Music is often a source of comfort and emotional healing. Many people with chronic illness in particular find that certain songs or genres can be powerful in helping distract them from symptoms and cope with all the stresses and frustrations of life with a health condition.
For Mighty contributor Samantha Moss, music is an important form of distraction therapy. She said the chronic pain from her rare disease can lead to anxiety and stress, but music “makes everything better.” In her essay, “The One Thing That Helps Distract Me From My Pain,” she explained:
As soon as I play my favorite songs, I begin singing. My mind becomes focused on the music and the words of the song.
I still feel my pain. Each step causes sharp shocks through my body, but it’s not at the forefront of my mind. That small change of allowing the music to flood my mind, allows me to complete the task I want to do. The music brings me joy and that reduces stress, which in turn helps reduce my sense of pain.
While there are countless songs out there that have helped people through difficult health moments, there’s something extra special about songs inspired by the ups and downs of living with a health condition.
Below, we rounded up 18 songs that were written about an individual’s experience with chronic illness — whether that person is the songwriter, a band member, a friend or a loved one.
Hearing these artists speak (er, sing) out about illness is not only important for raising awareness of these various conditions, but it’s also a heartening reminder for any chronically ill listeners that you are not alone.
If you’re looking for songs you can relate to as someone with chronic illness, check out the list below:
1. “Believer” by Imagine Dragons
With over 1 billion views on YouTube, “Believer” is certainly a hit — but what some might not know is that lead singer Dan Reynolds lives with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, as well as depression and anxiety.
Reynolds was influenced by both his physical and mental health struggles to write this song, telling People, “The song is about how pain made me a believer. It’s made me a believer in myself, it’s made me a believer in my art and work. I wouldn’t have my art if it wasn’t for pain.” He continued:
The meaning of the song is really reflecting on specific things in my life that were painful, whether it was anxiety and dealing with crowds, feeling overwhelmed by that or the success of the band, disease, going through depression — anything that was a source of pain in my life. And just rising above that, finding a place of perspective where I could be appreciative of the pain in my life and make it my greatest strength.
2. “I Can’t Feel” by Yours Truly
Released as a single in March 2019, “I Can’t Feel” was inspired by lead singer Mikaila Delgado’s experiences with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a rare connective tissue disorder she was diagnosed with when she was 2 years old. EDS can cause symptoms such as joint hypermobility, stretchy skin and tissue fragility.
“‘I Can’t Feel’ is about struggles where you’re doubting yourself because of a condition you can’t control,” Delgado explained, adding:
Since EDS is an invisible disability, I sometimes have a feeling of having to prove my pain and discomfort for it to be legitimate to other people. This song is really special to me because I’ve always found it hard to explain the way I feel — what other people can’t see. Putting it in a song allowed me to say the things I’ve wanted to say for the past 21 years.
Both the song and the accompanying music video help shed light on the physical symptoms, emotional exhaustion and feelings of desperation many people with chronic illness experience. Delgado also highlights the disbelief and judgment often received from others and the difficulty of explaining your experiences. “I’m really hoping that anyone who is going through something tough in their lives feels something from it,” the singer wrote on Instagram.
3. “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne’s album “Head Above Water” includes several songs (including the title track) that shine a light on her journey with Lyme disease. The singer explained on her blog she wrote and recorded songs from her bed and couch while she was ill. “Words and lyrics that were so true to my experience came pouring out of me effortlessly,” she wrote. “By keeping my spirits up, having goals to reach and a purpose to live for, my music helped to heal me and keep me alive.” She added:
[‘Head Above Water’] is also the first song I wrote from my bed during one of the scariest moments of my life. I had accepted death and could feel my body shutting down. I felt like I was drowning. Like I was going under water and I just needed to come up for air. Like I was in a river being pulled in a current. Unable to breathe. Praying to God for Him to help me just keep my head above the water. To help me see through the stormy weather.
4. “A Little Bit Longer” by the Jonas Brothers
One of the Jonas Brothers’ early singles, “A Little Bit Longer” (2008), was inspired by Nick’s experiences with type 1 diabetes. The youngest Jonas brother was diagnosed at age 11 and used this song to express his emotions about being hospitalized and living with an incurable illness.
“I had a day when my sugar was out of range, and I sat down at the piano and wrote it in 20 minutes,” Nick said during a press conference. “And it was because I had this strong inspiration. A lot of people have told me it’s inspiring.”
