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The Rita Wilson Song That Helps Me Deal With My Chronic Illness

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At different stages of my life, different songs have served as personal anthems. They are theme songs; songs that seem to say exactly what I need to hear. Songs that seem to fit me and my situation so perfectly I can almost convince myself the artist wrote the song just for me.

Generally, they are the songs that get you moving. The songs that put a smile on your face. The songs that make you believe everything may not be OK, but that’s still OK. The songs that motivate and inspire and uplift.

Over the years, I have found comfort, encouragement and resilience in:

Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.”

Sara Bareilles’s  “Brave.”

Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”

Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

They are my pick-me-up songs. My keep-going songs. My don’t-give-up songs. My keep-trying songs.

I need them, not just to serve as a boost for the everyday ups and downs of life, but to help me deal with, cope with, and manage living with a chronic illness and chronic pain. My autoimmune disease, undifferentiated connective tissue disease, leaves me with pain, fatigue, and weakness in my left leg.

There’s always pain, to some extent. And it’s exhausting. But some times are just worse than others. There are moments when it all feels too hard. To push through. To keep going. To keep smiling when I don’t want to. To attend doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment and hear some version of “You’re weird,” “It’s atypical,” “The results are inconclusive,” “You’re a mystery.”

I don’t often give myself permission to stop. Or even pause. To let my guard down. To shout. Or cry. To not hold it all together. To curse.

I need to keep going. I have to pick up my son from school. Attend a parent/teacher conference. Take care of the bills. Meet my writing deadlines. Make dinner.

But there is one song that gives me permission to let go, at least temporarily, at least for three minutes and twenty-one seconds. It is the song that says, “I get it. Go ahead.”

Rita Wilson’s “Strong Tonight.”

For those times when I don’t want to hear the platitudes of a well-meaning, well-intentioned friend/neighbor/loved one.

“You’re so brave.”  No, I’m not. This is my life. I’m just trying to live it.

“You’re so strong.” Not really. I don’t see another option.

“Everything happens for a reason.” I’m not so sure. And telling me that somewhat discounts my experience and my pain.

But Rita Wilson gives me the green light I need to stop. I can stop trying to do it all and be it all. I can stop being “strong tonight.”

“I don’t wanna be strong tonight
Don’t wanna hear it’ll be OK
Don’t wanna look on the bright side

Don’t wanna cheer up
Don’t feel like smiling
To hell with looking for that silver lining

I’m tired of holding it together
I’m tired of keeping everything inside
I’m gonna hurt to feel better
And try my best not to apologize.”

Because I need someone to give me that permission. And as much as I love my family, and as much as I know they love me, they won’t “give” it to me. They’ll assume that unspoken permission is always there, and I could take a break, or press pause, or go into the bathroom and shut the door and yell. Whenever I want. Whenever I needed to.

But I don’t.

I usually don’t give myself a break or a pass. And it’s somehow easier for me to do it, hearing this song.

I can cry instead of holding my tears inside.

I can get it all out so I can make myself start to feel better.

And for that I say, “Thank you, Rita Wilson.”

Getty image by Paul Bradbury.

Originally published: March 18, 2021
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