"That's what my break was really about. I could've had a stroke," the 23-year-old told Billboard magazine, adding that it was hard to listen to people speculate about her health. “I wanted so badly to say, 'You guys have no idea. I'm in chemotherapy. You're assholes.' I locked myself away until I was confident and comfortable again.”
Lupus affects 1.5 million people in the United States, according to the Lupus Foundation, and about 90 percent of those are women. The immune system of a person with lupus can't distinguish between the bad and the good, leading it to take on and destroy healthy tissue. Though it can affect many parts of the body, most people will experience inflammation and problems with skin and joints. The majority of the time, others can't tell that a person with lupus is sick because, other than the telltale butterfly rash, most of the symptoms happen internally.
And that's where the judging comes in.
Gomez, who many believed was in rehab during her break, never "looked sick" — even though we now know she went through chemo — so it's difficult for some to believe that anything was really wrong. Even worse, those with "invisible" illnesses are experiencing serious shaming for accessing services others don't think they deserve. One mom, Corinna Skorpenske, took to Facebook in April to blast someone who left a note on her daughter's car chiding her for parking in a handicap spot.
"Since she was 16 years old, she has been suffering from LUPUS. Basically, her immune system thinks her body inside and out is something bad and attacks it. It started with her joints swelling and the pain being so bad she could hardly walk. But she continued going to school and keeping up with her community service," Skorpenske wrote in the viral post.
"Many people suffer with these 'GHOST' diseases, which you can't see but are just as bad as a physical disability. People die of depression, but we can't see that."
Maybe Gomez's battle will finally help others understand a bit more about lupus — and also remind us why it's important to withhold judgment about someone's health until they decide to talk about it.
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