Alan Heiber

The Grammy Awards took place recently, and that made me reflect on how music impacts me. I’d say that music’s greatest power is its versatility in playing a meaningful role in various aspects of a person’s life. Oftentimes, the meanings I attach to songs are associated with my life experiences through the lens of living with a rare disease.

Here I’ll be sharing a playlist I feel encapsulates what it can be like to have Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

Kelly Clarkson – “Because Of You”

One track that enters my mind when thinking of DMD is Kelly Clarkson’s 2004 hit “Because Of You.” Her trademark belt-out vocals combine with lyrics that hit home. The words “because of you” are reiterated throughout the song. I see the “you” referred to as a personification of DMD itself.

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Two segments of the lyrics that stick out are “I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt” and “I am afraid.” There are moments when I’m afraid of physical injury since my body’s fragility makes it almost imminent. So I play things safe by avoiding higher-risk situations such as transfers. 

Another set of lyrics that grab my heartstrings are “I don’t know how to let anyone else in” and “I’m ashamed of my life because it’s empty.” The former reminds me how I can have trouble telling others what physical or mental struggles I might be going through. The latter brings up thoughts of the disappointment I have in being held back from things I want more of in life, like career options and traveling. 

Demi Lovato – “Stone Cold”

Next up is pop star Demi Lovato’s melancholy tune called “Stone Cold.” I’ve mentioned before how my “Stay Strong” tattoo is inspired by a similar design she has. This song has some impressive high notes, but there are a few more subtle elements that give me chills when I listen to it.

Having DMD certainly complicates how a “normal” relationship looks. This includes setting up the logistics of dating or the heightened level of care I require. This song can be viewed as a routine breakup anthem, but for me, it’s symbolic of the challenges I just brought up. You can hear an obvious break in her voice, which contributes to the heartbreaking mood. The icing on the cake for me is the concurrent lyrics, “God knows I try to feel / Happy for you / Know that I am, even if I / Can’t understand, I’ll take the pain.” Here I ruminate on how there are times when I can’t understand why relationships have to be so hard for me.

Taylor Swift – “Death By A Thousand Cuts”

This third song is a lesser-known title on Taylor Swift’s 2019 album “Lover” called “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” Swift’s unsung ability to write songs is probably what I like most about her. In this track, the lyrics that give me pause are “My hips, my heart, my body, my love / Tryna find a part of me you didn’t take up.” The references to the body being impacted immediately make me think about how DMD weakens so many of a person’s muscles.

Read more about therapies for treating DMD

Selena Gomez – “Rare”

I thought it would be fitting to add this next song since the name of it is “Rare,” performed by Selena Gomez. It appears to talk about someone wanting their partner to see what makes them unique as a person. In my interpretation I think of how I’m rare, but not just because of my disease. My writing talent is one thing that comes to mind.

Rachel Platten – “Fight Song”

The upbeat hit “Fight Song,” from Rachel Platten, is another track close to my heart. The repetitive theme of still having fight left is easily relatable to me or really anyone experiencing health issues. I personally enjoy the lyric, “My power’s turned on” because I thought of how strong I am and literally the power behind of my wheelchair.

Bon Jovi – “It’s My Life”

I’ll conclude the list with a favorite of mine from rock legend Bon Jovi. It’s “It’s My Life.” The grouping of the lyrics, “It’s my life / It’s now or never / But I ain’t gonna live forever / I just want to live while I’m alive,” is what strikes a chord with me. Here I’m thinking of how living with DMD can at times make life seem more fleeting than it already is with the prognosis of a shortened life expectancy. So I feel a desire to live life to the fullest, however long that is.