Thursday, July 9, 2009
Michael Schofield takes his six-year old girl, Jani, to Denny's. So far, so good. Then orange juice spills onto her lap. Oh crap. As Michael recalls in his extraordinary blog, JanuaryFirst:
Jani screamed and began pulling at her pants like they were on fire. My immediate thought was "oh shit, we are in a public place." I hadn't bothered to check if Jani had properly dressed herself and too late I realized she had no underwear on.
Jani has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which usually breaks out in late teenhood-early adulthood, nearly always preceded by years of strange and erratic (and often brilliant) behaviors. From the very beginning, Jani hardly needed to sleep. At age 3, the tantrums began. At age 4, her IQ was tested at 146 (genius level). At age 5, her rages became violent.
In his blog, Michael admits to both he and his wife Susan striking back, as well as taking away her toys and even "starving" her. The antipsychiatry community, ignoring everything else, jumped all over this as the true cause of Jani's condition.
Meanwhile, Jani's one or two invisible friends expanded into a psychotic community, along with hallucinations and delusions. Attempts at kindergarten and first grade failed. Last fall Jani tried to jump off a second story balcony. Autism? Bipolar? Doctors had no answers. Earlier this year, a medical team at UCLA issued their verdict - schizophrenia.
Meanwhile, back at Denny's:
Jani was crying and screaming that she had to get her pants off and I was trying to hold on to them so she couldn't get them completely off. Because if she got them completely off her legs would be free and I would get kicked in the face as I tried to put them back on, she would scream and run out of the restaurant, exposed to the world. I would be then forced to chase down my half naked daughter until the cops arrived and arrested me (what other conclusion could they draw other than I was trying to molest my daughter over a Grand Slam at the local Denny's?).
At last count, Jani has been hospitalized four times, and is being tried on different meds with bad side effects, which frightens the hell out of her father. The type of social services available to older patients with schizophrenia are not available to Jani. Pediatric residential facilities want nothing to do with a kid with the scariest diagnosis in the world. Right now, Michael and Susan are renting two one-bedroom apartments in the same complex. One parent stays with Jani while the other one (with their younger son) gets a break.
On Sunday, Michael posted, Hopefully, This Will Be Jani One Day, with a link to the biography of Elyn Saks. Elyn Saks is the author of the highly-acclaimed "The Center Cannot Hold," which documents her struggles with schizophrenia and her road to conditional recovery. Elyn Saks holds a masters in philosophy from Oxford, is a professor of law at USC, and is on the verge of attaining a qualification in psychoanalysis.
Says Michael: "Saks’s story gives me hope that one day Jani will be able to tell her own story."
Michael's JanuaryFirst blog represents the most compelling reading on mental illness I have encountered anywhere, online or off. Also, check out this LA Times piece on Jani, plus this one on childhood-onset schizophrenia.