Why the Reaction to Justin Bieber’s Lyme Diagnosis Is Unsettling

Telling someone I have Lyme disease usually yields a comparable reaction to disclosing I have a cold. “So what?” People just don’t know what Lyme is. I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t either if it hadn’t nearly ruined my life.

Now, when I share my diagnosis, they’ll say “Ohh, like Justin Bieber?” Um, yeah, sure… *sigh* Celebrities: They’re just like us…kind of…

For the Lyme community, a celebrity diagnosis can spark much-needed interest and discussion. Finally, people might actually care about Lyme, woohoo! Any increase in public awareness is enormously encouraging and might trickle down into a little compassion for the countless “ordinary” people quietly battling Lyme every day.

I don’t think celebrities suffer any more or less than the rest of us, but I think they suffer differently. And, after diving into the depths of Twitter, I’m glad I’m not one of them.

In response to news of Bieber’s diagnosis, many fans tweeted messages of love and support, while others disclosed their own struggles with Lyme. Some critics apologized for trashing the singer’s disheveled appearance in recent months. All of this was uplifting and encouraging.

Several people called the diagnosis a publicity stunt, which is only to be expected in the world of celebrity gossip. At least the nonbelievers were random Twitter trolls, not doctors and other health professionals like they are for us non-famous Lyme patients.

Two types of comments in response to Bieber’s, however, appalled me, both because of their content and the number of times they were echoed.

The first were those calling “Lyme” a cover-up for substance abuse and “treatment” a euphemism for rehab. That disgusting assertion, by uninformed strangers, does a grave injustice to both the Lyme and addiction communities. Who do these people think they are? Would they have dared to make those comments if the diagnosis was cancer? Multiple sclerosis? ALS? What is it about Lyme that emboldens people to assume it’s any less real or serious than other illnesses? If someone shares a diagnosis, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are suffering in some way.

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