"I don't want people coming to me, or the group, as some sort of God substitute or guru-like goons because I can look at myself in the mirror and just laugh."
U2 Lists: Top 10 U2 Songs of Recovery
November 16, 2016
[Ed. note: This is the 71st in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Last month marked the two-year anniversary of my autoimmune disease diagnosis. I don’t celebrate it like I do my birthday, but I am conscious of the day my life changed. When I moved to New York City in April of 2014, I didn’t envision getting sick six months later. I didn’t think I was going to put almost a whole year of my life on hold to navigate my way through doctors, tests, medications and hospitals. The old saying rings true: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m still alive and I’m better than I thought I would be when this all first happened.
The one constant throughout this journey has been U2 and their music. During my odyssey, I found comfort and clarity in their songs that the best therapist in the world couldn’t prescribe. These are the particular ones that had an impact on me.
10. “Angel Of Harlem”
Birdland on fifty-three / The street sounds like a symphony
More like “Bakery on one hundred and sixteenth” in my case. One of the things many people are told when they are in a state of despair is to change the scenery around them. Bad relationship? Leave it. Despise your job? Quit, which is exactly what I did. My manager position at the bakery that enabled me to move to NYC back in 2014 was the source of more stress than my actual illness. While I took my responsibility seriously and was proud of my title, I couldn’t keep up with the job and all of the immense pressure that went with it. I had to get out. I missed being hands on with food and not glued to my phone checking my work email. Luckily I scored an interview at a very popular bakery to work in their Harlem location. I nailed the interview and started a month later. I love who I work with. I love the neighborhood. I love making cake batter again. I love that my bosses are not only supportive of my condition, but also indulge me in my uber-U2 fangirl nature. While I’ve always loved “Angel of Harlem,” it has a new meaning for me now.
9. “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight / These tears are going nowhere, baby
Living with the early stages of my illness, from pre-diagnosis when I had no idea what was wrong with me to post-diagnosis, was torture. I felt like I was going to be confined to this forever. Waking up every morning feeling like absolute hell was like having the same nightmare of a dream every single night. I couldn’t escape. I realized, though, that the more I cried and the more I complained about my pain wasn’t helping. Letting all this anguish out was good; I couldn’t bottle it up. But I had to be bigger than this. I felt like Bono was singing to me to get myself together with this song.
8. “Iris (Hold Me Close)”
Free yourself to be yourself / If only you could see
My nearly two-week stay in the hospital in April, 2015 was completely unexpected. The hallucination dreams and fevers I had been suffering through all week were no random fluke. Medication I was taking to get me in remission backfired and gave me a blood infection. I don’t like hospitals. Six years ago, my beloved Grammy passed away from skin cancer while in the hospital. I never felt the same way about them since. During my stay in the ICU, I thought to myself: If she were still alive, how would she have handled me being there? I know she wouldn’t have been able to make the trip to NYC to see me due to her ailment. I thought instead about how she was seeing me via her spirit. I knew she wouldn’t have wanted me to be limited by my condition. When Grammy had received her skin graft due to her cancer, she was embarrassed about it and didn’t think my sister and I would recognize her. We made everything around her as normal as possible. We noticed it, but it never changed what we saw about her from within. I think that made her feel better. I needed to take what I felt about being sick and not let it overshadow what I felt about myself. I had to find that source of light within me from my hospital bed.
7. “Original Of The Species”
Everywhere you go you shout it / You don’t have to be shy about it
I never told anyone about my diagnosis except for a very small, select handful of friends. In an age of social media, where you could contract something as trivial as a cold and everyone on your Facebook feed knows about what meds you’re taking, I wasn’t about to make this public. I was still embarrassed about it, even though I knew what was wrong with me and was almost thrilled I had an answer. But I didn’t want opinions. I didn’t want unsolicited advice. I definitely didn’t want a pity party thrown in my honor. This was my personal battle that I wanted to fight privately with my family and closest of friends. I didn’t even mention my hospital stay online until months after it happened. I’m a little more open now because I know I’m not alone. Autoimmune diseases are so common now that you never know who has one. I was having lunch at work and talking with a coworker and she casually mentioned her condition. I felt like we were now kindred spirits. I post articles on my Facebook feed. I posted a picture of my hospital bracelet to my Instagram when I marked the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis. I’m still a little ashamed about it. But I’ve been a lot more open, and that has been a huge step for me.