5. “Get Better” by Leslie Mosier
Leslie Mosier, mother and manager of internet sensation Doug the Pug, opened up about the daily challenges of endometriosis in her song “Get Better.” She highlights issues such as others not “seeing” what you’re going through, feeling like a burden and grappling with how illness can affect your sense of identity. In the music video, Mosier shines a light on the reality of her everyday life with endo, and reveals the wide variety of treatments she undergoes for her condition.
“No song has ever come so easily or felt so important to me,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is the most vulnerable I have ever been. I am out of my comfort zone, but I am empowered knowing maybe some of these words can help someone going through their chronic illness.”
6. “Her Diamonds” by Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas, often known for being the frontman of rock band Matchbox Twenty, wrote “Her Diamonds” about his wife, Marisol, who lives with several chronic illnesses, including Lyme disease. Thomas describes the helplessness he feels as Marisol struggles with a disease he can’t “fix,” with “diamonds” referring to her tears.
Though the song is very personal to his relationship to his wife, Thomas hopes many will be able to relate. He explained: “At the end of the day, it’s really a song about being empathetic when the person closest to you is going through something and you can’t do anything to make it better, except to be there for them.”
7. “So Unfair” by Korn
Korn frontman Jonathan Davis was inspired by his son when he penned the lyrics to “So Unfair.” Davis’s son, Jesse, has type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Writing this song was a way for the musician to process his feelings about his son’s chronic condition. In 2015 Davis told Loudwire:
It’s kind of just the way I deal with the fact that my son has type 1 diabetes and he is going to have it for the rest of his life. Hopefully they will find a cure, but right now I am just trying to bring about awareness and do what I can do to help him and all kids.
8. “Sweet Victory” by Trip Lee
In “Sweet Victory,” Christian rapper Trip Lee opens up about his struggles with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis, formerly called chronic fatigue syndrome). ME/CFS is a chronic and debilitating disease that causes post-exertional malaise (PEM), meaning extreme exhaustion that’s made worse by even minor physical or mental effort. However, it can cause many other symptoms too, such as sleep problems, cognitive issues (including brain fog), chronic pain and light/sound sensitivity.
Though he struggles with his health, Lee said he finds hope and encouragement in his faith. “Things may look bad, but I always know it’s going to end with a victory,” he explained. “That’s what life is like. There are a lot of ups and downs. It might look like I’m losing, but I always have hope. That song is very close to my heart.”
9. “Won’t Stop Running” by A Great Big World
In 2007, A Great Big World’s Chad King was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition in which the immune system causes inflammation that damages the myelin and nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve (which make up the central nervous system). His doctor said that without medication, he could be paralyzed within seven years.
“I started on the medication and the medication actually gave me symptoms that were worse than what I was feeling from the MS,” King told Radio.com in 2016. “I was getting seizure-like symptoms and a bunch of other crazy things. I decided that I wanted to explore other avenues to treat this thing. And so, I found a lot of information on how to treat it through diet and nutrition.”
King said this song is a response to that doctor and a reminder to others there is more than one way to treat MS.
10. “It’s Not Over Yet” by for KING & COUNTRY
Christian pop duo for KING & COUNTRY is composed of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone. While Luke has ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the pair wrote “It’s Not Over Yet” in honor of their sister Elizabeth (“Libby”), who has struggled over the years with Lyme disease.
The brothers told Family Life Radio that after watching Libby battle through many dark moments and sleepless nights, they wanted to write this song to encourage her. They said:
It’s really an encouragement to her and to anyone who hears that while there is breath in our lungs, no matter what your situation and no matter how hard the circumstances are, it’s not over yet, you know, and we’ve still got an opportunity to serve, to love well, to find joy and to bring God’s kingdom to earth if you will.”
11. “Caves” by Jack’s Mannequin
After losing his voice in 2005, singer-songwriter-pianist Andrew McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare form of cancer. Since receiving a bone marrow transplant from his sister in August of that year, he has been cancer-free.
In “Caves,” McMahon writes about his experiences receiving treatment for cancer at the UCLA Medical Center, telling MTV that it’s the most difficult song he’s ever written. He said:
It was the moment where I said, OK, I’m going to address the fact that I’d gotten sick in the years prior to making this record. I realized that I had been avoiding the subject matter. Each verse is like a different scene from the hospital that I was in, and then the end is kind of like this triumphant breaking through to the other side.
12. “Afire Love” by Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran dedicated “Afire Love” to his grandfather, who struggled with Alzheimer’s disease for 20 years before he died in 2013. Sheeran describes the difficulty of his grandfather no longer recognizing him, as well as the love his grandfather and grandmother shared. The singer-songwriter-musician reportedly began writing the song two weeks before his grandfather’s death and finished penning the lyrics at the funeral.
