Under the semblance of a successful Christian music career, Scottish-born New Wave singer Sheila Walsh hid a rumbling volcano of mental illness that started when her father suffered a brain aneurysm and lashed out at the 5-year-old girl.
The volcano finally erupted in 1992 when she checked herself into a mental institution to come to grips with the rejection, depression and suicidal inclinations. Her recovery — and the help of Jesus — are the subject of her book Honestly.
“I was very much a daddy’s girl. I thought my father was the most amazing man on earth,” Sheila recounts. The tenderness and warmth ended brusquely with an aneurysm he suffered one night. After he returned from the hospital a few weeks later, he was paralyzed on the left side of his body and could only make grunting, animal-like noises.
“Sometimes during acute brain injury, the person hits out instinctively at the one person they believe will love them,” Sheila says. “But you don’t understand that when you’re five years old.
“The only one my father would take his anger out on was me,” she adds. “He would spit in my face or pull lumps of my hair out. As a child I thought, ‘What am I doing wrong?’”
One night, dad approached Sheila from behind and raised his cane to smash it down on her skull. If not for the growling of her little dog Heidy, he might have achieved his twisted intent.
“I don’t know whether I pulled it or pushed, but he fell and hit the ground hard,” she remembers. “He lay there like an animal just roaring.”
Four men were needed to carry him to the nearest asylum in Ayr, Scotland.
He escaped the asylum, dragged himself to the river, where he entangled himself in the salmon nets to drown. Search and rescue crews found him dead the next morning. He had committed suicide.
Sheila’s mother arrived home dressed in black. She took down every photo of dad from the walls and stowed them in a suitcase under her bed.
“We never talked about him again,” she says.
“All I knew is that I had done something to make my father hate me, or he had seen something in me that he despised,” she adds.
Neighbors would try to encourage her: “Sheila, you’re just like your dad.” They meant mannerisms or singing voice, but Sheila feared they meant she was mentally ill like him.
“What I heard was: ‘There’s a crack in your soul like your father, and one of these days, no matter how fast you run, it’s going to catch up with you,’” she says. “I spent the next many, many years trying to make sure that whatever it was my father saw, no one else would ever see.”
She finished studies in theology at the London Bible College (now called London School of Theology) in 1979. She studied music at the London Academy of Operatic Art. She also worked as an evangelist for Youth for Christ in Britain and sang in a group called Oasis.
In 1981, she released a solo album of New Wave music with Christian lyrics entitled Future Eyes. She toured the United States opening for Phil Keaggy. In 1992, Pat Robertson made her co-host on the 700 Club.
“I found the perfect hiding place: Christian ministry,” she says. “Outwardly it looked like God had really put his hand of favor on my life. But inside I was still the same scared little girl. It felt as if I was on the edge of this volcano and this distant rumble was getting louder and louder every day, and I didn’t know what to do.”
She stayed busy and constantly filled her world with music and noise.
One day while interviewing a guest on the 700 Club on live T.V., the guest asked her how she was doing. “I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t get the chance to pull my guard up,” she says. “And that day I did what I vowed I would never do. I cried on live T.V.”
She went away from work that day feeling naked before the world. The ghosts from the past had finally caught up with her, and she didn’t know how to deal with them. She went to the coast and walked out into the water, with every intention of drowning herself like her father.
What held her back was the thought of her mother receiving the phone call that her daughter had repeated the curse of inheritance.
She checked into a psych hospital. “I felt I had gone to hell,” she says. She was in a simple room with a chair, and personnel checked on her every 15 minutes.
A man came in at 3:00 and gave her a stuffed animal, a lamb.
“As he was leaving, he turned and said, ‘Sheila, the Shepherd knows where to find you,’” she remembers. Sheila was treated for a month and never saw that man again. Read the rest of Sheila Walsh mental health and suicide.