Tell Me 'Bout the Good Ol' Days

There is a joke that if you play a country record backwards, you get your house back, your truck back, your dog back, and your girl back. But you can’t bring Hank Williams’s life back. Or Keith Whitley’s. Or Mindy McCready’s. Or Naomi Judd’s. All of these country stars were taken from us way too soon, although the most recent death, Judd’s occurred at age 76.  Naomi Judd suffered from bipolar disorder.

Naomi Judd grew up in humble circumstances in Ashland, Kentucky. She gave birth to her daughter and later singing partner, Wynonna, at age 18. She raised Wynonna and younger daughter and future film actress Ashley as a single parent. Naomi did what she could to make a better life for her and her girls. She attended nursing school for a time.

Naomi formed a hugely successful country music duo that would win five Grammy Awards and nine CMA (Country Music Association) Awards. They first signed with RCA in 1983 and stayed together until 1991, when Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis C. Wynonna went on to have a successful solo career, occasionally reuniting onstage with Naomi. 

Judd’s family had never shared specific details, but Naomi’s long term struggles with mental illness, particularly depression, were well known. Her early retirement due to hepatitis C triggered a major depressive episode  She would go several days at a time isolating herself in her pajamas in a darkened house. And she would undergo electroconvulsive therapy.

On April 30, 2022, Naomi’s body  was found by Ashley along with a suicide note. She had shot herself. She and Wynonna were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the next evening. A medical examiner noted that Naomi had suffered from bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and PTSD for years. Her toxicology report indicated that she had been taking depression medication and bipolar medication. One hopes that such medications will prevent suicide, but her condition was treatment resistant.

Naomi had panic attacks and PTSD going back to her days as a child being sexually abused by an uncle and as a young woman being raped on more than one occasion. (Ashley was a victim of lecherous Hollywood executive Harry Weinstein.) Naomi opened up about her issues in an autobiography River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope. Suicide had occurred in each of the past four generations of Naomi’s family.

Naomi had been a mental health and suicide prevention advocate, particularly supporting Team Cares Inc., an organization that provides food and clothing for the mentally ill and helps them secure employment. She wrote three memoirs with three distinct approaches to her experiences. In Love Will Build a Bridge, she described her family as tough and resourceful. She still seemed to believe in an idealized version of her family, or that’s what she was willing to share. In All That is Bitter and Sweet, she told of the abuses she suffered from that family. And then in the last one, she opened up about her struggles with mental illness.

Like many of us, Naomi Judd struggled to come to terms with her issues, and we can see her doing that in her three memoirs.