The Sinead O’Connor Video And Why I’m Furious

This morning I read an article which made me unreasonably angry. I didn’t disagree with anything in it and it contained nothing but the truth, so what was my issue?

Sinead O’Connor’s video shows a woman crying out for help, a lost soul begging for assistance with her mental health issues. At times like this, when a person most needs others around them, that’s often when they disappear or, as the article says, “We don’t care for people with mental illness very well. We distance ourselves, we minimize their sickness, we condemn their symptoms. We wash our hands when they become too difficult to handle, when their care becomes too messy. We ghost them.” 

I’ve had to really pick apart what made me so angry and it’s not the article at all, which is intended only to help people understand instead of make fun of her. No, I’m angry at our current mental health care system. You see (trust me, I debated long and hard before putting this out there), I don’t really speak to my father anymore and that’s something I carry in a huge, father shaped sack of guilt everyday.

It started when I was 19 and at college. I got a call from him where he literally screamed at me for stealing his shampoo. I was left in such shock and confusion that I stared at the phone for a good long time afterwards sobbing. I had fallen through some Twilight Zone hole and didn’t know how to get back out. Luckily I knew a friend who was training to be a councillor and she explained that it wasn’t really him, it was something making him do it. This is what began the 15 year battle to get someone to DO SOMETHING to help. Spoiler alert: no-one did. They still haven’t.

First I saw my own doctor, suffering from depression and anxiety from the shock. I was still too ashamed to come right out and say what the deep problem was so I just mumbled something about ‘feeling down.’ He took one look at my blue hair and piercings and dismissed me as a silly teen. My sisters tried calling dad’s brother only to be told we were being hysterical.

A few years later I started receiving six, sometimes more, letters a day from him, all complete nonsense. My boyfriend at the time thought it was hilarious and, when I told him to stop laughing, he laughed more. I saved the letters up, taking some to my own doctor and sending some to my sisters. They posted them as proof to his mum and brother, while my doctor was genuinely concerned and advised me to speak to dad’s doctor. My Nan read the letters and phoned dad immediately, saying “they’re worried about you, they’ve sent me all these letters.” So, that was the end of that plan.

I visited dad, as I often did in the holidays, and pretended to be ill. I still feel like a huge, duplicitous harpy when I remember his concern as he took me to the doctor. When I got there and explained everything, the doctor told me he’d make a note and, when dad would next go in, it would come up. The funny thing about paranoia, though, is that you tend not to trust people, including doctors. So, no, dad didn’t go despite all my pleading (and there was a lot), so that was the end of that plan.

Whereas previously I would always challenge him or reason with him over his delusions and paranoias, the only thing I could do from then on was let it wash over me. I was banging my head against a brick wall in every sense and, most recently, a call to Mind reassured me that unless he was a danger to himself or anyone else, there wasn’t a lot I could do. While it didn’t make hearing how the person upstairs was monitoring his movements or how the village was talking in code against him any easier, Mind took a lot of pressure off me. I still get tears in my eyes when I think of how nice the person I spoke to was. Thanks, I really mean it.

I haven’t cut him out of my life completely. If he needs me I’m always there. The thing is, his relationship with the rest of my family (I was young when the divorce happened) was fractious to say the least and our relationship had it’s own, very difficult, problems, so I doubt we would have been like a sitcom even without this. But it’s added an extra layer of pain to the times I do see him and, for that, I blame an almost nonexistent safety net both for me and my family. People have to get to the point where they’re literally begging for help. If my dad had torn off all his clothes and run down the street threatening to kill the president you can bet your life someone would do something. Instead we live a kind of Purgatory, knowing it’s happening but feeling completely complicit in pretending it isn’t and it’s not good enough. There has to be another way, and we need to figure that out before it’s too late.

10 thoughts on “The Sinead O’Connor Video And Why I’m Furious

  1. You’re a champion for sharing your story about your father’s illness here. That takes a massive amount of bravery. There are so many people who have had a similar experience, or who are suffering from mental illness themselves, who won’t or can’t talk about it. I reckon your post will do a lot more good than you’ll ever hear about. A good professional—if one can be found—can only do so much, especially without the benefit of firsthand experience with a loved one who is ill. Only someone who’s been there knows the surreal shock, the worry, and especially the anger and the guilt that follows. Thanks for posting, Madeleine.

  2. Psychiatry is joke practically everywhere in the world, and the respective authorities doesn’t seem to care. It’s like mental illness isn’t real enough to be considered illness, even though it costs a of of lives every year. Good post.

  3. I knew we had a lot in common! It’s so hard to write intelligently about mental illness without sounding preachy or self-aggrandizing in some way, so I hope to hell I don’t. You are angry because your heart hurts and no matter what you do, most likely you won’t be able to break through that shell and it sucks. I had to finally tell my Mom that she was no longer welcome in my life because every time I dealt with her I was trashed for days. Unlike your Dad, she’s a real sneaky one with her attacks. But the Hell she’s made just as bad. She stole my life savings of 12 grand, and would do the phone call thing, among other really bad shit. My blood family is full of bastards who are always willing to defend her actions as well! That’s fun, but the worst is that they are not willing to accept my mental illness problems. Basically I’ve always suffered from ADD but after I was severely injured in an accident a few years back, I ended up with a boatload of issues that it’s easiest to label PTSD but I couldn’t get mental health care until the law got involved and even then it took me nearly a year to get a good doctor! Still a mess, but working at getting better. It’s amazing how much writing has helped!
    Madeleine, you are SO RIGHT, that people refuse to take mental illness seriously! Even though we’ve got people shooting up movie theaters, biting people’s ears off, etc. I feel you because I am in a similar spot and it does make me get mad when people just don’t get it! Personally, I feel bad about having the issues I have and I’m grateful for my doctor who is amazing. I used to feel bad about telling my Mom that she’d have to find someone else to burden, but my life is so much better now. I’m not hating on her, but I had to do it for my own sanity! I wish you the best!

    1. I wish you the best too! That was so good to hear. People have very romanticized views on mental illness and its ugly and confusing and all we want to do is help, but sometimes we can’t. Good luck to you!

      1. Yeah, we’re not all cute little old men with Alzheimer’s! I know that the biggest hurdle for me was denial. In the U.S. the stigma attached to being mentally ill is very high, so you lie and say you’re fine.

  4. All the best for you and your Dad. Because we don’t have money, it took my husband years to get me to a treatment program that wasn’t simply abusive overmedicating. I’m eternally grateful to him. I hope somewhere in more lucid moments your father knows and appreciates you in his life

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