Over the last number of years mental health issues have been seen in a new light within mainstream media and pop-culture. Now, Oprah is taking on the topic. Over the last few years she’s collaborated with Prince Harry on a mental health documentary set to be released by Apple in 2020.
However, in recent months superstar Lady Gaga has been extremely vocal in her efforts to break the stigma of mental health, including her announcement of the Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health expanding a pilot program, teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA). In another effort to break the stigma, Oprah sat down and had an in-depth conversation with Gaga around mental health, PTSD, her recovery, and the self-care she practices after living through sexual assault at the age of 19.
“I Kept Going”
“I have PTSD,” she tells Winfrey. “I have chronic pain. Neuropathic pain trauma response is a weekly part of my life. I’m on medication; I have several doctors. This is how I survive. But you know what, Oprah? I kept going, and that kid out there or even that adult out there who’s been through so much, I want them to know that they can keep going, and they can survive, and they can win their Oscar.”
While Neuropathic pain is a common problem, it is also a poorly treated condition caused by injuries or a disease of the nervous system. In Gaga’s case, it developed as a trauma response within the sympathetic nervous system associated with the fight or flight response. Additionally, Gaga went on to speak about the effects that the trauma and abuse had on her mental health.
“I’ve actually not opened up very much about this, but I think it’s an important thing for people to know and hear: I was a cutter for a long time,” Gaga said. “One thing that I would suggest to people who struggle with trauma response or self-harm issues or suicidal ideation is actually ice. If you put your hands in a bowl of ice-cold water, it shocks the nervous system, and it brings you back to reality.”
As a therapeutic technique taken from DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy it was developed by Marsha Linehan. DBT was developed for those suffering with borderline personality disorder (BPD), emotional regulation and self-harm.
“I was a cutter for a long time, and the only way that I was able to stop cutting and self-harming myself was to realize that what I was doing was trying to show people that I was in pain instead of telling them and asking for help,” she recalls. “When I realized that telling someone, ‘Hey, I am having an urge to hurt myself,’ that defused it. I then had someone next to me saying, ‘You don’t have to show me. Just tell me: What are you feeling right now?” And then I could just tell my story. I say that with a lot of humility and strength; I’m very grateful that I don’t do it anymore, and I wish to not glamorize it.”
“I See You.”
While discussing DBT, the Star is Born actress also talked to Oprah about the relation with her trauma and health issues including fibromyalgia, a pain processing disorder associated with the central nervous system. Some studies suggest early life trauma is a risk factor for developing fibromyalgia later in life.
“For me, my fibromyalgia and my trauma response kind of go hand in hand. The fibro for me is a lighter pain; the trauma response is much heavier,” Gaga explained. “It’s a recurring feeling. So I had a psychotic break at one point, and it was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me.”
Urging others to ask for help, she noted, “I would also beckon to anyone to try, when they feel ready, to ask for help.” “And I would beckon to others that if they see someone suffering, to approach them and say, ‘Hey, I see you. I see that you’re suffering, and I’m here. Tell me your story.’”