Thursday, July 9, 2009

Age Six with Schizophrenia

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.


herb said...

Hi John,

I hope all is well with you and yours.

You used the word “compelling” while I also find his blog “riveting” although I’m still into his June posting just past the point with the orange juice incident.

Personally, I’m more a nuts and bolts individual trying to get past Michaels many metaphors and flowery verse. What concern me more are details relating to Jani and the family dynamics and any supposed help they may receive. His literary abilities I’ll leave up to you, Susan and folks like Liz to critique. As for me, just give me the facts man!

I prefer not to use negative connotations as it relates to the investigative “re-reporter” site and his “Mini me” congregants who adhere to the sermon. In some ways as I read Michael Schofield’s narrative about his daughter’s mood state changes before his very eyes and when he observes her leaving reality and entering into her own world without his ability to arouse or distract her there strikes me a similar correlation that takes place with those congregants.

As you stated the congregants “jumped all over this as the true cause of Jani's condition” and simply cannot see, comprehend or understand any of the other dynamics unfolding and then I also wonder about any recovery amongst some of those congregants. Add to the fact I’m inclined to believe that a large percentage of them have not parented a child.

As a fellow support person and caregiver I feel strongly supportive and empathetic for this family as do for others knowing in the Schofield’s case they are young family and have a long and arduous road ahead of them and they need all the positive support and understanding they can muster and not condemnation from a group of individuals lacking compassion and also suffering in one way or another from mood disorders.

Hopefully the family will continue to educate themselves, realize that they are not alone in these struggles and that there are many of us supportive and understanding of their difficulties and challenges as in some instances some of us have walked some of those similar paths.

I do hope he maintains the strength to continue his blog efforts but if it were me and a choice between sleep and maintaining strength I think it more important for me to tend to my charge and the family I would forego the writing although he did indicate it is a form of relief for him.


John McManamy said...

Thanks, Herb. I may follow up with the antipsychiatry reaction tomorrow. Or I may not. A few quick points:

1. Like you said, the ones critical of Michael and Susan's parenting could not possibly be parents.

2. People who know nothing about parenting or about mental illness always blame the parents, no matter what.

3. The ones who know Jani best are her parents.

4. Writing is excellent therapy and a way of trying to make sense of the terrible burdens one has to face. I'm sure this is how Michael is approaching his blog.

5. Let's keep Jani and her family in our thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

There is a psychiatrist, Dr. Carol North, who also suffered from childhood schizophrenia. Some of you may be interested in her biography, "Welcome Silence." A remarkable individual.

And I am so tired of bloggers who have no idea of what it's like to suffer from a mental illness that is beyond their own experience. They're very quick to judge others, physicians and patients, but have zip for insight.

I like your blog, John. You do good work. Keep it up.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. Thanks for the info in your first paragraph. Absolutely agree with your second paragraph. The blogosphere, unfortunately, is overrun by these self-centered idiots. Heaven help when people don't subscribe to their fantasies - then the personal abuse piles on. Fortunately virtually all of them have no kids - otherwise child services would have to be called in. Highly ironic in the context of this article, isn't it?