Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Age Seven with Schizophrenia

Several months ago, in reference to a sensationalist TV segment that portrayed bipolars as killers and for other crimes and misdemeanors, I referred to Oprah as “an unmitigated idiot and a menace to society.” I take it back.

Yesterday, Oprah aired, “The 7-Year-Old Schizophrenic.” I didn’t see the actual episode, but her website contained four short videos, plus two articles, that sympathetically and with great sensitivity portrayed seven-year-old Jani Schofield and her parents, Michael and Susan.

Back in July, in the wake of an LA Times piece, I ran an equally sympathetic piece on Jani and her family, noting:

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.

In the Oprah videos, Jani and her parents tell their own stories. We see a highly personable Jani describing her hundreds of imaginary friends and their make-believe world (real to her) called Calalini. She articulates her uncontrollable rages and racing thoughts and tendencies to violence, as well as the Clozaril and lithium she is on.

We see Michael and Susan talk about having to raise two children in two separate apartments, both for their own safety and to give one parent a break. We hear how the services Jani needs are unavailable. According to the main article:

At night, Michael and Susan find peace, knowing Jani survived one more day. Michael says this is his favorite time. "[I think]: 'We've kept her alive. We have now about 10 hours of rest until we've got to do it all again,'" he says. "And we will probably have to do it all again for the rest of our lives."

In my original blog piece, I concluded:

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."

Check out Michael's extremely candid and moving blog, January First.


Nanci Schiman said...

The Schofield's willingness to publicly share their story goes a long way towards chiseling down the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. I have so much respect for their courage - as you mentioned they have already been attacked and dissected by the segments of the media who live for sensationalism and criticism. Undoubtedly Oprah's show will draw criticsm. But, it will also reach a large segment of the population who just don't understand the devestation of mental illness and the hope that parents like the Schofield's cling to.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Nanci. I'm looking to good things coming out of this, too.

To readers - Nanci is program manager of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (www.bpkids.org), which does outstanding work. Parents of bipolar kids are my favorite people, and I strongly encourage you to get to know them.

I also feel similarly about meeting NAMI families.

After meeting Nanci and listening to hundreds of parents of bipolar kids, plus NAMI people and others, it was very easy for me to relate to Michael and Susan Schofield.

Gina Pera said...

"The antipsychiatry community, ignoring everything else, jumped all over this as the true cause of Jani's condition."

How typical. Beyond their self-medicating fearmongering and (dare I say it) low insight, the antipsychiatry crowd's responses almost always betray a profound lack of empathy -- for the person with the condition and their loved ones.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Gina. I don't have to mention the blogger who made some of these comments. Another one for the wall of shame is Liz Spikol. Her comments made me sick to my stomach.

Rodney St.Michael said...

I had schizophrenia too 16 years ago when I was in California, and I was confined in Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, CA. I posted a message to Oprah @


Schizophrenia is curable, and my website http://illuminated.tripod.com gives more information about it.

Rodney St.Michael