychological or even attention-seeking. Others insist the condition is excruciatingly real.
In a column for The Atlantic, titled “Lady Gaga’s Illness Is Not a Metaphor,” Spencer Kornhaber defends the musical artist’s suffering, writing “a poorly understood but widespread disorder that seems to inordinately affect women, fibromyalgia is sometimes assumed to be psychosomatic.”
“Psychosomatic” is colloquially understood to mean “fictitious.” Most people believe psychosomatic illness is purely a figment of the imagination – that psychosomatic pain, in other words, is not real in the body. But the word “psychosomatic,” defined simply as “involving both mind and body,” pertains to the full spectrum of physical and mental illnesses, because all physical illnesses have a psychological component (consider Broken Heart Syndrome or the statistically higher rate of clinical depression in cancer patients) and vice versa.
New research suggests that fibromyalgia pain is psychosomatic; the harrowing sensation is very real in the body, but it can be incited by emotional trauma, much like the grief and betrayal Lady Gaga expressed in “Five Foot Two.” That’s because, according to Dr. Howard Schubiner, founder and director of the Mind-Body Medicine Center at Providence Hospital, the brain handles physical and emotional pain the same way.