Note: This article was first published on The Mighty on June 21st, 2016
They say that illness comes into our lives at the right time. A diagnosis is a wake-up call. Our bodies are telling us something is out of balance and we need to make changes in order to heal. I say art comes into your life at the right time, as well.
I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in January of 2016, after over 10 years of undiagnosed health issues. Around the same time, I discovered Hamilton: An American Musical.
Obsessively listening to Hamilton over and over has been a beautiful distraction from my constant pain. Sometimes I turn it on to provide me with the motivation to fight through my chronic fatigue to do a chore or two around the house.
Beyond that, writer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics have been an inspiration as I accept this illness and learn to live fully in spite it. Alexander Hamilton beat the odds over and over and that’s what I intend to do as well.
Here are five lessons about chronic illness I learned from the lyrics of Hamilton.
1. There's a million things I haven't done, but just you wait."
This lyric is in the title song of the musical, which chronicles Alexander Hamilton's young life when he escaped dire circumstances to reach America. He fueled the fire of his ambition with the wood of his tragedy.
Due to my illness, I feel like there are million things I haven't done. People who are ill often feel like life is passing them by. Chronic illness can either be your anchor or your springboard. It can drag you down or propel you into the person you were meant to be. When people who are ill find a way to live out their purpose, well, just you wait.
2. "Scammin' for every book he could get his hands on."
This line is also in the title song. One of the ways Hamilton was able to rise above his station was by educating himself. Chronic illness patients are information junkies. We read book after book trying to find anything to help us heal. Many people say having a chronic illness gives you a Ph.D-level of education in the medical field.
Chronic illnesses, like autoimmune disorders, or chronic infections, like Lyme, are said to be incurable. The only treatment is medication to manage our symptoms. There are thousands of books out there written by experts who offer different solutions, such as diet or other natural means of healing, and believe me I've read almost every single one. Like Hamilton, we have to be our own best advocate and learn everything there is to know.
3. "Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
This lyric is a present throughout the musical. It speaks to how lucky people were to be alive during the revolution and witness history in the making.
Gratitude is the antidote to any illness. We must take notice of our good fortune in the midst of pain. No matter what, we are lucky to be alive. In the late 1700s it was witnessing the birth of new nation; today, it could be thousands of things: modern conveniences, advancements in medical care, our friends and family, the list goes on and on. If you look around enough, you will always find something to be grateful for.
4. "I am not throwing away my shot."
This to me is the most important lesson from Hamilton. Seeing it is the masterpiece of the show, I'm guessing Lin-Manuel Miranda thinks so, too. Throughout the show, Hamilton continuously reminds himself not to throw away his shot.
I started doing this in my own life. When I'm having a bad day I tell myself not to throw away my shot. I might go out and meet a friend, write that blog post, or call my doctor about a new treatment. Anything to keep myself from being idle.
It is important to note that being idle is different from being at rest. Those of us with chronic illness need a great deal of rest. Rest is intentional, idleness is not.
We have one shot at this life, no matter what cards we have been dealt, and we can't throw it away.
5. "When you knock me down I get the f*ck back up again."
My favorite line from the entire musical. I swear, someday I’m going to hurt myself yelling this while driving in my car. It is sung/rapped by the character Hercules Mulligan (seriously, that was his name), a spy during the Revolutionary War and friend of Hamilton's.
If there is one thing people with chronic illness know about, it's getting knocked down. It could be a bad test result, a new painful symptom, or the sting of being left out of yet another social event. Sometimes it feels like we just can't win. And, you know what? Every single time, we dust ourselves off and get the f*ck back up again. We have to, we have no other choice.
If you're the one person who hasn't yet listened to this Pulitzer-Prize-winning masterpiece, I suggest you purchase it or stream it immediately. Let it transport you to a different time and place and, if only for a while, away from your illness.
"I am the one thing in life I can control, I am inimitable, I am an original, I’m not falling behind or running late, I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait.” - Hamilton: An American Musical
I'm Kerry and I am a writer and licensed therapist. This is a positive space focused on how to thrive in any situation and the transformative power of illness.