Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Those of us who suffer with mental health issues often do so silently. I know because I spent over 20 years of my life not speaking out (or up) about mine, but now that I’m starting to, I’m seeing how important it is to share my struggles in order to help others through theirs.
And then came Lady Gaga.
While I always appreciated her as an artist, I wasn’t what you’d call a fan. And then, ironically, I just happened to watch her documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, the same night of the Grammys without knowing the Grammys were on. (Sometimes, I don’t even try to keep up with current events).
While watching her documentary, I found it both saddening and fascinating that she struggles with mental health issues — something I never would have guessed — and it made me realize how much Lady Gaga and I have in common. Also something I never would have guessed.
In the documentary, she discusses having to chase the pain in her body. She describes what it’s like when the pain takes over — how it grabs ahold of you — and she allows herself to be shown dealing with her mental and physical pain. Stripped down from all the glamorous dresses and jewels and elaborate costumes we are accustomed to seeing her in. Getting massages. Taking medication. Going to doctors. Having meltdowns. Needing help.
And there I was. All alone. And in pain. But suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. It’s part of what makes sharing so powerful. Her struggles had nothing to do with me, but yet, they folded their arms around me and gave me the hug I needed. I was no longer carrying the burden on my own. Someone was with me. And someone pretty special at that.
The most powerful part of the documentary for me was seeing that someone who struggles with mental and physical health issues can still be that successful. Yes, she can afford help. She can even afford help to be there at all times of the day. A luxury few of us have. But she allowed herself to be truly seen. And that is priceless.
It’s no secret that many struggle with their mental health, but we are typically only shown what happens when the dark takes over. When they try to self-soothe by taking too many drugs. By drinking too much alcohol. By contemplating, attempting or committing suicide. And I get it. I’ve been there too.
But we are rarely shown people fighting for the light. Showing what it’s like to try to take care of yourself when your mental and physical health pull you away from your work. Away from loved ones. Away from yourself. But you still have goals. And you still fight hard to be able to chase your dreams. Like Lady Gaga, or should I say Stefani, shows us. And bravely too. Because she has such an iconic presence in the media, for her to let us see who she really is says a lot about her. And about how powerful it is to share our struggles. So others can see what’s possible.
Then the day after watching her documentary, I read about Lady Gaga’s speech at the Grammys and looked it up:
“Thank you. Thank you so much. I gotta thank God; thank you for looking out for me; thank you for my family at home, I love you. Thank you. I wish Bradley was here with me right now; he's over at the BAFTAs in the UK. I know he wants to be here. Bradley, I loved singin' this song with you. If I don’t get another chance to say this, I just want to say I’m proud to be part of a movie that addresses mental health issues. They’re so important. A lot of artists deal with that and we gotta take care of each other. So, if you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody and take them up in your head with you. I love you; thank you so much to the Grammys. Thank you.”
Her speech was one of the best uses of having a platform I’ve seen. Possibly ever. Because her speech included all races and genders. Because its purpose wasn’t left- or right-leaning. Because the award was all about her (well, and Bradley Cooper), but she made it all about others. Because she encouraged others to reach out when they see someone in need and to take care of themselves. And, to me, that’s true advocacy.
And it’s being strong enough that you no longer need it to be all about you. You can make it about others. Your sisters and your brothers who have suffered. Who are suffering. And together, we can begin to address the issues involved with mental health. Get to the bottom of it. Help others understand how it affects every aspect of life. How there is no escaping it, only dealing with it. And how people with a platform like Lady Gaga’s can really make a difference.
I’d rather save an angel down/Oh, I’m a believer, it’s chaos/Where are our leaders?/Oh, oh, oh/ I’d rather save an angel now.
— Lady Gaga, “Angel Down,” Joanne
This story originally ran on Psych Central on February 15, 2019. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash