Several figures stand holding their arms out. A still from the musical Hamilton.

Hamilton is an Eating Disorder Battle Anthem

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  • The first time I heard Hamilton was through the paper thin walls of my college townhouse in the fall of 2015. My friend and housemate Cassie, who is infinitely cooler than me, had been playing it on full volume for a week, leaving me indulged by this half rap/half musical wonder thunk, even muffled by a layer poster and plaster.

    If anything else, it kept me occupied as I tried not to fixate on the calories I had eaten, or not eaten that day. The uneasiness I felt in my own body, like I was a visitor in a home I used to know. It was a catchy distraction from the chaos.

    It was a rough year. Then again, every year is a rough year when you’re slowly committing suicide.

    Anorexia is as misunderstood as it is complex. The general public has the gist of it, or, more accurately, they believe that they have the gist of it. Young wealthy white girls, most likely cheerleaders or dancers, starving themselves to the bone. Diets so strict it’s a running gag on television screens. Have a burger, calm down, you’ll grow out of it in time.

    In truth? Anorexia has the highest mortality rate than any other mental illness. It is the third most common chronic disease among young people and just as common as autism, with far more less funding than any other chronic illness. With little funding for research and treatment, the “cure” for anorexia is a lot of dead ends.

    So not something a burger can fix. Not even with extra fries.

    My now seven year long battle with anorexia is not something I like to talk about. Even with loved ones there are some aspects of my struggle I’m guarded about. What can you really say starving yourself in a culture that conditions everyone to believe it’s just a phase?

    Hey yo, I’m just like my country I’m young scrappy and hungry.

    “My Shot” was the first song I found when I looked up the musical, without bursting into Cassie’s bedroom and asking what she was listening too because that just seemed strange. Instantly I was struck by the lyrics of both confident and a desperation to prove oneself, something that almost anyone in their early 20’s can universally relate too. Something that I bobbed my head to as I walked to class, my internship, my job, my boyfriend at the time place, wherever my frantic life was taking me those days. Trying to write, trying to hold myself together.

    Ev’ry burden, ev’ry disadvantage I have learned to manage, I walk these streets famished The plan is to fan this spark into a flame But damn, it’s getting dark.

    Three women with arms outstretched high pose with a great deal of sass. This is an image from the musical Hamilton.

    Dark indeed I thought, holding my coat tightly around me. I hadn’t eaten in two days. The tightrope of recovery is a wobbly one, and my inner demon was about the pull the rope out from under me and hang me with it.

    Hamilton, at the very core of the musical, is a story of battles. The first act is on the physical battlefield for Revolution, the second on the political firestorm of Congress .Writer, original titular star of the musical, and everyone’s personal hero, Lin-Manual Miranda has woven together through music and lyrics what it means to be up against the odds. It is inspiring, it is powerful, it is the struggle that we all can relate to, because who hasn’t cast themselves as the hero of their own story?

    Anorexia is battle, a battle that from 2015 onward I was losing. Recovery is never a linear process but as I continue to rocket downward into restricting, purging, diet pills, self-harm, and basically becoming a nightmare for me and everyone who had the misfortune to deal with me. Every attempt at trying to get my life together has ultimately blown up in my face, almost if my disorder was smugly saying every time you’ll be back. Complete with British accent. Anorexia is dueling with the worst version of yourself; the world is not wide enough for both of you.

    At the lowest point of both my weight and illness, I didn’t care what happened to me. It didn’t matter if I lived or died, seeing that death was only a moment away. Nothing else mattered, I had thrown away my shot. I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory is more than a lyric for someone who has tried to kill themselves over a dozen times. I wondered when it was going to get me, when I will I push things too far and become yet another statistic. If I see coming do I run or do I let it be, is it like a beat without a melody? That is the million dollar question.

    But I couldn’t seem to die. I continue to keep breathing, and continued to keep listening to Hamilton album every day, practically everywhere I went. Even when the almost universal hype has died down I still listen to the full album probably three times of week. It’s what keeps me going. It got me off the bathroom floor and put a pen in my hand, writing my way out. Not only did the music inspired me to keep going, but the characters encourages me to be as determined as Hamilton, fierce as Angelica, adaptable as Burr and most importantly, kind as Eliza.

    Songs like “Non-stop” and “Hurricane” are motivators, telling me to battle on: Every day you fight like you’re running out of time and I’ll write my way out compels me to write everything down, because I didn’t survive to not share my story. If it helps just one person, then it was worth it. We share stories to prove that we are not alone in the world, and Hamilton is proof of that.

    I think the biggest motivation from the album, the thing wills me to keep going even though every atom in my body cries for me to stop, isn’t one song, but a line that Eliza repeats in different parts of the musical. Every second your alive is a miracle. Just stay alive, that will be enough.

    That is the anthem that every person suffering from any mental illness needs to hear, and what I desperately needed at different points of my illness: Just stay alive, that will be enough.

    At 23 years old, there’s a million things I haven’t done, but I will live to see them all. I’m young, scrappy, and hungry for life, and I’m not throwing away my shot.

    If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek more information at nationaleatingdisorder.org, or by calling their Helpline at (800) 931-2237 or text “NEDA” 741741.

    Ellen Ricks is a writer, blogger, and Hufflepuff living in Upstate New York. Her work has appeared in a variety of websites and online journals. Read about her love of fashion, pop culture, and sky-high footwear on her blog: Sarcasm In Heels. When not writing, Ellen enjoys consuming vast amounts of coffee,  singing off key to musicals, and obsessing over fictional characters. 

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