“Rarely is someone so famous so honest,” Oprah Winfrey said after interviewing Lady Gaga before 15,000 people in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday (Jan. 4). The famed media mogul’s intimate hour-long interview with the nine-time Grammy winner acted as a climax for the debut edition of Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour, which invites a different star interviewee at each of its nine stops.
The tour hits arenas across America this spring with an aim to inspire attendees toward a more holistic lifestyle. There were dance exercises led by morning energizers Daybreak and celebratory choreographer Julianne Hough, inspiring presentations by group meditation leader Jesse Israel and Grammy-winning gospel singer Tamela Mann, and more than a few plugs for tour sponsors Weight Watchers.
Without a doubt, Gaga’s profoundly genuine and forthcoming conversation about her own struggles with mental health rang the most powerful.
Billboard was there for every heart-wrenching and warming moment. Here are the 10 most resonant takeaways about Lady Gaga.
She Is Done Shocking the World
Lady Gaga is all grown up, and she doesn’t need a meat dress to get anyone’s attention — not that she’s anything but proud of her past. “It was something that I enjoyed,” she told Oprah, “to bemuse people so that they would listen to the music … The truth is, that was part of my art form … even though it felt quite superficial for a lot of people.”
“It’s changed since then because, number one, it’s no longer shocking to have pink hair. Number two, I think the most shocking thing that I could possibly do is be completely vulnerable and honest with you about my life, what I’ve been through, the struggles that I’ve seen [and] been a part of, and share that with the world so that I can help other people who are suffering.”
She Is a Sexual Assault Survivor
Gaga was incredibly candid about her struggles.
“I was raped repeatedly when I was 19 years old,” she said. “I also developed PTSD as a result of being raped and also not processing that trauma. I did not have anyone help me. I did not have a therapist. I did not have a psychiatrist. I did not have a doctor help me through it. I just all of a sudden became a star and was traveling the world, going from hotel room to garage to limo to stage, and I never dealt with it.”
Gaga is moved and comforted by the #MeToo movement, but she has chosen not to name her rapist, feeling it is her personal choice not to relive that moment any more than she already has to.
She Struggled With Self Harm
Instead of facing her trauma, Gaga thrust herself into her work, blasting up the charts and into international stardom with the ferocity of a meteor destined to destroy a planet. Without therapy and proper self-care, she turned to self-destruction.
“I like to say I used to cut as opposed to I am a cutter,” she said. “I also used to throw myself against the wall. I used to do some horrible things to myself when I was in pain.”
Self-harm was a distraction from the psychological pain as well as a means to give her invisible suffering some physical proof, but she knows too well the short-term nature of such toxic methods.
“You see the blood, and then you feel chaotic, and then you spiral more and more out of control,” she said. “It is actually not helpful in any way. It is going to make your spiral worse. It will make the neurotic state that you’re in something that is going to be prolonged instead of shortening the amount of time that you’re in it … [My mother and] I always say with the Born This Way Foundation, ‘Tell me, don’t show me [your pain].’”
She Had a Psychotic Break
Nearly a decade of defiance against a need to reflect left her broken and worn, and one day, her body just gave up.
“I was on the couch, Oprah,” she said. “I was laid out. I could not move. I was being assessed by doctors to see if they could get me to move … I was triggered really badly in a court deposition, and this part of the brain where you stay centered and you don’t disassociate? It slammed down.”
Once triggered, her entire body started tingling, then it went numb. She was taken to a hospital screaming, “Why is no one else panicking?”
“They brought in a psychiatrist and I said, ‘Can you give me a real doctor?’” she said, noting how hypocritical that sounds coming from the woman who runs a foundation for mental health. “I mean, that’s how I was so separated from the world. Once we started talking, he realized what had happened to me, then he ordered medication for me that I took, reluctantly at first. He became my psychiatrist and assembled a team for me. I went away to a place that I go to sometimes still for a reboot. They took care of me, and we got all of the things lined up.”
She Was Diagnosed With Fibromyalgia
“I started to experience this incredible, intense pain throughout my entire body that mimicked actually the illness that I felt after I was raped,” she told the audience. “It was a trauma response.”
Now, she lives with a condition called fibromyalgia, which leaves her in constant head-to-toe pain. After years of MRIs and countless trips to numerous medical specialists, she was finally diagnosed with the mysterious disease in 2017.
