Dolores O’Riordan and the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Darkness and Despair


I am of the belief that people wildly over-value the importance and significance of their own opinions. That’s a big part of the reason the subsection of the Internet known as “the comments sections” tend to be such weird, dispiriting messes, with the notable exception of you beautiful people. 

People particularly over-value their opinion when they decide to respond to a celebrity, like, say, Glenn Frey, dying with a Tweet or Facebook post reading, “I was never a fan, but Glenn Frey RIP.” As far as online transgressions go, this is an exceedingly mild one. It’s not like doxxing someone or starting a petition to digitally remove all women from entertainment who seem uppity or insufficiently docile. 

But it’s annoying all the same because it puts your opinion about the dead celebrity on equal footing with the celebrity’s death—something that, presumably, is having a deep and powerful impact on friends and colleagues who, unlike you, were fans of the late artist or at least did not feel the need to publicly declare their non-fandom—with the artist’s death when your opinion about them is not terribly important in the first place, but is particularly unimportant within the context of the celebrity’s death and other people celebrating their lives and careers .

In that respect, it does not matter what I thought about Cranberries lead singer and songwriter Dolores O’Riordan, who recently shocked and saddened the world by dying unexpectedly at 46 years old. What matters is that her music was important to a lot of people, that she spoke to her fans in a voice that was pure and passionate and engaged. 

O' Riordan and I, needless to say, are very different people politically, socially and in many other respects. She was a devout Catholic who performed before the Pope more than once and recorded an anti-abortion song. I’m a secular American Jew. But when I read about the late singer and songwriter’s longtime battle with mental illness, including a diagnosis as Bipolar, I felt an instant emotional connection with her. 

I feel an emotional connection with anybody who struggles on a daily basis with this level of depression and anxiety, confusion and despair. I may not know the exact nature of O’ Riordan’s darkness. No one other than O’ Riordan can. One of the horrors of depression is that oftentimes not even the person experiencing it with every fiber of their being can truly understand it. Sometimes it’s simply too overwhelming to even process, let alone deal with. 

I can never know what it was like to suffer O’Riordan’s particular pain, but I know what it’s like to experience pain on such a profound, intense level that it threatens to both define and confine you, when it seems insurmountable and all-consuming. That is a profound bond I share with everyone else in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Depression and Darkness. It makes me feel less alone and connects me to very different people, people like O’ Riordan, whose messy personal and professional life makes it all too easy to relate to her and to empathize with her. 

The exception I’ve found comes with people like Mel Gibson and Donald Trump, who are clearly mentally ill but also racist, hateful and abusive. It’s impossible to identify with people who use their darkness to hurt people, to attack, to lash out at the world unrelentingly for their own personal failings. Richard Nixon, I can identify with. Richard Nixon, I identify with on an almost unhealthy level. But I cannot relate to people like Trump and Gibson, who seem devoid of the humility and vulnerability that come with living honorably and truthfully with mental illness and Depression. 

So I suppose it’s not entirely Depression that I identify with but how people deal with Depression. If they try to use it to create beauty and art and meaning, like O’Riordan did, then I identify automatically and deeply but if they hide their darkness and let it burst out as violence and ugliness, then I’m a lot less empathetic. 


I wish the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Depression and Darkness wasn’t so vast and universal but there is deep, sometimes life-affirming comfort and solace in knowing just how many people, famous and unknown, rich and desperately poor, wrestle with the same kinds of demons that you do, albeit in very different ways. 

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