Even Powerful Women Left Struggling Privately With Chronic Illness
Fame and fortune doesn’t leave us immune to chronic illness. Some of the most recognizable and popular women on television have opened up about privately struggling their with chronic conditions due to public stigma.
Their story isn’t uncommon for women across the country. Because of pressures to succeed professionally and wanting to avoid being perceived as weak, some women have forced themselves to put on an appearance that they’re feeling fine when their symptoms are actually at their worst.
“I was advised by an industry professional to keep it to myself, because other people would decide what my limits were, if I had any, and they could potentially fire me or not hire me,” said Sopranos actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the height of her fame, to New York Magazine. “I was able to hide any pain. It was like acting in a way — where if nobody knew and I didn’t talk about it, I could almost pretend that it wasn’t real.”
However, attempting to hide the symptoms of chronic illness can actually exacerbate the issue. A 2011 study from the Academy of Pain Medicine linked self-concealing, or hiding negative personal information from others, with high levels of chronic pain. The self-shame from dealing with these conditions has also been linked to depression, which three-quarters of chronic pain patients have grappled with at some point in their lives.
Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi hid her endometriosis, a disorder in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, for the first several seasons of the show. Like many high-powered individuals with chronic illness, she admitted to prioritizing others over herself.
“I would just try and run to the bathroom in between shots to make sure I wasn’t leaking through my undergarments and so that I could vomit, because sometimes I would get so nauseous,” said Lakshmi. “If I don’t show up to work, then 130 other people don’t show up to work. They need me there.”
But by finally opening up and talking about their health struggles, they gained a support network and inspired others in the process. Sigler went public with her condition last January in People, while Lakshmi founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America in 2009 to help educate women on the condition so they can be properly assessed and treated.
“We [should] admit that there are difficulties that we face,” said Lakshmi. That admission is not weakness. It is actually a show of confidence and strength and unity among women.