Darla Fowler Tarpey, 53, has struggled with fibroymalgia for more than 13 years, the same chronic pain disorder that cripples Lady Gaga.
Fibromyalgia is a multiskeletal disorder that affects five million people in the United States.
The mother-of-five from Massachusetts had to leave her job because her symptoms, such as pain, migraines and muscle spasms, were so severe that it impacted her ability to work.
Lady Gaga experienced similar inabilities to work and has now postponed her world tour’s European leg until next year so she can focus on her health.
The singer admitted to her struggles with fibromyalgia in a new documentary titled Gaga: Five Foot Two that is set to release Friday on Netflix.
And Darla said celebrities such as Lady Gaga can be an important factor to help raise awareness of the debilitating disorder.
Darla Fowler Tarpey, 53, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 13 years ago. Her severe symptoms such as chronic pain and muscle spasms have forced her to retire early. This picture was taken on a day where her symptoms were flaring up and she was in a lot of pain
Lady Gaga is releasing a new documentary on September 21st titled Gaga: Five Foot Two about her own struggles with fibromyalgia. She had to postpone the European leg of her world tour because she is unable to perform at the level she thinks is necessary for the show
Darla was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when she was 39 years old after experiencing weird muscle spasms and pain.
She originally thought the pain was in response to her hysterectomy.
But eight months later, Darla’s pain hadn’t gone away and she was still extremely fatigued.
Doctors informed her that she was suffering from fibromyalgia, the same chronic pain disorder Lady Gaga has struggled with for five years.
What is fibromyalgia and how is it treated
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that is associated with widespread pain throughout the body.
This occurs in an estimated five million people in the United States, and 80 to 90 percent of those are women.
Researchers have looked into fibromyalgia developing due to an issue with how the brain responds to pain receptors.
- Chronic pain
- Muscle spasms
- Cognitive difficulties (‘fibro fog’)
- Sleep disruptions
Treatment is used to minimize the symptoms, not to rid the body of the disorder.
There is a variety of medications to help treat pain, sleep problems and muscle spasms.
People can also turn to therapy, messages, acupuncture and yoga to see if it helps lessen the symptoms.
There is no current cure for the chronic disorder.
Source: Mayo Clinic
About 80 to 90 percent of people who suffer from the chronic disorder are women, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Throbbing joint pain throughout Darla’s body and random muscle spasms at night are common symptoms for her.
‘Sleeping with fibromyalgia is a joke,’ Darla said. ‘Your heart rate doesn’t shut down like normal. You just don’t get a restful sleep.’
People with this chronic disorder are more likely experience restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea at night.
The pain also causes disruptions in someone’s sleep and makes them more restless.
This chronic pain disorder has also disrupted Lady Gaga’s life.
‘I have chased this pain for five years,’ Lady Gaga said in a promo for her documentary. ‘But when I feel the adrenaline of my music and my fans, I can f***ing go.’
The singer posted on Twitter and Instagram last week about severe pain in her hips that has impacted her ability to perform.
Pain is the most prevalent symptom Lady Gaga has spoken about, but it isn’t all that someone with fibromyalgia will experience.
Darla’s most debilitating symptom is her cognitive difficulties, or ‘fibro fog’.
Fibro fog impairs someone’s memory, concentration on mental tasks and ability to focus.
When she worked at a chiropractor office her town of Taunton, Massachusetts, the fibro fog would sometimes impact her work.
‘Some days I would sound drunk,’ Darla said.
Her disorder can cause a slur in her words that she can’t control. She has also experienced memory problems such as forgetting the word ‘pencil’ or other simple terms she uses in her daily life.
Lady Gaga reveals in her documentary the different ways she tries to handle her symptoms. You see her getting injected by doctors in her back to help with the pain
Treatment varies from person to person. Lady Gaga said on Twitter that heat helps her. Darla used to like heat for her symptoms, but now she has turned to ice
It’s hard because people look at you and on the outside you don’t look sick,’ Darla said. ‘They don’t want to take time to learn about what they physically can’t see.’
Darla had to retire from her job two years ago because her symptoms were getting to be too much for her.
‘I was getting exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally,’ Darla said.
Her symptoms have increased in the last 13 years where she now only experienced two to three symptom free days per month.
This has been hard on the mother-of-five and grandmother-of-eight because she has always felt like ‘the rock’ of the family.
‘I was always a go, go, go person,’ Darla said. ‘There are days that I don’t want to get up but I do because people are counting on me.’
I have chased this pain for five years. But when I feel the adrenaline of my music and my fans, I can f***ing go
Lady Gaga in her new documentary
Her husband John is a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer and requires disability assistance from her at home.
He is on 100 percent disability from the US Department of Veterans Affairs after surgeries on his knees, spine and leg that have led to his rapid decline.
Darla is responsible for all of the housework that she can do while she manages the treatment of her own disorder.
There are a vast amount of treatment options for people with fibromyalgia that include medication, therapy and counselling.
Darla has taken a variety medications to help with her pain, sleep problems, muscle spasm and migraines, but most haven’t had long-lasting effects.
‘It doesn’t matter what you take,’ Darla said. ‘It’s just there.’
There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia.
Doctors will prescribe patients medication to help relieve some of their symptoms, but each person reacts differently to the drugs.
Darla has found some natural cures such as Epsom salt baths have helped relieve her pain, especially in the winter. This popular treatment option has also been promoted by Lady Gaga.
The diagnosis has been hard on Darla because she considers herself ‘the rock’ of her family. Here Darla is with her five children and her husband. Pictured from back left to front right is Carri, 33; Darla; Darla’s husband John; Kate, 29; Jeremiah, 26; Mary, 31; John 26
Darla remains hopeful that new cures will come forward as research continues to grow. This is her after her diagnosis when she was 39. Her symptoms have gotten worse since then
But treatment options vary from patient to patient.
Darla originally used heat to help with her pain and muscle spasms, but she switched to ice after that became unbearable.
Lady Gaga, on the other hand, started out treating her symptoms with ice and has now found better results with heat.
Both have used injections in the neck and spine to help control the pain.
In Lady Gaga’s new documentary, she shows one of her office visits where she is injected at the top of her back to help relieve her chronic pain.
Darla gets injected twice a year to help with migraines and chronic pain.
The one medication she avoids unless the pain is too severe is opiates because of the drug’s addictive qualities.
One common theme with people dealing with fibromyalgia, though, is that finding the right balance of treatments is not easy.
What helps Darla one day won’t necessarily help her the next.
People experience a range of symptoms depending on their body, and Darla said it is about finding what works best at the time.
‘What works for me may not work for you,’ Darla said. ‘There is no harm, though, in giving it a try.’
While she has suffered from the disorder for 13 years, she still remains hopeful that there will one day be a cure for fibromyalgia.