On Lena Dunham, Endometriosis, and Feeling Represented.
I had just turned 18 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Eighteen is a weird age to be alive on the earth at all, but a particularly weird age to be told you now have a disease that is never going away. The first thing I did when I was diagnosed was inhale five and a half White Castles and a milkshake. Anyone who has ever had to do the prep for a colonoscopy knows–– you are damn hungry afterward. The second thing I did after I was diagnosed was google “celebrities with Crohn’s disease.”
“What a weird thing to do!” You’re probably thinking. But I am a good, practicing millennial, and nothing makes me feel more connected to the world around me than knowing someone with a lot of money and Twitter followers also knows my strife. Sadly, my search yielded very little. Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry are not secretly harboring intense digestive issues (at least not according to internet listicles–– the main authority of life).
So for years, I have had little insight into how a highly successful person and a Crohn’s-disease having person might live within the same body. I didn’t know any people in real life with Crohn’s–– just an occasional anecdote from a friend about how their cousin’s soccer coach has colitis, or something. But then Lena Dunham started getting real about endometriosis in a public setting.
Endometriosis and Crohn’s are totally different things, but they’re also similar in a lot of ways. Sufferers of both experience a lot of pain, have to spend a lot of time hanging out at the doctor trying to figure their insides out, etc. When in a particularly bad flare of endometriosis, it can be difficult for women to go about their daily lives.
So when Lena Dunham (whose work I admire immensely in general) posted on Instagram saying she’d be taking some time off from press for her show “Girls” to deal with her worsening endometriosis symptoms, something inside me felt understood. Here was this powerful young woman, who at an insanely young age has written a book, produced and starred in her own show, and started an awesome feminist newsletter–– and even she is not immune to the pull of her body’s illness. Even she has to know when to say “enough is enough” and just rest.
She also used the aforementioned newsletter to post a really eloquent piece on what it means to be young and chronically ill. I had always loved her for her emotional honesty as a writer, and I know many women identify with her stories of being young and figuring things out–– the “Girls” phenomenon. But to read a story of being young and figuring illness out, to me, felt revolutionary.
So while it may sound silly to need to hear “Celebrities! They’re just like us!” It honestly has helped me cope with my own limitations to see Lena speak so openly about hers. It’s a kind and necessary reminder that being sick doesn’t have to mean I can’t do the things I want to do–– and more so, that even the most successful and seemingly together among us are dealing with things behind the scenes, and taking care of yourself often has to come before everything else. People love that phrase “You have as many hours in a day as Beyonce,” but I kind of think that’s bullshit. We need more successful people out there who don’t keep up the front of always having it perfectly together. So thanks, Lena, for going public with your illness. Thanks for pulling back the Wizard of Oz style curtain and reminding sick girls with their laptops like myself that it’s okay if we don’t accomplish as much in a day as Beyonce–– as long as we take care of ourselves.