The Story Of Amy Winehouse: Mental Health, Misjudgment And An Immortal Talent

Amy Winehouse performing in Berlin in 2007
Amy Winehouse performing in Berlin in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A movie must be truly outstanding for me to engage in it these days. Like everyone else, I am time poor, tired and intolerant most of the time, and there are just too many other distractions.

But occasionally you watch a movie that leaves you staggering in the gulf of an emotional meltdown. Think Sophie’s Choice, Terms of Endearment, Saving Private Ryan – just a few movies that have wreaked havoc on my self-composure, caused me to snivel embarrassingly loudly in a public place and yanked at my heart-strings over the years.

This week I will add the movie ‘Amy’ to that list.

This is not a review of the movie, but for those who haven’t heard of it, or who don’t know who Amy Winehouse was, the movie is a biography of British singer Amy Winehouse. The movie is in her own words a chronological recording of her brief ascendency to stardom, before being tragically and prematurely taken away from us at the age of 25, due to the long-term abuse of drugs and alcohol.

The movie’s rawness, the singer’s incomparable talent, made all the more poignant by her mental instability, the sad yet blatant message conveyed about drugs and the vulnerability caused by inherent mental health issues struck a painful chord with me. I would recommend that all parents of older teens force their kids to watch this movie with them as a duty, even if their kids have never heard of the singer.

Amy Winehouse will be remembered not only for her voice, but sadly for her place in the 27 club; a group of famous young musicians who all died at the age of 27 and who shared the incredible talent that sadly too often goes hand in hand with self-abuse and mental illness.

With her death in 2011, she joined the ranks of Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

Yes, Amy Winehouse was a drug addict, who towards the end of her life was publicly derided for her dependency and the behaviours it provoked, by many who should have known better. But it wasn’t just the excesses of fame that damaged Amy, for she had been a victim of the tricks of the mind from an early age. She admits in the movie that she was taking antidepressants from the age of fourteen, and I imagine that drugs became an extension of the help she needed to ‘live’ a normal life – a form of self-medication to soften the edges of those feelings of isolation that we now know all addicts share, as they become sucked into the vortex of drug abuse.

Like many successful people in the public eye, Amy loved to use and explore her creativity, yet feared and deplored the ‘celebrity’ that her success exacerbated, and became anxious and petrified of the 24-hour attention from an unrelenting British press.

That side to her vulnerability is difficult to watch in the film.

Even when she tried to get well and disappear from the media circus, she was to became the innocent victim of a father so hell-bent on maximizing what he saw as their joint celebrity, he became blinded to her needs and forgot his prime responsibilities as a parent – to create a safe zone for his daughter.

I have witnessed that dependency as a form of release, sought by people who feel they don’t fit into society’s limited scope of acceptance. ‘Amy’ made me feel a mix of emotions: sadness for the loss of such an innocent, talented spirit; anger at the misjudgment and mistreatment she received, (not only at the hands of the public but at the hands of the allies she should have been able to depend on); and a sense of loss for the woman-child who sought a simple life, a great love and acceptance in her life, yet whose talent projected her into a world of corruption and unfair criticism.

I also understand how impossible it is to help people in the grip of addiction who are not ready to be helped; and the waiting game for them to crash and burn so they are ready to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

The hope is that the crash is not the final one.

As a society, we are quick to judge those who make what we determine as ‘bad life decisions’, and it is only with the wisdom of age that we understand that people are not all created equal, given the same opportunities or the same shot at happiness.

In spite of what may appear to be a tough exterior, many people are more fragile spirits than we realise because they haven’t been given those same opportunities or a measure of the love needed to develop properly; to grow the armour they need to protect them through adulthood.

That is why they need our support, not our condemnation.

Parenting Teenagers and Ignoring Their ‘Right To Privacy’

English: A small and simple white mortar and p...
English: A small and simple white mortar and pestle, on bamboo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes us mothers have to do things we are not proud of.

I admit that I have inadvertently found myself, on more than a few occasions, skimming through my children’s Facebook pages or stalking their friends; I may even have mistakenly checked their private messages.

Sometimes when you parent teenagers, you have to ignore their ‘right to privacy’ for your own peace of mind and their own good.

To protect them.

I call it ‘parenting’.

What our kids don’t understand is that sometimes we have to do these things to teach them the right values and integrity. Admittedly, it might sometimes be more of a case of divine retribution.

