"I Want to Be Well" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
To think that I would die this time
Isolated in the room where the bed rises
Photographic ordinary people are everywhere
Extraordinary histories, ordinary histories, ordinary histories

I'll find sleep, I'll find peace
Or in death you'll sleep with me

To figure that it was my fault
Or so I've come to realize life is not about
Love with someone (ordinary people are everywhere)
Extraordinary people are, ordinary people are, ordinary people are

Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn
Illness is watching, waiting its turn

Did I go at it wrong?
Did I go intentionally to destroy me?
I'm suffering in noise I'm suffering in (touching ordinary body)
The burning from within the burning from with (ordinary hysteria)
I could not be at rest, I could not be at peace (extraordinary hysteria)

So do yourself a good, or do yourself a death from ordinary causes
Or do yourself a favor, or do yourself a death from ordinary causes

Illness likes to prey upon the lonely, prey upon the lonely
Wave goodbye, oh, I would rather be, but I would rather be fine

I want to be well, I want to be well
I want to be well, I want to be well

And I forgive you even
As you choke me that way
With the pill or demon
And the shrouded shalom
Under conversation
In tremendous weight of
A crowd of ages outside
Dressed for murder

I'm not fucking around
I'm not, I'm not, I'm not fucking around

And shall I kiss you even as you take me that way?
With the pill or demon as my body changes
Apparitions gone awry
They surround me, all sides
But from within I see an unholy changes

I'm not fucking around
I'm not, I'm not, I'm not fucking around

Lyrics submitted by strykerchick

"I Want to Be Well" as written by Sufjan Stevens

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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I Want to Be Well song meanings
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  • +5
    My InterpretationI really think, based on this song and many of his others, that he's not battling a mental illness, but I chronic physical illness. Really, and while there is nothing to support this other than a few vague lyrics and his recent pronouncement of having a bout of illness and that he didn't want to "go into the gory details", I believe he has some form of auto-immune disease, maybe IBD or Crohn's Disease.

    I myself have Crohn's and I see so many things I identify with in this song - there is an element of shock and surprise in this... Shock at being sick like it took him off guard. People with terminal illness at the stage of staring at death are more resigned. People with IBD or auto-immune disorders are often taken off guard by a "flare" as they come on suddenly and without much warning. Also, when he says "Illness is watching, waiting its turn" it seems very common of how someone with a chronic (not terminal) illness feels. Like you are always and will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. You'll never escape the possibility of being sick, never be cured.

    He then says "To think that it was my fault" and then goes on to discuss the ordinary and extraordinary... I think this all the time (as you can tell, this is a very personal song for me!) having Crohn's, which is most likely based on some sort of environmental cause. I find myself thinking I've done something to bring this on. And then I get angry, because I've done nothing my husband or friends haven't done (ordinary things - eating improperly, taking prescribed medicines, smoking etc) yet it had very different and extraordinary consequences for me (autoimmune illness). I now cannot do a lot of ordinary things without causing myself extraordinary harm. “So do yourself a good, or do yourself a death from ordinary causes” — this is basically my life’s motto now as I turn down foods I used to love or head to bed early because I know I’ll suffer if I don’t..

    “Illness likes to prey upon the lonely, prey upon the lonely
    When it bites, oh, I would rather be dead, I would rather give up.”

    This lyric cinches the deal for me — these are not the thoughts of someone with a terminal or curable illness. They are from a person who, again, is always waiting to be struck down (IBD is exacerbated by stress, so maybe his loneliness and anxiety are causing a flare or similar). And to say he’d rather give up is a really common theme when you’re very ill with a chronic disease... you’ll most likely live (though we do stare death in the face more than most), but you’ll live to get well and then, most likely, get sick again. It’s an extremely difficult realization to know your entire life will probably be categorized into “well” and “sick” times. And there really is no escaping that very vicious realization.

    He also speaks of “burning from within” which is definitely how I feel during a flare. Everything burns and I often describe it that way. This could be very literal interpretation of his physical feelings.

    “With the pill or demon as my body changes
    Apparitions gone awry “

    Here he could be referring to the treatment those with auto-immune disease need — steroids... the biggest blessing and curse in medical treatments. Steroids literally change the way you look. Completely. When I look back on images of myself from times on steroids, I’m unrecognizable. They can also cause paranoia, panic attacks, increased anxiety, weight gain and more. For me, one little pill (that does help tremendously) is a demon.

    And the infamous “not fucking around” line (which, by the way, is I think why he may not be playing this song live on his newest tour... or it could be just too personal for him to perform)... Nothing drops you to your knees and makes you lose your cool like an illness like these. Whether it’s IBD or another hellish auto-immune disorder, he could have just snapped under the pressure of the disease. He’s not fucking around, he does want to be well, but that’s obviously way out of his control now. This section of the song cuts right to the bone for me... I understand the desperation, the anger, and the lack of control. I think he used f-word artfully here. We know it’s not his norm, so it has pretty significant meaning. He obviously feels pushed to the edge and cannot express how desperate he is to be better. When we devolve into our most primal emotions, we may not be at our most articulate. He uses that line on purpose. And it really works. And I think it’s completely appropriate despite his religious views.

    And to comment on another theory — that he is mentally ill. I agree that the lyrics could parallel mental illness very well, but I can’t buy that he is actually schizophrenic, bipolar or similar, just because of his obvious control over his art, his lack of completely erratic behavior, his breadth of musical accomplishment, and his ability to stay on stage and in control for 2+ hours (amazing show in Richmond, VA last night, btw!). Even a very well medicated person with a severe psychiatric disorder couldn’t make these things happen. That’s not say he’s not battling depression, anxiety or mood issues, but again, these are all really common things for people with chronic illness. Especially for someone like Sufjan (or myself) who has this burning desire to accomplish and do so much, yet feels so held back by their disease.
    kperkins6on November 10, 2010   Link

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