6. “Beautiful Day”
After the flood all the colors came out
Everyone I’m sure knows from many of my @U2 posts that “Beautiful Day” is my favorite U2 song of all-time. I’ve often felt that this song has carried every defining moment in my life’s journey. No moment made this statement more true than when I was discharged from the hospital and recovering at home in New Jersey. I was staying at my father’s house; propped up on his couch wearing compression tights to alleviate the swelling in my legs from all of the IV fluids I had received (oh, the glamour of it all). It was Friday night, and as exhausted as I was, I had to stay up and watch U2 on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. I had tickets to see them during their residency on the show before Bono fell off his bike, so I needed to not fall asleep and miss them another time. I knew they would play something from Songs Of Innocence. But what I didn’t expect was “Beautiful Day.” Cue me, hysterically crying on the couch in the tights. This is what I needed to hear. I needed to have Bono tell me that everything was going to be OK and that the worst was over. The storm had now passed and here was the rainbow. I have always been grateful for U2, but that night I was thankful to the universe for making them my band.
5. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”
I woke up at the moment / When the miracle occurred
My biggest worry when I was in the hospital was that I wasn’t going to be able to live life like I used to. I was going to turn 30 that summer but my world was already revolving around U2’s impending I+E tour. I committed myself to their eight shows at Madison Square Garden and now it all seemed up in the air. Could I even last one gig? Would I be too sick to even attend? U2’s tour and my birthday were the two events I was looking forward to. My vision was firmly planted on enjoying them to the fullest and I wasn’t going to let being sick stop me. In early July, I began my infusion therapy to finally get me into remission. Sitting in a chair with a needle in your arm for two hours isn’t really fun, but being on your couch paralyzed because you can’t move because of pain isn’t, either. A couple weeks later, on July 18, I was at MSG on opening night of U2’s eight-night stand with my father. My dad, I should note, has been my rock since this whole crazy autoimmune insanity began. He slept on a cot in my hospital room, answered every weird text I sent about my symptoms and comforted me during every bad turn I took. He bought me the tickets for Christmas and knew how badly I had to be there at my healthiest. When the show opened with this song, I felt like this truly was my own miracle, as clichéd as that sounds. I was on my way to wellness. I made it to the show with my biggest advocate next to me. The eve of my 30th birthday was spent at U2’s fourth night at MSG, where I was jumping up and down in the pit, something I didn’t even think I’d have the strength to do months earlier. I wish I could have bottled up the happiness that radiated from me during those two nights so I can open it up every time I feel discouraged.
It’s like the room just cleared of smoke / I didn’t even want the heart you broke
I hit a relapse period a couple of months ago. I missed one of my infusion therapy sessions and this caused some of my symptoms to pay me a visit. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was seeing someone who I really liked and the last thing I needed was to be sick (for the record, he didn’t know about my condition). I decided to take some time off of work to avoid any stress and be at home where I could care for myself. We went out on our dates and I kept myself calm to not aggravate my symptoms. My doctor had put me on a light steroid to help. I was feeling better and getting over this unexpected detour. Everything was actually OK. Then out of the blue, when I was getting ready for a date with this guy, he suddenly broke things off. To say I was devastated is the understatement of the decade. These things happen, I know. But I wasn’t expecting it. Combine this with getting over a relapse and I wasn’t in a good place. I decided to go home to New Jersey to my father’s house and decompress. When you have an autoimmune disease, I’ve learned that you can’t sweat the small stuff. Your health is the most important thing. You have to be selfish and put yourself first. Do I miss him? Yes. Have I thought about him every single day? Absolutely. But this was maybe the thing I needed to really make myself a priority.