Last week, I had to search clean Kurt’s room from top to bottom. For someone who is so OCD in certain areas of his life, (like having to have his uniform washed every day), that boy can happily thrive in a festering pit.

But the reason I was searching cleaning his room this time was not in search of dirty washing, but for illicit substances.

Kurt’s been a little crazy without the old man’s rod of iron discipline to keep him in check (AS FUCKING IF!), this last ten days.

And my nostrils, (which, for some reason, seem to recognize the sweet perfume of ‘cigarettes that aren’t cigarettes’, if you know what I mean), tipped me off that I might have something else to get anxious about.

And you know how much I thrive on anxiety.

Initially, I convinced myself that the not-unpleasant odour was wafting from our hip but rather cray cray neighbours….well, for all of about three minutes….then I began planning my mission.

First I appointed my team. NC was mission control – being the brains and the Princess Spoodle was our sniffer dog.

I retrieved my forensic kit, which was gathering dust in the laundry as I haven’t had much use for it since the mystery of my chocolate fingers stash, and began my search for the evidence.

Kurt’s room was as dark, fetid and pungent as I imagined it would be when I opened the door. What is it with teenagers and gloom? No wonder half of them are so fucking depressed. I inhaled deeply before I attempted to cross the obstacle course of musical equipment, dirty laundry and shoes that lay between the door and the window.

English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please chec...
English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please check my Wikimedia User Gallery for all of my public domain works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After 30 seconds of inhalation and psyching up, I covered my nostrils to evade the predictable stench of BO, stale cigarettes and decaying left-over pizza (that was no doubt concealed under the bed), and vaulted straight over the mess to the window to release the foul stench of boy germs.

Then I turned around to inspect the crime scene, hoping for obvious clues.

There were none.

There was nothing for it, I pulled on my rubber gloves, got my torch out and began to investigate more thoroughly, carrying out what I have been prepared for my whole life as a mother, a perimeter search of the area, combing every millimetre of foul carpet.

I opened each drawer gently, careful not to tidy any of the dirty shirts crumpled into balls inside and give myself away.

I poked between new school textbooks – books that had obviously never been opened – I recognized many of the books titles from letters that we had received from libraries over the past ten years.

I found my nail scissors, tweezers, hairdryer and deodorant…….. but, alas, still nothing to suggest that my son was a junkie.

Finally I put on my ski mask, to get down to the real nitty gritty. I got down on my hands and knees and braved the underworld that grows beneath his bed.

The Refuse Mountains in South America have nothing on the debris that collates in that dark, dank habitat.

Kurt (Photo credit: S. Ramírez)

The decaying scent of old Pizza, congealed Nerds, empty Coke bottles and Oreo cookies assaulted my senses immediately, but aside from my own pestle and mortar (that I have never used to mash up fresh herbs but it just looked right on our wedding list), there was nothing I wasn’t expecting to see under his bed.

I sat back up on my knees and relaxed for a second, praying that my assumptions had been misplaced.


I shoved my head back under the bed as quickly as a middle-aged Ninja might and dragged the bowl out with difficulty – (it’s surprisingly very difficult to pick up anything with rubber gloves).

The bowl was full of white powder with a straw protruding from the centre of the incriminating pile.

My worst fears had been realised. I sat down on the bed and shed a tear for my son.

I called mission control NC on my phone. She picked up immediately from her bedroom next door.

‘The eagle has landed,’ I whispered.

‘Why are you whispering? Kurt’s at school,’ she responded drily. ‘And what do you mean, the eagle has landed?’

‘Sorry, I mean’t ‘mission accomplished.’ I still whispered, shakily. ‘I’ve found his stash….the evidence,’ I said, ‘and it’s worse than we thought.’

‘Bring it in here,’ she answered, sounding authoritative but bored.

I covered my tracks by throwing a few more crumpled tee shirts on the floor as well as three wet towels from the bathroom, and then proceeded to the lab NC’s room to get the evidence examined.

NC looked at the bowl sitting in the palms of my trembling, yellow rubber hands, gravely.

She put her finger in the powder and licked it, (authentically, like those real detectives on CSI), while I held my breath.

‘This is serious,’ she said, as any final hope of saving my son began to disappear in a cloud of Cocaine. The shower scene in Midnight Express flashed before my eyes.

‘Kurt’s seriously addicted to WhizzFizz.’