Sinead O’Connor is an Irish singer and songwriter who became famous in the late 1980s and has been a strong moralist, speaking out against war and against the abuse of women and children. Her career has been interrupted by bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia. In the spring of 2012, she appeared on her way back from illness with a the release of a UK Top 40 album, but then cancelled an extensive European tour because of her health issues.
Her Childhood of Abuse
Sinead Marie Bernadette O’Connor was born on December 8, 1966. Her parents married in their teens, fought all the time and separated when she was eight. She was one of the three children who went to live with their mother, and she claims that she was beaten frequently by her mother. She wrote her famous hit song, “Fire on Babylon” to tell the world about her own abuse as a child, and she has been a persistent advocate for abused children. In Ireland at that time, the mother almost always kept the children, no matter how incompetent or unfit she was.
In 1979, at age 13, she ran away from her mother and went to live with her father and his new wife. At age 15, she skipped school repeatedly and was caught shoplifting. She was sent for 18 months to a Magdalene Asylum, run by the Order of Our Lady of Charity. She says: “We were just children really . . . the girls cried every day. It was a prison. We didn’t see our families, we were locked in, cut off from life, and deprived of a normal childhood. We were told we were there because we were bad people. Some of the girls had been raped at home and not believed. One girl was in because she had a bad hip and her family didn’t know what to do with her.”
Survivors of these church-run institutions complained of incredible emotional and sexual abuse. One survivor testified her mother called the police after she was raped, the police came and arrested her, and a judge sentenced her to hard labor in the Magdalene Laundry. Sinead O’Connor claims that memories of her stay at the Magdalene Laundry there are one of the reasons that she tore up a picture of the Pope on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992.
Her rebellious nature got her in constant trouble, but she did learn to sing and write songs. She stated that: “I’ve got to say that music saved me. I didn’t have any other abilities, and there was no learning support for girls like me. It was either jail or music. I got lucky.”
Father to the Rescue
In 1983, at age 17, her father enrolled her in a Quaker boarding School in Waterford. While there, she recorded her first album. She dropped out of school to join a band and moved to Dublin. In February 10, 1985, she appeared to be devastated by the death of her mother in a car accident and quit the band and moved to London. At age 20, a drummer in her band, John Reynolds, got her pregnant. At that time, she adopted her trademark shaved head, angry expressions and drab clothing. She lived mostly between London and Los Angeles. In 1992 she returned to Dublin to help raise her six-year old son, Jake, and in 1995 quit her band because she was again pregnant and crippled by painful bouts of fibromyalgia.
O’Connor has four marriages, four children with four different fathers, and four divorces. She was married to:
• Music producer John Reynolds,
• Journalist Nicholas Sommerlad,
• Musician Steve Cooney,
• Drug counselor Barry Herridge, met on the internet
She also had a relationship and a child with musician Frank Bonadio.
A Dedicated Moralist
She has had the courage to speak out on everything that bothers her. She was a staunch defender of women’s rights and was ordained as a priest even though women are not allowed to be ordained and are not recognized by the standard Roman Catholic church. She is a pacifist against all wars, most notably the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
In 2009 the Irish Government released the “Ryan Report” on abuse in church-run institutions, which stated that “the children were treated like slaves, or inmates, stripped of even the most basic of human rights.” The Irish government apologized to the tens of thousands of victims who suffered under the institutions run by the church and offered damages to victims in the amount of £1billion.
O’Connor was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 37 and her severe muscle pain was diagnosed as fibromyalgia. She had attempted suicide at age 33. Bipolar disorder is characterized by wide mood swings, a high manic phase, when a person thinks she can do everything, to a low depressive phase when they can do almost nothing.
Nobody knows what causes bipolar disorder. It can be genetic, but often is not. It certainly is often associated with an unhappy childhood, particularly in those who have suffered physical or sexual abuse. It usually starts between ages 15 and 24 and persists throughout a lifetime. People with bipolar disorder are at high risk for abusing tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Ms. O’Connor has been a heavy smoker.
• Unusually high, overly happy or outgoing moods
• Having an unrealistic belief in abilities
• Talking very fast
• Jumping from one idea to another
• Racing thoughts
• Being unusually distracted
• Increased activity, such as taking on multiple new projects
• Being overly restless
• Sleeping little or not feeling tired
• Extreme irritability
• Behaving impulsively
• Engaging in high-risk behaviors.
• Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
• Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
• Being restless or irritable
• Unexplained changes in eating, sleeping, or other habits
• Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide
• An overly long period of feeling sad or hopeless
How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
There is no laboratory test to diagnose bipolar disorder, so the diagnosis is based on a physician’s opinion and it can often be wrong. People with bipolar disorder can have long periods of being perfectly normal, but they will always be at risk of having recurrences of high or low feelings. Since bipolar disorder usually lasts a lifetime, nobody should ever be given that diagnosis unless he or she has suffered crippling, persistent mood swings. Since drugs and psychotherapy help this condition, it is essential not to miss a proper diagnosis. People with bipolar disorder are at increased risk for thyroid disease, migraine headaches, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
The term Fibromyalgia means severe pain in muscles and joints that has no known cause. If a cause is found the patient is given some other diagnosis such as Lyme disease or an auto-immune disease. If you suffer from severe, persistent pain in multiple muscles and joints, your doctor will order a large number of tests to rule out all of the known causes. If all of the tests come back normal, your doctor should tell that there is no known reason for your pain, but most doctors don’t do that. They prefer to tell you that you have fibromyalgia, which just means that there is no explanation for your pain and no specific treatment. They do the same thing with people who are exhausted. When doctors can’t find a cause for extreme fatigue, they call it chronic fatigue syndrome, which means that they don’t know why you are so tired.
Some cases of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome are caused by inadequately treated Lyme disease and can be cured with long- term antibiotics. Some cases are caused by chlamydia, mycoplasma or ureaplasma infections which are usually sexually transmitted and are very difficult to diagnose, but also may be cured with long-term antibiotics. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, be sure that the doctor has checked for this type of chronic hidden infection. See http://drmirkin.com/morehealth/g115.html
Usually people with fibromyalgia are left with more questions than answers and can spend many years of suffering while they wait for more effective treatments. NIH maintains a good source of information to help you keep up to date on the research and possible future treatments at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/fibromyalgia.html
On Bipolar disorder, see http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bipolardisorder.html