3. “Elevation” (Live from Chicago — Vertigo tour edition)
I and I in the sky / You make me feel like I can fly so high / Elevation
One of my favorite things to do is go to the gym. Like music, it’s my preferred form of therapy. Once I got sick and my energy was zapped, I couldn’t work out anymore. My body, weak from being ill, couldn’t make it two blocks to my grocery store. Once I started receiving my infusion therapy last summer, I felt well enough to go back to the gym. Then I became really ambitious and decided this year that I was going to run a half-marathon. I always preferred running because it’s truly the best getaway for me from my daily thoughts. I started training this summer for the half, which was in October. I, of course, had to make an incredible playlist, which included U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Hamilton. I was nervous on the morning of the race, but I knew I could handle this. Running along the streets of Brooklyn with my fellow New Yorkers was so cathartic, especially after the breakup. I purged a lot of my feelings onto the pavement. Thoughts raced through my head about the relationship as I kept my pace up. It fueled me even more. There were a few moments when I really had to push myself. (13.1 miles isn’t easy!) Then on the final stretch to the last mile, this song came on. It honestly felt like I had finally reached lift-off. Because this is the live version, my feet were as light as the clouds, as if I was jumping at the concert. It was as if I was elevating to the finish line. I cranked my adrenaline up and crushed it to the end. That feeling is something I will never forget. I truly think it was destiny that put this song on at a time when I needed to hear it.
2. “City Of Blinding Lights”
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel / Luckily
This song has always had a special place in my heart. It’s my favorite song on my favorite U2 album. It’s the song that most reminds me of NYC. It’s the first song I got to hear U2 play live. The connection I have with this particular lyric is truly profound. I didn’t grow up religious. My mother used to tell me as far as religion goes I should just believe in something, no matter what it is. For me, that’s U2. I find a spiritual meaning in them that I don’t get from anything else. Listening to their music and seeing them in concert is the closest I’ve ever been to something of a higher level. And this lyric tells me that miracles and good things happen to everyone, not just to those who pray. My recovery was nothing short of a miracle. My path to it is something I don’t take for granted. I’m conscious of my health every day. I’m grateful to all that has put me here. I’m also half a person without U2, as loaded as that sounds. I got a tattoo of this lyric when I went to Dublin last November to see U2 play. It cemented this wild ride for me. I’m nothing without my blessings. Now I have them on me forever to always be reminded that they’re here.
1. “California (There Is No End To Love)”
California, at the dawn / You thought would never come / But it did like it always does
I’ve often mentioned that “Iris” is my favorite song from SOI because of the connection I have to it about my Grammy. However, this song is not only my most played song from the album, but it’s also in the top 25 most played in my iTunes library (190 plays!) I’ve never even been to California! I invested myself into SOI more when I got out of the hospital and was gearing up for the I+E tour. I found a lot more meaning in it at this point than I did when the album first came out. Lyrics popped out at me that never used to. Chords sounded more vibrant now. I attached myself to this song because it was a great way to begin my recovery process. I made this lyric a Facebook status after my discharge. New days for me were now beginning when I didn’t think they would. I was prepared to live a life of darkness with just my illness keeping me company. But fate had other plans for me. The sun always came through. The light crept in. There was no need to be shrouded in the dark. This song reminded me a lot of another favorite artist of mine, Florence + the Machine. Their song, “Shake It Off,” has a similar lyric, “I like to keep my issues drawn / It’s always darkest before the dawn.” I love the idea of new chapters and clean slates. No matter what tough time you face, you’re always granted a new lease on life. It took me being sick to realize this. Dawn approaches and you get another chance to start again.
(c) @U2/Marino, 2016.