Friday, October 4, 2013

My take on: January First

It's hard to put into words my thoughts on January First by Michael Schofield. I can't help but feel sorry for January "Jani" Schofield, her brother, Bodhi, and her parents Michael and Susan. At just age six, Jani was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took months and months of violent outbursts, hallucinations, and suicide attempts before Jani was given a definitive diagnosis. The path to get there was long and fraught with hopelessness.

I've seen a lot about this family on various television shows, but I think those programs only scratched the surface. I think the book goes much deeper than a television show can. The book is solely from Michael Schofield's perspective. I definitely felt like I was in his head. I could totally understand why he and his wife felt like giving up. Jani's violence was just so unpredictable. A cry or a whimper from her little brother was enough to set her off. If she didn't get to hit or throw something at Bodhi, Jani just couldn't rest. She has to hit him or her mind can't rest. When her parents tried to protect their infant son, Jani is quick to hit them -- violently.

Jani lives in her own world -- Calalini. She has a lot of friends in that world, something she lacked in the real world. Rats, cats, dogs, and whatever else Jani's mind could conjure live in this world. It's very real to Jani, but getting her to live in the real world was an enormous challenge for her parents. Their efforts to get help seem like an indictment on the mental health profession in this country. Her parents got a first-hand look at the lack of treatment for children as young as Jani. Diagnosing her with such a severe mental illness seemed to be the last thing doctors wanted to do. It had to be autism. Maybe it was ADHD. Maybe it was anxiety. It just can't be schizophrenia, despite a history of it on both sides of the family.

I could tell how much Michael and Susan loved their daughter. It seemed like Jani was a little closer to Michael than Susan. I don't think it's unusual for a child to cling more to one parent over the other. In this case, I think Michael's deep attachment left him with the inability to be objective. Michael got to go work, while Susan was left at home with two young children. Sometimes I felt like he was blaming his wife for things and that he was playing the role of martyr. She has two parents who worry about her, but in reading this book sometimes it felt like one. With this book, there is only one perspective to follow. I really wish they had written the book together. I'm sure there is a reason why they didn't. How men and women see things can often be totally different. Based on this book, Susan was definitely at her breaking point but she also seemed more rational. I hate to play a certain card, but I have to. Michael Schofield suffers from depression and at the time of Jani's diagnosis was on medication. Could his own mental health issues cloud his judgment? He had his own history with hospitalization and did not want his daughter to fall down the same path. If Michael and Susan could keep her behavior under control, perhaps Jani's will get better. I don't know, but it would have been nice to have Susan's opinion contrasted with Michael's.

We often see people on the street who are clearly suffering from some type of mental illness. At some point in their lives, they were just like Jani. Their parents were just like Jani's parents. Assuming there were signs in their childhood, imagine how different their lives could have been with proper medical care early on? This was definitely a brave book to write. Michael opened himself and his family up to criticism. Throughout the book the family often seemed alone and desperate for help. But in writing this book, he could also be saving other children like Jani. The book isn't perfect, but it is worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Random House) in exchange for an honest review.

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