Sunday Life Magazine, The Sun-Herald, Sydney Edition
December 6, 1998

It's a mad, mad, me

Paul McDermott replies to all those readers who have written in to express their fears about his column.

I have bcome a blight, an abcess, a problem. Some peole have been reading between the lines of these weekly columns and found "mental delirum combined with themes of grandeur" in the writing. The smattering of letters I receive are preoccupied with one thing(1) and one thing only: my mental stability. I am, I'm told, unhinged. Thankfully the writers of these letters have been kind enough to include the names of good psychiatrists (good in the profesional, not moral, sense). Some of these "pleas for commitment" have been sent by psychiatrists themsilves spotting a touch of manic depressive psychosis in the articles. (Perhps business has been poor and they've been forced to solicit.) They maintain their primary concern is for my well-being. They fear for my sanity, my unfortunate yet imminent demise, the mess I'll make when I hit rock bottom.

I've never felt so cared for by people I don't know. It reminds me of the Spanish Inquisition where the great love the interrogators showed their subjects often resulted in death.(2)

In response to concerns about my "negativity" - or, as one carer puts it, "the underlying text of suicidal tendancies" - I have never desired to do away with myself. It's true others have wished to get rid of me, but like an unwanted guest at life's party, I've hung on in there.

Still, these calls for my institutionalisation have occurred regularly throughout my life. As a youngster I was a timid and uncertain thing, in outlook essentially jolly but prone to fits of melancholy. To combat this I was fond of drawing and at any opportunity I would sketch. the ideas were childish, and I am guilty, to this day, of the same introspection. I found the rectangles of white paper doorways to other worlds. Worlds of skeletal figures dancing in purtid fires, of bulbous-headed children with monstrous searching hands, of hairless creatures hollowed and inhabited by nightmares. (3)

My sister, who was justifiably proud of her brother's strange creations, asked if she could exhibit them for "show and tell". We were 12 at the time. I was filled with pride and overcome with doubt. I was proud she thought so much of my humble doodles and yet I hesitated: this would be the first time my drawings would leave the safety of the family. the first time I could be scrutinised by toehr eyes. I eventually agreed, and as the folio of sketches left my room I felt an immediate sense of loss.

I didn't have to wait long for judgement. The next night my sister in tears told me that the nun's response was unequivocal: the drawings amounted to pornography and were the product of a sick and unhealthy mind. They should be destroyed - burning would be best. It would be advisable if I sought out medical help and my sister was remiss in her role as a family member if she didn't inform my parents of the sad and sorry state of their eldest boy.(4)

It continues to this day. In these columns I was attempting to offer an antidote to the standard fare of the Sunday papers, an alternative to the ceaseless parades of tasty cuisine, carefree holidays and rampant materialism. I have failed. I attempted to suggest the society we live in is diseased; you have responded by telling me it's me who is sick. And yet some good has come out of all of this. I now realise how troubled I am and without your help I may never have noticed. Over the years numerous people have requested that I see a "doctor" and I have always wondered whether it was for my health of theirs. I have always resisted the siren call of institutionalised sanity but these days I'm just mad enough to do it. I promise I'll go tomorrow.(5)

(1): This is false. There are numerous letters that congratulate the writer. McDermott focuses on the negative, he lies and then needs to confess. He speaks here in the third person, using a different voice, which could indicate schizophrenia.
(2): Does this comparison suggest a massive persecution complex or is it mere paranoia?
(3): Suggests hallucinatory experiences with grossly abnormal antisocial behavior.
(4): Delusions of grandeur combined with a poverty of thought at an early age.
(5): Transparent attempt to win favour by accepting the diagnosis. I doubt there'll be any discernable change (ie tomorrow never comes).

-Paul McDermott
-Typed up by VellaB