In the middle of the last century sociologist Erving Goffman came up with the theory of social performativity – the concept that, as Shakespeare said some four centuries prior, we are all actors and the world is our stage. We perform a variety of roles, claims Goffman, in our day-to-day lives: the roles of a parent, a student, an employee, a spouse, a homemaker – and we jump from one performance to another in a matter of minutes. Some of us, however, maintain an ever ongoing performance – that of not being in pain.

For people living with chronic pain, all other roles are somewhat additional and their main concern is performing “being okay” convincingly. The medical research going on FindMeCure comes up with more than 500 clinical trials for chronic pain happening worldwide.

Let’s talk about real people coping with chronic pain. In this case – people who take Goffman’s theory and add a twist: people who perform being performers, or in other words – celebrities.

Sinead O`Connor

Sinead O`Connor has Fibromyalgia and that’s part of the reason why she took a two-year break from performing in 2003. When she stepped back into the limelight, she said that though her illness is currently incurable, she learned to live with it, managing her symptoms and planning around them. Lowering her expectation also helped, she explained: when she no longer put pressure on herself to have a perfect life, she was finally able to make peace with the fact that she couldn’t feel her best all of the time.

George Clooney

George Clooney suffered a back injury in 2005 during the filming of “Syriana”. The tissue wrapped around the spine, which holds the spinal fluid in, was torn and as Clooney himself has said, before a number of surgeries, the pain was so bad he actually contemplated “ending it all”. And even after all of the surgeries, the actor says his spine never completely healed and that led to him refusing a part with challenging action scenes.

Jullian Michaels

Jillian Michaels lives with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Endometriosis – something she kept in secret for years, see as she’s a famous trainer and wellness guru and she feared her diagnosis would put a stain on her reputation as a “beacon of health”. She only came forward when a reporter asked about her planning to adopt a child. Jillian manages her abdominal pain with healthy diet and exercise and though there is no miracle solution, she says her healthy lifestyle does help relieve the symptoms.

Cynthia McFadden

Cynthia McFadden who now has a successful career as a news anchor used to suffer from debilitating abdominal pain due to Crohn’s disease. She was first diagnosed with the disease in 1977 in college and she and her friends called her condition George – this was her way of coping with it. Two years after being diagnosed McFadden had 15 feet of intestine removed and she’s been in remission ever since, but she also credits the improvement on her determination not live her life “around George”.

Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner, the famous movie actress, suffers from Rheumatoid arthritis and her tale is reminiscent of the “Little Mermaid”. She said that after being diagnosed with the disease, “Suddenly all that stuff about having good looks and being sexy took secondary position to being able to walk without pain.” After developing a drinking problem in an attempt to cope with the pain, she chose sobriety and dedicated herself to the fight against RA, raising funds and awareness. Turner received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Arthritis Foundation.

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor suffered from scoliosis her whole life – a condition that gives the spine a sideways curve and if severe can even cause problems breathing. Elizabeth Taylor’s severe back pain led to her addiction to alcohol, painkillers and sleeping pills.

Lady Gaga

The Guardian calls fibromyalgia “the pain behind Lady Gaga’s poker face” and explains that the singer had to cancel some of her shows due to the pain she suffers. Recently a Netflix documentary about her came out – Gaga: Five foot Two openly and honestly depicts the singer’s fight with her chronic pain. We see Lady Gaga received a number of treatments, including being injected with painkillers and going to a psychotherapist, and at one point the singer herself is wondering out loud how other non-celebrity people with fewer resources deal with such a disease. There is no cure for the illness, which mainly affects women, and often the best approach is a combination of medication for the physical pain and psychotherapy.

Seeing them in the spotlight you’d never guess what they’re going through. And the same goes for you-you go about your day playing the part of a person who’s “fine, really” so that you appear competent, capable and strong. And you truly are. However, letting people in, letting them see us at our weakest and love us regardless can be one of the most powerful pain-relievers in existence.

There are a lot of clinical trials happening worldwide right now for chronic pain. Learn more about how to access treatments in development while watching FindMeCure webinar, supported by our partners Chronic Pain Ireland and International Alliance of Patients Organizations.

Article by Nelly Katsarova

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