13. “Hard Life” Performed by Brad Paisley, Written by Joe Kindregan
Joe Kindregan had A-T (ataxia-telangiectasia), a rare primary immunodeficiency disease that attacks different organs in the body. He met country singer Brad Paisley at a fundraiser in 2005, and the two became good friends, resulting in their collaboration on the song “Hard Life.” Kindregan wrote the lyrics in honor of a friend who had died of A-T, and Paisley sang and recorded the song.
Paisley said in a statement, “I’ve known Joe for several years and he is one of my favorite people. His disease is physically debilitating but obviously creatively and mentally Joe has such tremendous depth. It’s an honor for me to be the person to give voice to his creativity and cause.”
Kindregan died in 2015 due to complications from A-T.
14. “Hidden Pain” by A Star feat. Leke
U.K.-based rapper A Star, whose real name is Alidor Gaspar, has sickle cell anemia, also known as sickle cell disease, an inherited condition where the red blood cells in the body are sickled, or crescent-moon-shaped, instead of round. Sickle cell predominately affects people of color, especially black people.
After learning that only 1 percent of black people in the U.K. give blood, A Star released “Hidden Pain” to encourage people to donate blood. Blood donations are crucial for those with sickle cell because of their lack of healthy red blood cells. “There aren’t currently any alternatives to giving blood so videos like ‘Hidden Pain’ can [have] a way in changing that,” A Star told The Mighty.
15. “Fully Alive” by Flyleaf
Christian rock band Flyleaf wrote “Fully Alive” in honor of Layla Palmer (the wife of rock musician Kevin Palmer). Layla runs The Lettered Cottage blog and lives with palindromic rheumatism, a rare episodic form of inflammatory arthritis. The condition causes her joints to fill with fluid, resulting in pain and an inability to get out of bed for months at a time.
“She was faced with something pretty adverse, and she still found strength to be happy and be uplifted and full of life in the face of that,” Flyleaf bassist Pat Seals explained to MTV. “It was just a really powerful thing. I guess, kind of through that, the statement of the song is just enjoy what you have. You know, don’t take it for granted. And be thankful for just being alive.”
16. “Pain” by Of Mice & Men
Austin Carlile was formerly the lead singer of metalcore band Of Mice & Men before leaving due to health complications. Carlile has Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue and causes a wide variety of symptoms including chronic pain. The aptly named song describes what it’s like to live with the condition. The singer told Louder:
‘Pain’ came from my entire experience with Marfan syndrome. I wake up every day in pain. All my joints get swollen and sometimes I can’t feel my legs or different parts of my body, and sometimes I can’t function in the morning unless I take a hot shower and do all my exercises. It’s a constant struggle for me. With the band, through St. Jude or the Marfan Foundation or Living The Dream Foundation, we’ve met a lot of people that are in a lot of severe physical pain, and I wanted to write a song for myself and for them to embody what that feels like.
17. “Nobody’s Empire” by Belle & Sebastian
When Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch was attending college in the 1980s, he developed ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis, formerly known as chronic fatigue syndrome). Murdoch says he was incapacitated for two years and spent five years recovering.
A relapse of the condition led Murdoch to write “Nobody’s Empire,” which was released in 2015. “There’s a year of my life bottled into every line,” he told The Guardian, adding:
When I wrote it I was fighting the same demons. I wrote the song to cheer myself up. I wanted to write my own ‘glorious,’ in inverted commas, history. I want to walk out of this room and be a normal person. I want to go on tour with the band. All of this is a day-to-day battle so it was absolutely real for me, writing that song.
18. “’92 Weird Diseases” by The Magnetic Fields
The song “’92 Weird Diseases” appears on the third disc of The Magnetic Fields’ 2017 album, “50 Song Memoir.” The album indeed includes 50 songs, each of which refers to a year of frontman and songwriter Stephen Merritt’s life. As the title suggests, “92 Weird Diseases” describes the various illnesses and medical afflictions Merritt has faced throughout his life, including petit mal epilepsy, nearly fatal renal cysts and hyperacusis.
Which songs did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!
Looking for more song recommendations? Check out our community’s top picks:
- 16 Songs That Have Helped People With Chronic Illnesses Through a Tough Time
- 5 Songs That Keep Me Going During a Flare-Up
- A Playlist to Get You Through All the Emotional Stages of Chronic Illness
- 21 Songs to Listen to on a Hard Day With Chronic Pain
- A Playlist to Help You Through the Stages of Hospital Admission
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Author: Paige Wyant