It was the day after my birthday, and I could feel familiar feelings of dread start to creep in again. I was spiraling into a depressive episode, and there was no stopping it. 

I soon found myself in one of the darkest places I have ever been in. I lost all energy and motivation to do the simplest of tasks. The world seemed bleak and hopeless. My own life felt futile. The very few activities I could muster up the energy to carry out were to watch or listen to musicals. And this might have actually saved my life.

I have always loved musicals. From an early age, my dad introduced me to all the classics from The Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, to Singing in the Rain, which quickly became favorites of mine. 

I was also part of the generation which experienced what was arguably Disney Channel’s prime. With shows like Hannah Montanna, and movies like High School Musical, Cheetah Girls, and Camp Rock all being part of my childhood. Not to mention all the Disney Princess movies (with its amazing music) that I was obsessed with. 

Musicals meant so much to me as a child, and I never let go of those feelings. So when Glee came along in my teenage years and introduced me to Broadway musicals, the love only blossomed further.

I began struggling with mental illness from an early age as well. By 12, I was severely depressed and my roller-coaster of emotions hasn’t stopped since. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, as well as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Although I make sure to take my medication and go to therapy, I have my off days.

When my depressive episode came this year, I saw no end to it. It felt as though it would last forever. I could barely make it out of bed. I couldn’t speak to or text a friend. Loneliness consumed me, heightened by the isolation of the COVID-19 lockdown

Until I found solace in an old friend.

I began re-watching musicals and discovering cast recordings of new musicals I hadn’t seen. I felt a sense of belonging and safety that I thought was long gone. Most of all, these musicals gave me hope. The hope to wake up and try again. 

Wicked reminded me of who I am. Dear Evan Hansen was a friend when it felt like I had none. Hadestown taught me how to dream again. Hamilton made me feel alive again and gave me a sense of purpose after being numb for so long. Rent showed me how to fearlessly and selflessly live. Waitress gave me warmth and light during the darkest days. And so many other musicals found a home in my heart. 

According to Healthline, music is a valid form of therapy to help reduce depression, anxiety, and improve overall mood, self-esteem, and quality of life. Watching and listening to musicals for me was like being in a therapy session. The composers were the therapists, somehow tuning into my feelings and thoughts. The music was the techniques and exercises with which they managed to organize my emotions so that I could better understand myself. The characters were my support system, rooting me on to get better. The whole experience of a musical was cathartic for me. 

I am proud to say I have recovered from my depressive episode, and although every day is a struggle, I know I will always have my musicals, as silly as it sounds. 

If you were to ask me why musicals have this effect on me, I would say, it’s the fact that when my own words fail, there is always a song that conveys the emotion so sincerely and truly. There is always a lyric that I can find myself in. There’s always a melody, in my head, that sings me to sleep like a lullaby when I’m tossing and turning. There’s always a character I can relate to.

And that is what really matters – feeling a little less alone. 

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  • Tamia Adolph is a writer and journalist, who writes poetry and fiction writing under the pseudonym, Imogene Mist. She is the founder of a mental health awareness organization called #MeTooButImStillHere, which aims to advocate for mental illness in Africa. She holds a BA in Journalism and BA (Honours) in English Literature. Currently, she is completing her Masters in English Literature. Her passions include musicals, environmentalism, and all forms of art.