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A songwriter plays a chord with the faith that he will hear the next one in his head. -- Bono

Anxiety, Experience and Finding the Light




While Songs Of Experience deals with love in the face of mortality and feeling lost, for me it’s been about reclaiming my sense of identity. Songs Of Innocence remains my favorite of the two narratives because I fell in love with it while I was getting my health back during my struggle with autoimmune disease. And to be honest, I didn’t really adore the album until eight months after its release. I needed saving and it came to me at the right time. Now that I’ve had SOE with me for a while and I’ve seen the current tour, I’m grateful for the album during this chapter of my life. I might have my body back, but I miss not being so full of fear. SOI is the album for my heart. SOE is the album for my head.                            

When it comes to how I deal with situations, I’ve actually categorized myself as the members of U2. When I’m Bono, I see kindness and that there is good to come from everything. When I’m Edge, I dissect my problems and try to fit the pieces together into the right spots. I’m Adam when I want to be a free spirit and fly by the seat of my good hair days without caring about the outcome. My Larry side comes out when there is a definitive point A and point B and no way of getting around it. I’m typically Edge in my day-to-day life. I’m amazing at overthinking.

I hate math. That actually doesn’t make sense because I’m a professional baker, where my day-to-day involves reading recipes and measuring ingredients. But during my pre-teen years, I used to count how many times I would close a door. Or count how many letters a sentence had, then add those numbers together to get another number. If I were lucky, I’d do it flawlessly on the first try. If I weren’t, I’d fear that my grandmother would get into an accident because of my terrible counting.

That was the first indicator of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Some sort of trauma typically causes OCD, usually an outside force you can’t predict. I was bullied horribly in middle school, and things at home weren’t any better, so my poor brain was working overtime to give me some sort of control. My outside life was spinning into disaster, but if I could nail my letter-counting or doorknob-touching rituals in one shot, I was golden. I was standing in the middle of a storm trying to drown out the outside world by using numbers.

Thankfully, I don’t do manic counting anymore. As I got older and once I got to college, it mellowed out on its own. I was focused on moving to New York City and being an actual adult. I do still have tiny rituals but most of them are practical now: making sure my apartment door is locked, keying in the right security code for the alarm at work, and obviously double-checking that I don’t mistake tablespoon for teaspoon.

NYC, as much as I love it, didn’t give me any reassurance that everything would be sunshine and cupcakes. Within six months of moving, in October 2014, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is an autoimmune disease of the large intestine. I blamed myself almost instantly for getting this disease. But in reality, autoimmune disease can happen to anyone. I was an active spin class participant and always preferred walking anywhere I could. I was perfectly healthy, except now I wasn’t. I was also convinced I’d never be cured. It was my fault.

Fast-forward to the present, and I’ve been in clinical remission for two years now. The infusion therapy I receive every six weeks makes my disease one less thing for me to worry about. Which is great because now I can use up all my energy on the unease that plagues me daily. If it were a recipe, it’d be one heaping cup of my job, plus a couple of spoonfuls from my love life, some sprinkles of my friendships, and a giant handful of thoughts about my future. Mix it all in a bowl, bake it in an overheated mind, and you have “Anxiety Cake.” It’s all I eat these days.

Guard your innocence / From hallucination / And know that darkness always gathers around / The light

Perhaps what I’ve noticed most about myself is that I’m hypersensitive. I often wonder if I feel things more deeply than others. I worry myself to the brink if one negative thought brought about some bit of bad luck I’m facing. You always read about putting positive energy out into the world and that good fortune comes back to you. I think I’m either too much of a cynical New Yorker by now to attempt it or my mind is too fraught with fear that I’m not deserving of good luck.

But one thing I take seriously is a sign. I notice things on subway ads or on trucks driving past the bakery window. They remind me of people who are important to me or scenes of happiness that I want to relive. I often think the signs come to me when I need them most, when I need positive reinforcement that nothing bad is going to happen. The comfort it brings me is more of a relief than when I swallow my morning antidepressant. Because I know the universe is somehow looking out for me. Or it’s my late Grammy. Or the moon of my zodiac sign or whatever. It’s there because I need it and I feel it in my heart every time.

Sometimes the air is so anxious / All my thoughts are so reckless / And all of my innocence has died

I thought once my OCD was gone, I was going to be set for life. Nothing but clear skies and only one touch of a door handle. But after multiple helpings of Anxiety Cake, my brain got a stomachache. I remember when I had my first session with my therapist and I told her, “Everything in my head feels like a blender. It’s a constant whirring of all that’s in my life and it doesn’t stop.” I didn’t know how to control my thoughts or which button on the blender to press. I felt utterly helpless and ashamed that I had to seek someone to pull me out of this ocean. But to reference another U2 song, sometimes you can’t make it on your own.

I always dismissed having a therapist. I thought it was only for certifiably insane people, despite many friends telling me that it’s normal to reach out to someone. Having someone independent from my family and friend group to unload my thoughts on was the best investment I made for myself. I’ve been in therapy for over a year now and I feel like my growth has been unreal. I learned that it’s OK to cry, to be assertive, and to confidently eliminate people/things that aren’t beneficial to me. Sometimes my therapist annoys me, but I love the challenge she gives me to stand my ground and express myself.

I think about where I was the month before I started therapy and it scares me. A lot of it was dark. A lot of it was stuff I wasn’t posting on social media, and certainly not things I was telling my family. Like with my autoimmune disease, I was blaming myself. Instead, it was outside forces that were trying to bury me. I had to remove the toxicity so I could feel clean again. It’s a place I hope to never go back to.

So young to be the words of your own song / I know the rage in you is strong

What I’ve learned from my struggle is that, as cliché as it sounds, you have to love yourself. I used to dismiss that notion a lot when people dropped such a thought bomb on me. To me, it was saccharine nonsense. “Oh, just love yourself! You have to love who you are!!” But it’s insanely true. There are days when I don’t like me. When I pick apart scenarios, overanalyze a text or become overly dramatic, I constantly dig at myself, “Why are you like this? Just stop it! You are crazy!” My anger toward my inner self boils over.

Do you know your heart has its own mind? / Darkness gathers around the light / Hold on, hold on

I’ve had to learn that I’m only human. This is just how I’m programmed. Beating myself up only makes it worse. Love is truly bigger than anything in its way, and in my case, it’s bigger than my anxiety. Every day I wake up, my goal is to prove that to myself. Yes, I’m on medication and seeing a shrink. But no pill or doctor can help find the light within. That’s all on me.

© @U2/Marino, 2018