I know this is a pretty bold question to ask, but when people are diagnosed with chronic illnesses, one of the first things they do after Googling their disease is to Google the celebrities that share their disease.
I don’t know why we have this odd obsession—to have things in common with celebrities.
We find it fascinating when celebrities are from our home towns, we bring up all the celebs that share our birthdays when that time of year rolls around, we like to share the same political affiliations, and we enjoy seeing a celebrity parent in strife because it means they are just like us.
We use these commonalities to humanize our favorite celebrities—but do you want to hear a crazy fact?
Celebs are ALREADY human! True story, look it up.
We expect celebrities to be perfect—infallible and untouchable. Illnesses are no exception; so when we hear that our favorite celebs get chronic illnesses like the rest of us, it brings about a sense of relief to know we aren’t alone. This person who is on your TV or radio is even more like you than you thought.
These are just a small portion of celebrities that share many of the illnesses that we find ourselves living with.
So I will ask the question again. Are celebrities hurting the chronic illness community?
Some of these celebs are vocal, and most importantly, truthful about how rough their disease can be—but the sad truth is that just like we tend to downplay our symptoms to friends and families—celebs tend to downplay their symptoms to the world.
That’s where the danger lies. If normal people downplay their symptoms, it’s on a small scale only because they don’t want to be seen as someone who is always sad or sick.
If a celebrity downplays their symptoms, it convinces the entire world that the disease isn’t as terrible as us regular folk are trying to convince them of.
It tells the world that we don’t need cures because our treatments are effective. It shows the world that the rest of us are lying about how much pain or discomfort we are in. It convinces people that if celebrities can work with these diseases on such a massive scale, then we should be able to hold down a 9=5 job without complaint.
It makes them believe that their individual research into our conditions aren’t needed because the brief, white-washed, explanation they just received from their favorite celeb on the Ellen show was all the information they needed to know about our disease.
I read an article earlier titled “Meniere’s disease is Treatable.” This article mentioned several celebrities who share the disease and how well they manage symptoms through treatment.
I can assure you as someone who has lived with this disease for 25 years that calling it “treatable” only shows that your information came solely from celebrities who are downplaying the seriousness.
Before writing articles like that, it would benefit you to talk to real people with the disease—for every one celebrity that convinces you that their disease “isn’t so bad” are another 3,000 regular people who would beg to differ.
I get it, though. It would hurt a celebrity’s job prospects to talk about how much pain they are in, how tired they are, how they get dizzy all of the time—not to mention how it would make them undesirable to book for talk shows. No one wants to see a depressed guest talk about their sad disease when watching Jimmy Fallon—even if it is what the world needs to see more of.
Not all celebrities down play their symptoms, however. Take a look at Michael J. Fox who has done extraordinary things for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. He has allowed the world to see him on and off his medications, and unfortunately, the medications don’t seem to make much difference. He has appeared in front of congress, and he regularly fund raises to get research for the beast of a disease.
Montel Williams is another that puts it all on the table when it comes to his Multiple Sclerosis. He has been an advocate in the legalization of marijuana, famously saying that it is one of the only things that make his symptoms tolerable.
He has also touted the benefits of high protein diets in helping to control pain. In all of his work with the MS community, he has never once said that these treatments are cures or even that they work 100% of the time.
Unfortunately, however, Montel Williams and Michael J. Fox are not the norm in Hollywood. Most celebrities would rather downplay their diseases as much as possible as not to hurt their future job prospects—though it leaves the rest of us to wonder why a person with so much influence would be more worried about future job offers than being advocates for the chronic illness community when most of us within the community have no pull or influence at all.
The world isn’t going to listen to Mr. Joe Shmoe of Cleveland—but they would listen to Mrs. Celeb Celebrity from TV and Movies…
So I ask again, are celebrities hurting the chronic illness community?
By not advocating for us, by misleading the public on the seriousness of these diseases, by not giving a voice to the voiceless—I would say, unapologetically, yes!
Celebs like to get on their high horses when it comes to telling us who to vote for, what environmentally friendly products to use in our homes, and which companies to boycott due to questionable business practices or political and social beliefs—if they world follows them when it comes to these issues, imagine how influential they could be on the front lines of chronic illness—it’s just a shame that most of them don’t see chronic illness as a cause worth fighting for.
Chronic illness IS a cause worth fighting for! WE are worth fighting for!
We are Sleep is my Happy Place warriors!
We are fighting chronic illness one disease, one doctor, one person at a time!
For more information about the Montel Williams MS foundation, visit: http://www.montelms.org
For more information about the Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s foundation, visit: https://www.michaeljfox.org/