On Friday 23rd March 2018, after more than a year of waiting, I finally got to see Hamilton on stage.
I thought that obsessively listening to the soundtrack had prepared me for seeing it live, but I was wrong.
It was absolutely phenomenal. Breathtaking. And I cried for 10 minutes after the final note rang out.
My friends, who went to see it with me, did not.
Oh there were a few tears here and there, but none of them had the same, visceral emotional reaction to the show that I did. Because none of them have been through what I have.
To understand why seeing Hamilton on stage was such an emotional gut punch to me, we have to go back a year or so.
Let me tell you a story.
The first round of tickets for the West End run of Hamilton went on sale on January 16th 2017, more than eight months before the first show was scheduled. My friends and I fought through the interminable booking process and managed to snag tickets for more than a year later.
That same day, I had the words “wait for it,” taken from one of the songs in Hamilton, tattooed onto my forearm.
Less than three weeks later, unable to follow the advice I’d had etched into my skin, I tried to kill myself.
My mental health had been declining since the previous summer but 4th February was the moment I reached my lowest point.
But I survived, and began the long, hard climb back up the other side.
To say that I was a mess afterwards was an understatement. In those first few days after I couldn’t even promise that I would make it as far as my friend’s birthday, less than ten days afterwards.
Slowly, so slowly, I started to be able to look further ahead, find milestones in the future that I wanted to stick around for.
Hamilton was still more than a year away. Far too far in the future to feel remotely real. Far too far away to guarantee anything.
In the meantime there was a lot of recovery to be done. New meds to try, therapy to attend, and a job that was a big part of the problem to keep going to.
Some days it was the smallest things that would get me through and give me the strength to keep going. Often it was music, lyrics that resonated with how I felt or what I was going through.
I started listening to the Hamilton Mixtape a lot. Particularly the remix of My Shot and Wrote My Way Out.
Must admit, I’m feelin’, um, kinda, um
Lighter as a writer with this fire and desire to go higher
Than a stealth fighter pilot with my eye on every prize
I surprise you guys, I’m a prize fighter
My nine to five describe your scribe, survive minor
Setbacks and take steps back from pied pipers
Be leaders, believers in yourself and mean it
I mean you only get one shot, take it or leave it
I’d listen to those two songs on repeat for hours. Mutter them under my breath when I couldn’t. Held onto them as personal anthems.
It’s not an exaggeration to say those two songs saved my life on more than one occasion.
When the world turned its back on me
I was up against the wall
I had no foundation
No friends and no family to catch my fall
Running on empty, there was nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And I wrote my way out
At times it really did feel like there was a hurricane in my brain, thoughts swirling at a hundred miles an hour as I drowned under the weight of them. Only the conviction that I wasn’t going to throw away my shot, my life, kept me going day after day.
I vowed I would write my way out, and I really did.
This was the emotional baggage I took into the Victoria Theatre with me.
I’ve always seen some of myself in the Alexander Hamilton on that stage. I feel that same urge to write everything down, to spend every moment I can putting words to paper, writing like I’m running out of time because I’ve always felt that I am.
Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners
And the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall
And we break
And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
I’m willing to wait for it
But with the emotional baggage of the previous year, those parallels seemed sharper than ever.
The opening number sent shivers down my spine. My Shot got me all fired up in my seat. I started crying during Wait For It and that was it, I was gone.
The tears made a reappearance during all the appropriate points on the second act. They started in earnest during the final showdown between Hamilton and Burr.
But I didn’t start properly sobbing until the final note rang out.
It was only then that it hit me; I’d seen Hamilton live on stage.
I’d done it. I’d lived long enough to see it.
I cried partly in sheer relief that I’d made it, partly for everything I’d gone through to get to that point. I was just so damn glad I was still here. and I still am.
And all of those emotions manifested as tears pouring out of my face.
I clung so hard to this musical, to the words it is composed of and the story it tells and the prospect of seeing it with my own eyes for over a year, and it has kept me alive. I don’t know if I could ever properly express my gratitude to Lin-Manuel Miranda for that.
Thank you Lin. For your words, for your art. It was there when I needed it most.
It saved me.
I’m not ashamed of my complete emotional breakdown as the curtains came down, because I know it’s a sign of strength. And if there’s one thing I have learned this year, it’s how strong I am.
I hit rock bottom, but I stayed alive despite everything. I wrote my way out of the worst mental health crisis of my life and my reward was seeing this show.
And now that it’s over? I’m stronger than ever. I don’t need that milestone in the future to keep me going.
I have myself, my strength, and the utter conviction that I will not throw away my shot.