“I remember sitting with my doctor,” she said. “His name’s Andy, and Andy’s like, ‘You need to radically accept that you’re going to be in pain every day.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s how I’m going to heal, just by accepting that I going to feel awful all the time?'”
Little by little, a regimen of medication, meditation, therapy and exercise lessened the pain and made it more manageable.
“All of a sudden, I could function,” she said, and she’s dedicated herself to learning more about the disease. “There’s the neurospych aspect. There’s also an immunity aspect where there is a possibility that the immune system has something to do with fibromyalgia or trauma response or neuropathic pain, whatever you want to call it. There’s some similarities in my condition to autoimmune diseases, but fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease.”
“What I would like for you to know and to shine a light on is that many people don’t know what it is, and we need to all get together and figure this out,” Gaga said.
She Wants to Dispel the Stigma Around Medication
While society struggles to accept and recognize mental illness as a legitimate medical condition, it also struggles to normalize taking the proper medication. Gaga says her “unorthodox” prescriptions have saved her life.
“If I took my pillbox out, it would sound like a rattle,” she said. “I don’t mean to laugh, but it’s kind of funny — but I’m healthier than I’ve ever been in my whole life … I take an antipsychotic. I’m in the 1.4 percentile of people that do. [If I didn’t take this medicine] I would spiral very frequently and I would spasm in my sleep.”
She and her psychiatrist have come up with a medicinal formula that leaves her feeling creative and capable, and while she sings the praises of medicinal psychological help, she feels very strongly that no human should ever turn to narcotic pain pills.
“People become addicted,” she said, “and there is a correlation between mental health and chronic pain, and mental health is the biggest crisis in the world. What’s happening is, while mental health is the biggest health crisis that we have, there’s also chronic neuropathic pain being produced.”
How to Problem Solve Our Depression
Along with her medication, Gaga believes deeply in therapy, including dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. Sessions give her the tools to incorporate healthy coping mechanisms into her everyday life, such as opposite action practice (if you’re depressed and have been in the house for a week straight, go outside with a trusted friend) and if-then problem solving.
“Say I’m upset,” she explained, “Then I’ll say, why am I upset? I will write down all the reasons, and then I will check the facts. If the emotion of feeling upset fits the facts, then I’ll go to the next stage and I will say, ‘What action am I going to take now to solve this problem?’ So if I’m upset because I’m in pain, then what’s my action going to be? I’m going to take my medication that’s going to help me. I’m going to reach out to a friend or my doctor and tell them that I’m not feeling well. I’m going to try to get to the core of the issue inside of me and speak it out into existence, do the cognitive work to say ‘I am upset because today I am triggered about being raped when I was 19, and I’m having a trauma response, and I’m going to take my medication, and I’m going to try to calm down my nervous system as much as possible so that this pain dissipates.’”
She is Tackling the Mental Health Crisis Head On
Her experience with depression and fibromyalgia has awaked Gaga to her own pain and suffering and how to heal it. Now, she wants to share that awareness and wisdom with the world.
“I was supposed to go through this, even the rape, all of it,” she said. “I think it happened because God was saying to me, ‘I’m going to show you pain, and then you’re going to help other people who are in pain, because you’re going to understand it.’ … I take an oath as a commitment today with you: It’s 2020, and over the next decade and maybe longer, I’m going to get the smartest scientists, doctors, psychiatrists, mathematicians, researchers and professors in the same room together. And we are going to go through each problem one by one, and we are going to solve this mental health crisis.”
The Born This Way Foundation has already helped put mental health first aid in schools across the country, and Gaga is committed to getting that help in every school she can.
“I want mental health to be its own class,” she said. “What is health class, sex ed? Is that what we’re still doing? We should be learning about the brain and the heart, and the mind and the body and its connection and all the things. I want there to be someone in every school that someone can go to if they’re in need of help, or that someone can go to if they see that someone else needs help. At the same time, it [should be] a requirement in every school that you learn about the importance of kindness, about triggers, and you learn about depression.”
She is Working on New Music
Oprah let slip that she is working with Prince Harry on a show for Apple TV, and that part of this show will follow Lady Gaga and her journey with mental health, but Oprah also got down to the nitty gritty: When will fans get LG6?
“Don’t worry,” she said coyly. “I’ve been working on it for year … We’re having a self-care conversation, but I still am going to make music.”