‘I Can Do It With a Broken Heart’: Why I relate to this Swift song

As a breakup survivor and a woman with SMA, I learn from my tough times

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by Sherry Toh |

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If I owned a calendar, its December through April would be stained with tears. The square where Dec. 16, 2023, lands would have angry-looking ink blotches on it — to represent how I felt on my 25th birthday.

My ex-girlfriend and I broke up on that day. I cursed her out because I thought my birthday meant little to her. Her heart broke, and she ended the relationship. Neither of us knew the extent of how much we hurt the other. We lost sleep and missed meals. Hell was wrought on my body, what with SMA weakening my system already.

We talked it out afterward and agreed to be friends. Maybe, we thought, we could even help each other with the discovery that we might both have undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But it’s been a hard road to trusting each other again.

We have a truce now. In my disorganized Google Drive folder, there’s even a draft I wrote post-breakup where I call her the love of my life — because her enduring love in my darkest hours made her more to me than a girlfriend. We’re still apologizing and trying, enough for me to freely ask for her consent to publish this column.

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Perhaps predictably, Taylor Swift’s newest breakup album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” reminds me of our relationship. The shimmering, bubbly pop track that is “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart” gives me an ironic smile.

Like Swift in that song, I’ve been hiding the extent of my hurt and the full context of the past few months behind a smile. “I’m so depressed, I act like it’s my birthday every day,” she sings as I dance and nod along. I remember faking grins at my family as I blew out my birthday candles, even as I was on the brink of tears.

‘I cry a lot, but I am so productive — it’s an art’

Ultimately, “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart” is about trying to move on with your life, trying to show up and function, despite demons that bury themselves deep in your bones. And in overcoming them, you find that you’re stronger than you think.

More than my breakup broken heart, the song reminds me of SMA patients in general. Until we had disease-modifying treatments to stall SMA’s progression, we faced a life of endless loss and grief over our bodies. That’s a bit like a breakup in that it erases all the bright futures we’d imagined.

But looking at just myself and my fellow columnists, I see how we take trial after trial and turn them into lessons to learn.

Oh, a stranger was ableist toward us? Let’s teach others not to be.

Our healthcare systems aren’t supporting us properly? We’ll fight it until we get just treatment.

The physical and mental fatigue from SMA is making us feel that we’re falling behind? Sharing our experiences, reflecting back what our readers may be going through as well, in something like a mirror ball, shows us that our struggles have purpose.

We take our broken hearts, whether from SMA or other life experiences, and work with the brokenness. Eventually, the pain becomes the faint sting of a good workout, a signal of growing stronger.

It’s hard and exhausting, and sometimes we think we can’t leap over yet another hurdle in the marathon of life. But if we manage not to die from things like respiratory infections, we leap anyway.

‘Try and come for my job’

I don’t know what will become of my relationship with my ex-girlfriend. I hope it survives in some form, but the future is uncertain. Maybe it’ll only survive in the form of my stories about us.

Reflecting on the breakup, though, I do know that I’ve healed more than I’d realized. The crying has mostly stopped. I’m putting on weight. I’m sleeping well, at times dreamlessly. I’m missing my ex as my best friend and wanting to be kinder to her. My grins are all genuine.

As further proof, I’m finally ready to bare my vulnerability and share about the breakup. I didn’t think I’d see this day.

I’m here, doing my job. I’m turning my experience into hope for readers who are going through their first breakup — or any dark hour where they can’t see a point to their suffering.

Plus, I now know how far my strength goes. Through my pain, I showed up for myself and my work. As Swift sings, “You know you’re good when you can even do it/ With a broken heart.”


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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