It’s time to talk about Lady Gaga’s song ‘The Cure’. Despite being ridiculously catchy, and the ultimate shower anthem, it is also part of a larger issue. It perpetuates the misconception that loving, and being loved, makes everything better. This is not an uncommon ideal – it draws on the classic prince coming to save the damsel in distress, and kissing all of her problems away. It sounds nice, but it’s far less realistic than the world makes it seem.
For those of you not familiar with the song, here is the main chorus:
“If I can’t find the cure, I’ll
I’ll fix you with my love
No matter what you know, I’ll
I’ll fix you with my love
And if you say you’re okay
I’m gonna heal you anyway
Promise I’ll always be there
Promise I’ll be the cure.”
The lyrics cement the ‘love fixes all’ ideal. Lady Gaga herself has recently become a poster girl for mental health awareness – she has been quite open with her experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, and recently has begun to open up about her experiences with chronic pain. Her involvement with the Disability community makes this song, and its meaning, just that much harder to hear. It feels almost like a betrayal. I’m here to tell you the truth: love is not ‘the cure’, and thinking that it is can be damaging.
No one would question me if I said: “Loving someone cannot cure their cancer”. The same agreement would not follow if I instead said: “Loving someone cannot cure their depression.” Many of us believe that if you love someone enough, they will get better or, alternatively, that if someone loved you then you would, or should, feel better. If that doesn’t happen both parties can be left feeling guilty, which for those with mental illness can, in fact, exasperate their condition.
The fact that love doesn’t cure all might not be initially obvious, and this in itself can be devastating. The beginning of relationships can elicit responses that make it seem as though the person with a mental illness is recovering, but as the honeymoon phase dies down, the symptoms of the illness may return. The feelings of excitement and joy from a relationship in its early stages can make even the person with the illness feel like they are ‘better’, because, on many levels, their symptoms lessen. When that changes with time though, it tends to cause the individuals involved to question the relationship and its validity.
Those in the relationship may begin to feel that they haven’t tried hard enough and that’s why the other doesn’t love them, because if they did, then they would be happy. Further, for the individual/s with mental illness, they could begin to feel guilty for not being happy enough, and they may even interpret their lack of happiness as a lack of satisfaction in the relationship or a lack of love for the other/s involved.
To relate this back to personal experiences, I have borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as chronic pain and a few other issues. I, like many people, grew up thinking that if someone loved me and I could equally love them, then I would be happy. I thought that being loved should and would make me happy. In a lot of ways, being in my last relationship did make me happy, but it didn’t cure my depression – I was still mentally ill, but more than that, I felt guilty. I felt bad that I couldn’t be happy enough, even though I had everything I was supposed to have, and the same could have been said for my partner. I worked hard to try and prove myself because I felt that if I could show them just how much I loved them, then we both could be happy. Proving myself came in many forms, one of them was by taking on more than I could reasonably handle to prove that I loved my partner. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t happy, why being in love didn’t make things better. We eventually separated, and nearly two years later I’m way healthier. Because, long story short, I wasn’t in the position to start improving because I just expected I should improve.
That’s why Lady Gaga’s song hit home for me; I felt betrayed because she’s become a bit of a hero for me recently, as we share some similar diagnoses. I can understand that the song comes from a place of well-meaning and love, but I worry that it will perpetuate this idea of love being ‘The Cure’. It not only places pressure on those with mental illness to recover, but on those who love them to be the cause of that recovery. It’s not fair, and it’s also just not realistic. If Lady Gaga could just release a song on all the number of ways you can care and support your partner during ill-health that would be great, but since I doubt that would be catchy, I’m going to finish up with a few tips for those who may have partners who suffer with mental illness:
- Don’t take it personally. If your partner has mental health issues, it’s important to acknowledge what is and isn’t within your control. Their depressive episode is not your fault, but how you respond to it is. It’s also important to remember that your partner (or friend) may not be in the position to show you that they care for you when things aren’t going well for them, but do try to offer support where you can.
- Look after yourself. Being in a caring role can be very difficult and it’s important to make sure your needs are being met. Consider talking to a counsellor when you feel like you may need it.
- Let your partner know you’re there for them – it can be as little as just asking them about their day and showing that you’re willing to listen.
- Encourage them to seek help – it’s hard to speak to a counsellor/GP/Psychologist. Your partner may want help, and be willing to receive help, but not have the energy to seek it. Having someone encourage you to make appointments and take you to them can be a major help, so I definitely encourage partners to check in with their loved one, encourage them to seek help, and ask them how best you can help them get it.
- Check in. When things are improving it’s easy to just let things go as normal, but it’s important to ask how they’re doing, even if everything seems okay. Keeping this line of communication open is so important.
- Do little things. Leave short notes around, telling your partner to have a good day; send those “Goodnight” texts; buy them the occasional doughnut; and ask some practical questions, the classic “have you had lunch today?” can be super helpful. No, love can’t cure mental illness, but showing someone that you care can improve their day.
If they (or you) need more practical support, seek it where you can, below are some handy resources to tap in to:
ANU Counselling: 6125 2442
Kids helpline: 1800 55 1800
Beyond blue: 1300 22 4635, https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Lifeline: 13 11 14