A. Ham Probably Had OCD
Most everyone is now probably well aware of the life and death of Alexander Hamilton.
Thanks to the smash hit musical, hundreds of thousands of people across the world are now familiar with the events of the Revolutionary War, as well as the construction of the government that followed. Musicals like the one Lin-Manuel Miranda created gives history a new angle of vision. The catchy songs that tell Alexander Hamilton’s life revives historical education. History textbooks provide a basic, bland description of what Hamilton did, and at what time those events occurred in his life. It is straight-up, and honestly, a little boring to learn history that way. Other creative formats, such as musicals, allow an audience or listener to step inside the mind of the historical figure.
We begin to see them as actual people, people who lived real, and often times, tragic, lives. As human beings ourselves, we are able to connect with people who have been dead for over two-hundred years. While we will never truly know what was going on in the minds of these historical figures, we can take a look at some of the things they produced in their lifetime and make educated guesses. One of the things that struck me about Alexander Hamilton in particular was his obsessive tendencies, followed by compulsive responses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, obsessive compulsive disorder is defined as a chronic, long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions), that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over again (NIMH, n.d.
). One thing Hamilton was known for was his obsession with his legacy. It is something that is brought up consistently throughout the entire musical, usually within Hamilton’s inner thoughts or the pleadings of his wife, Eliza. The constant murmurings of how he needs to secure a legacy for himself is always followed by some action that attempts to console this obsessive thought. Some of the actions include spending days a time writing.
He wrote fifty-one of the eighty-five Federalist Papers, defending the United States Constitution. Though he had two other men helping to write the papers so it was not all on one man, he insisted in doing more than his fair share. Hamilton forged ahead of the people around him and wrote obsessively. However, the Federalist Papers were not the only example of obsessions that were followed with compulsive actions in an attempt to do something about the constant thoughts he experienced. Even when Hamilton was still a young teen on the island of Nevis, he was exceptionally talented with math and numbers.
By the age of fourteen, he was placed in charge of a small business, doing the bookkeeping. When he eventually came to America in the beginning of the Revolutionary War, he was constantly wondering about the financial state of the country. He would fret about it constantly. When the war ended, George Washington appointed him to be the first Treasury Secretary. He labored for a long time, writing, writing, writing.
From scratch, Hamilton stabilized the economy. But it was never enough. He wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Boundless volumes of letters to people all over the world. Obsessed with his public image and making sure he was squeaky clean, when accused of embezzling American money (due to check stubs that showed him being blackmailed by woman he was sleeping with and her husband), he wrote a letter, telling the whole world about his affair. He was so terrified of the thought of him being stained professionally, that he did not care what his wife would think.
One of the biggest things Hamilton did was keep a detailed list of all the disagreements he had with a friend, Aaron Burr, for over thirty years. This obsession with keeping everything articulately detailed is a clear indicator of obsessive compulsive disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder is like an arrow that goes around in your brain. You think: “did I lock the door?” And the arrow goes around in your mind until you remember that yes, you did lock the door. However, someone with OCD does not get that “ok” signal that says yes, you did lock the door.
So the arrow goes around and around, while the person locks the door over and over again. This appears to be exactly the way that Hamilton’s mind was working. Writing just a little bit was probably enough to do what he needed to do, but his mind never got the “ok” signal that allowed him to relax and be content with what he had done. So the arrow kept going and going, never allowing him to stop. Though Hamilton’s personal life was not in any way enviable, he is heroic to me because of the way he continued life, even with a mind as scrambled as his.
As someone who has severe obsessive compulsive disorder, it is uplifting to see a professionally successful man struggle with the same mental illnesses, and still do so much good for the world.